The BFG (d. Steven Spielberg UK/Canada/USA 2016)

Pleaseread On Reviews for a guide to how I write film reviews. Any spoilers are appropriately marked and, though I personally prefer to know little about a film before seeing it, there is a synopsis at the bottom for any who wish to see one.

Entertainment: starfish starfish  

Performances: starfish starfish starfish 

Predictability:   starfish starfish 

Technical:        starfish starfish starfish


Roald Dahl is a classic children’s author. In fact his play on the English language and sheer imagination has touched the hearts of many including your humble reviewer. As such, BFG, is actually a big book to me. When I was younger I saw The Witches (d. Nicolas Roeg USA/UK 1990), Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (d. Mel Stuart USA 1971), Matilda (d. Danny DeVito USA 1996) and James and the Giant Peach (d. Henry Selick UK/USA 1996) and was always a bit disappointed that there wasn’t a film for The BFG (a. Dahl Jonathan Cape 1982). This was before learning of the cartoon version, The BFG (d. Brian Cosgrove UK 1989), but I was actually quite disappointed with it. I think a part of me wanted something a bit more on par with Matilda and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The Witches was not as good (the protagonist wasn’t great) and James and the Giant Peach‘s decision to become stop motion half way through was a strange choice for it to feel similar to Matilda and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The BFG, the cartoon version, felt a bit underdone and underwhelming like a straight to TV version (though I have to say some straight to TV versions do so much better than their theatrical counterparts – Gulliver’s Travels (d. Charles Sturridge UK/USA 1996) and Great Expectations (d. Julian Jarrold UK 1999)!). So when I heard of The BFG I was really intrigued. Roald Dahl is imaginative, a bit dark and knows how we encounter language and, especially for many of his children’s books at least, he’s great at seeing the world through a child’s eyes.

Now, we appear to be in the day for CGI and from the outset and from the early images it’s obvious that this was to be a CGI heavy film. This actually made me anxious for how the effects would be handled in the film, for some of the central giants they actually used CGI very well and gave them a lot of emotional character. This being a strength of the film. The characters were handled in a way that gave an average level of respect, they were treated in a way that gave me them moments to shine and a good level of understanding as they could have been easily reduced to idiotic brutes. However, in some ways the changes from the book removed some of the darker overtones that gave menace to the characters and sequences were added and changed to allow for creative flair but that weren’t all that required for the film. SPOILERS. Think the sequence with cars and the BFG riding them. END OF SPOILERS. A final note on CGI the abstract nature of the dreams gave a nice level of visual style.

One of the strongest aspects of the film was the script which used a lot of the source material to great effect. Roald Dahl gives a good interpretation of getting to understand language and so this should, as was, be used to effect. The changes to some of the script to get moments from scene to scene and plot point to plot point wasn’t handled in the best of ways. The film had some moments when the truth of the novel shone through but it struggled from getting to these points and the changes, though few, weren’t helping. If Roald Dahl’s sense of dark cruelty had stayed with some of the giants then the ending would have had more of an impact. The sense of majesty and tense nature of the ending was also slightly undermined by the thought of ‘for children’ tone.

Overall, for me, who really loved the book, this was another disappointment. For others, I imagine, especially children, the film would work quite well but not go so far with them. Impressive moments and I can’t emphasise the effectiveness of the language in some scenes but an adaptation is what it is, mostly thinking it can improve and be better. Oh dear.

Synopsis

An orphan child is snapped up by a big friendly giant who spreads dreams in the night, unfortunately it is learnt he is the only friend giant and the rest eat people – something must be done.

 

Further Reading

rottentomatoes.com

metacritic.com

Official site

Roald Dahl

Interview with Steven Spielberg and Mark Rylance

Interview with Ruby Barnhill

Interview with Cast and Crew

BFG Symbolism

A look at Roald Dahl films



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