REVIEW: “The BFG”

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Some movies can’t be made until technology catches up to the concepts. I fully believe the “The BFG” is a prime example. Certainly attempts could have been made. CGI and motion-capture have been around long enough to bring some wobbly form of Roald Dahl’s children’s book to the big screen. But Steven Spielberg’s latest fantasy endeavor proved that now was the right time.

I won’t say “The BFG” is without a stumble here or there, but it is far more charming and delightful than I anticipated. That’s because Spielberg and screenwriter Melissa Mathison (who sadly passed away last November) have a very clear idea of how they want to tell this story. The two first collaborated on “E.T.” which released in 1982, the same year “The BFG” book was published. Here they’ve pruned certain elements of Dahl’s story and made a lighter, relationship-focused fantasy adventure.

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The key ingredient to the film’s success is Mark Rylance. Spielberg has called Rylance “transformational”. Last year they made “Bridge of Spies” which netted the stage veteran the Supporting Actor Oscar. They have two more films together coming soon. The two clearly have a creative chemistry which “The BFG” uses to its fullest advantage.

Rylance’s performance is sublime. You simply can’t turn away from what he is doing. And this is more than just motion-capture. Yes Rylance went through the process of wearing a black bodysuit covered with sensors that captured his every movement. But much like the very best Andy Serkis work, this truly visualizes a full performance. The amazing representation of this 24 foot tall gentle giant is equally due to the sensational visual artistry and the impeccable performance delivered by Rylance.

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We also get a fine performance from young Ruby Barnhill who plays a orphan girl named Sophie. Late one night Sophie looks out her window and sees Rylance’s Big Friendly Giant sneaking around her street. Fearing she will tell others of his existence, BFG plucks Sophie from the orphanage and takes her to his home in Giant Country.

Despite their glaringly obvious differences, the two develop an unlikely friendship and find they have much in common. Both are lonely and have no friends. Both struggle with a sense of belonging. Each fill a significant void in the other’s life. But things are complicated by the nine child-eating giants who also live in Giant Country. The nine, who feature such names as Childchewer and  Gizzardgulper, constantly bully BFG. But things get even worse when their leader Fleshlumpeater (Jemaine Clement) gets a whiff of young Sophie (if you know what I mean).

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The film occasionally flirts with the conventional, but it never fully falls into that trap. It doesn’t drown its story with silly slapstick. It doesn’t dumb itself down. It doesn’t numb your senses with hyperactive pacing. For the most part it steers clear of common clichés found in kids/family movies. I liked the slow build and the attention to character. I also thought it was very funny at times (although why do you find fart jokes in 99% of these things).

There are a handful of meandering moments and a few obvious gaps in narrative logic. But as a whole “The BFG” is a delightfully heartwarming movie that may push away those looking to have their senses set ablaze by nonstop action and rampant silliness. But for those looking for an intelligent and engaging experience, “The BFG” more than delivers. And if nothing else it’s worth seeing for Mark Rylance’s nomination-worthy performance.

VERDICT – 4 STARS

4 Stars

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22 thoughts on “REVIEW: “The BFG”

  1. Great review, Keith. I’m for endearing characters and happy to avoid loud stories with hyperactive pacing. Mark Rylance convinced me his performance was memorable in the trailer. I hope I can see this on the big screen soon.

    • It was surprisingly good. Sadly it looks like it already being categorized as a ‘bomb’. That is such a shame. But its release was odd from the start. Every theater near me that was showing it basically played it on one screen. Finding Dory had quadruple the number of screens. It didn’t seem to have a chance from the start.

      • It makes you wonder if it weren’t rigged by Disney. Spielberg has always been a Hollywood favorite for decades. Seems like he’s losing his clout (I’m thinking of Ruth’s question posed today).

      • He may be losing his clout. I also think he is making much different movies than he once did. Bridge of Spies and The BFG really impressed me in how they showed a dialed back Spielberg. Obviously that isn’t what some people want from him considering his history. But I have found it to be refreshing.

      • It doesn’t need to be said, but obviously, the man has enough money to buy a country. Artistically, he should do what he wants–I would like to see him stretch with cinematography, staging, new innovations.

      • Oh me too Cindy. That’s a big reason I appreciate these latest films and am anxious for his future projects (two more with Rylance).

  2. Nice review Keith. I read the book a lot during my childhood but for some reason haven’t had the urge to check it out in theaters. I’ll try to catch this next weekend.

    • It is quite refreshing – a true character-driven movie. It patiently develops the relationship between the two main characters. I loved that it focused on them more that the 99 mph silliness of many movies of its type.

    • Do see it! Sadly it appears to be getting passed by for the much more mainstream Finding Dory. It certainly wasn’t given many screens in my area. It definitely deserves an audience.

      And did you like Rylance in Bridge of Spies? Wait till you see him here.

      • Rylance was just as great as Hanks in Bridge of Spies! I’ll bet he’s incredible here. I can’t believe people are actually passing on a Spielberg film.

  3. Great review, Keith, and definitely the nicest one I have seen about this movie. I might check this out sometime, if only because I read SO much Dahl as a kid.

    • Thanks Zoe. I’m having a hard time understanding the dislike for this film and the handling of it by theaters (at least in this area). I think maybe it’s that it is a slower paced character-focused movie. It isn’t overly silly or running at 100 mph. For me those character developing moments were such a strength.

    • It was a lot of fun. It’s a unique movie that shows off this new calmer Spielberg. I appreciate it for a lot of things it does to set itself apart.

  4. Hmmm, I wish I could say I love this one Keith. I didn’t dislike it, but I was quite bored with it until about the last 20 min or so in the palace. Those scenes did make me laugh, but it felt a little too late.

    • I was a bit surprised at how little this film went for the big laughs specifically in the first part. To be honest I liked that. But it definitely went for the big laughs in the palace. I thought that whole sequence was great.

  5. I loved this film. It was quite faithful to the original made-for-British-television special by Daniel Cosgrove. That’s a remarkable little film too, but somehow (and more than likely with the aid of superior technology) Mark Rylance made the BFG even more memorable here than he was in 1989. It’s such a shame the movie is doing so poorly at the box office (i think it made $22 mil opening weekend against its $140 mil budget? ouch. . ) but then again I’m not surprised. This is fairly obscure Roald Dahl material and Spielberg has never done Dahl stuff before.

    • Glad to hear from someone else who appreciated the film. I really liked what Spielberg did here. Like Bridge of Spies he dials it back a bit and focuses on the less showy. And I love that this isn’t a frantic, mile-a-minute kids movie. It is more subdued and character focused.

      I’m really confused at how this movie has been distributed. I saw it in what is probably the biggest theater in our state. It had a total of five showings that day. The Purge had nine. Tarzan had ten. Independence Day had thirteen. Dory had fourteen. Even Now You See Me 2 had more. End it was opening weekend for The BFG. Something just doesn’t make sense.

  6. I was disappointed. Some nice moments here and there, particularly in the 3rd act when the giant eats some food, but an awfully long movie for a story where two people just hang out and chat.

    Still, given the cost, sad to to see this is the biggest bomb of Spielberg’s career. It didn’t deserve that.

    • Lots of people seem to share your take on it. For me it was those quieter character moments that made the film for me. I liked the slower pace and the relationship building. It is definitely a different type of Spielberg film.

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