Friday 1 July 2016

Film Review: The BFG

Walt Disney, Steven Spielberg and Roald Dahl is a potent mixture that makes for a mouthwatering proposition; but does this holy trinity work in tandem to create something extra special with The BFG?

Roald Dahl's unique literary sensibilities make for an imaginative entry point for a lot of young readers; I can recall ploughing through most of his back catalogue during my time in junior school, from The Witches to The Twits. Most of these have gone on to spawn acclaimed film adaptations; from 1971's Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory to 2009's vastly under appreciated Wes Anderson stop-motion wonder, Fantastic Mr Fox.

The latest Dahl work to transition to the silver screen is The BFG, this time in live-action and with Disney and Steven Spielberg working on the project. The film sees a young orphan named Sophie (newcomer Ruby Barnhill) whisked away from her humdrum existence in a London orphanage by a big, friendly giant (not a big fucking gun, you 90's FPS psychopaths) to a far off land called Giant Country.

Played by Mark Rylance, the BFG is an oddly amiable giant who is seen as the runt of his pack; rather than hunt 'human beans' like his much larger peers, the BFG spends his nights concocting and delivering dreams to the sleeping people of England. When Sophie hears about how the other giants (voiced by Jemaine Clement and Bill Hader) hunt and eat children much like herself, the unlikely pair of friends begin to concoct something different - a plan for how they can bring down the towering monsters once and for all.

The greatest compliment I can pay Spielberg's The BFG is that it looks and feels very much like Dahl's novel. Seriously, it's like the illustrations and iconic imagery that the book serves up has been perfectly rendered on the big screen. Where Tim Burton's 2005 remake of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory looked like a Tim Burton film, Spielberg has perfectly blended his own style of filmmaking to Dahl's fantastical imagination. It's probably the most accurate portrayal of Dahl's unique storytelling and visual imagery that we've seen to date.

This effect is amplified by John Williams' magical score. It doesn't leap and soar like some of his earlier efforts (it's no Jurassic Park or E.T), but Williams' work does capture the same sense of adventure and majesty that we've felt before with Spielberg's most cherished films.

Rylance's portrayal of the titular giant is a bit uncanny valley at first, but you get used to it and it's actually a very impressive showcase of some seamless VFX work mixed with equally great acting. Rylance's face isn't floating inside his head like Helena Bonham Carter's Red Queen from Alice Through the Looking Glass; they're melded together with such detail and nuance that it's really hard to know where Rylance ends and the CGI begins (except for those ears though - those are 100% Rylance, right?)

Barnhill suffers from the same issues as Neel Sethi did in The Jungle Book earlier in the year in that she spends most of her time acting alongside a tennis ball and a vast green screen. Disney have unearthed a fantastic talent, that much is obvious - but Barnhill is clearly more comfortable in the scenes that she shares with other human beans beings.

The film does lose steam somewhere in the third act, but the family sensibilities will keep kids entertained and adults comforted throughout. Like I said, it's very loyal to Dahl's original novel so make sure you strap in for some silliness, sweetness and, of course, the occasional whizzpopper.

The Verdict: 7/10

Far from Spielberg's best, but a lesser Spielberg is still greater than most achieve in their entire career. A faithful screenplay, a wondrous score and some captivating visual effects make The BFG an enchanting fairytale for families of all ages - it's just lacking that extra something to send it stratospheric.

The BFG is in cinemas across Australia now


  1. This sounds like something I'd love and yet...whenever I watch the trailer I'm convinced I don't want to see it...but maybe I do.

    Nice review, buddy.

  2. I'm going to try to see this today...before it's yanked from theaters and cast off into Netflix Hell.

    Maybe I'll ask Fisti.

    1. It's a shame this one underperformed - but not a huge surprise in hindsight.



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