There’s a reason that so many of Roald Dahl’s stories have entered the literary canon. The man known for creating the worlds of Matilda, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and James and the Giant Peach is a great children’s author not just because of his imagination, but because he is able to give his young protagonists an active role in their stories, instead of the passive one they assume in a lot of adult media.
Take a concept like The B.F.G. for instance. A lesser author would have made it a story about giants and would have featured the child staring in awe for the duration of the narrative. However, Roald Dahl made the story about the young girl from start to finish. The giants arrive to provide conflict in the story, but while the giants are much bigger and stronger than the youthful hero, she consistently stands up for herself, and ultimately makes decisions that not only impact her fate, but the fate of the world as well. Not only is this incredibly empowering for young kids, but it makes for quite the engaging story.
Of course, the film version of The B.F.G. is separate entity from the book, but this new Steven Spielberg film is probably the most adequate adaptation the story could hope to get. With a screenplay written by the late Melissa Mathison (the screenwriter for E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial who passed away during production due to cancer), the movie follows the structure of the book with minimal deviation. This means that while the material is tested and true, any opportunity to truly shine and provide a new experience for the audience comes from the production and not the story.
And though film is very well made, it fails to find the heart that would have made it a great movie rather than just a great adaptation. However, perhaps this is the right call. Instead of risking harm to a good story , the movie focuses its energy on telling the story to the best of its ability.
For those of you who haven’t read the book (did you have a childhood?), the story takes place in England and features a young girl named Sophie (introducing the magnificent Ruby Barnhill) who sees a giant man at about three in the morning. Later named ‘The B.F.G.’ (Mark Rylance) – or, The Big, Friendly Giant – Sophie is kidnapped and taken to Giant Country. There, she discovers that there is a group of giants in the kingdom that are even bigger than The B.F.G, and they’ve made a habit out of eating English children.
Because this adaptation of The B.F.G. is live-action (unlike the animated version that came out in 1989), one of the biggest challenges is being able to show the size differentiation between the humans and the giants. It’s a mixture of realism and fantasy, and is no easy task. The humans look fine (well, duh), and the giants look fabulous, but the problem arises when the two of them mix. When Sophie is in Giant Country, there is a bit of a disconnect between her and her surroundings. It’s just a little too obvious that she’s standing in front of a green screen. And when The B.F.G. is in the human world, the CGI makes his character stick out a little too much, even for a 24-foot giant. It’s not a huge issue, but it leads to a bit of disorientation throughout.
Despite all of this, there is strong chemistry between Rylance and Barnhill. Rylance plays The B.F.G. with lots of empathy and a wide variety of facial expressions, which is good because his face is blown up to huge proportions. In turn, Barnhill demonstrates a supreme amount of confidence, holding her own and emerging as the star, even in atmospheres filled with fantastical imagery.
As always with Spielberg movies, there are some nice oners, cute transitions, and a rousing score by John Williams. Watching The B.F.G, I am reminded Brian De Palma’s recent assertion that a director makes their best movies in their 30s, 40s and 50s. Spielberg turns 70 later this year, and while the movies he is making are far from bad, they are also not his best. The B.F.G. is wonderfully cute, but not terribly impactful. It’s good, not great.
That said, because this is a kid’s movie, and because there is a kid in the Stern family, I thought I’d seek an additional opinion. I have an eight-year-old sister (though she turns nine this month!). Her name is Elizabeth, but she wants you to call her Quill. I’ve interviewed her while writing reviews for the past few movies we’ve seen together, but this time she wanted to write her own thoughts. I helped her out a little bit with spelling and grammar, but all of the thoughts (including the choice of colors) are her own. So without further ado… Quill’s Review!
I think The B.F.G. made it into theaters because it has a lot of work put into it and it was so realistic. It was similar to the book but not always. In the book they went to a place but stayed on land and in the movie they went to a place but got in water. I like how it was so funny. My sister, Hettie, and I (she saw the movie with me) were laughing a lot. What I like the most about the movie is that it is a children’s movie based off of a book. I think the best way to enjoy the movie is to read the book first.
Elizabeth gave it 10 Stars… Out of 5!