Review: “The BFG”

Post by Nathan Blake

The BFG, Steven Spielberg’s first non-historical film since 2011’s The Adventures of Tintin, is a little bumpy at times, but overall works as a charming, light and visually stunning adaption of the Roald Dahl book from 1982. It is also the last screenwriting credit for E.T. scribe Melissa Mathison, who died in 2015 and to whom the film is dedicated.

The story is simple. An orphan named Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) is captured by the BFG (Mark Rylance) after she catches a glimpse of him through the window late one night. His motive for carrying her off is that she will run her mouth to everyone else if left alone. In case you haven’t read the book, I won’t spoil anything about the giant’s hobbies, talents and favorite beverage (oh what a drink indeed). Suffice to say, being big and friendly is an anomaly among giants, and that is the source for some of the film’s more action-packed sequences.

The fact that the story is simple is a problem for the film’s director. Of the many stamps Spielberg leaves on his work, none is more frustrating at times than his refusal to make a film shorter than two hours. Some stories just don’t need that much time. The first hour of this film suffers from occasional lag, most of it having to do with imagery that I doubt was included in or dragged out as long in the script. Whether or not it was, a lot of Spielberg’s stamps are here: close-ups on hands, curtains, feet and other objects in dark places in order to raise tension. The problem is he incorporates these techniques after we have already met the BFG and can confirm what the title suggested to us: he is big and friendly.

So why be all ominous and gloomy about it, especially when the film’s best moments are the lighter jokes and about two thirds of the way through?

Now, as I hinted at before, there are clashes with more hostile giants, and there Spielberg and cinematographer Janusz Kaminski remind us why they are considered among the best at what they do.

What is most magical about the film though is the performance of Rylance, who recently took home his first Oscar for Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies. Fortunately, the motion capture effects utilized here are done with restraint in order to emphasize Rylance’s non-verbal acting mastery.

The BFG will not rank among Spielberg’s most iconic films. Even if it merited such distinction, expectations for him are so high that no one would accept it as such. But Spielberg does prove a much better choice to adapt a Dahl work than Tim Burton. This is a flawed but fine fantasy that serves as a nice reminder about the importance of friendship and acceptance.

In terms of social or political messages, you won’t find too many. That isn’t Spielberg’s purpose here, although the film does embrace a meat-free lifestyle. Then again, when we consider many recent headlines, The BFG provides a much needed example of someone who is kind and gentle when his peers are not.

Nathan Blake (MA, Northern Illinois University) is a scholar of media and popular culture, having written numerous essays on auteur theory and long form television. He currently works as Digital Content Editor for Iowa’s Clinton Herald
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