The BFG

(PG) Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Bill Hader

This film seems to offer a perfect combination by bringing together one of the world’s most celebrated children’s authors, Roald Dahl, and one of the world’s most celebrated film-makers, Steven Spielberg. Can this magical combination deliver a giant result at the box office?

There are few films that have caused as much anticipation in our home like The BFG. Our ten-year-old daughter loves the Roald Dahl classic. She has been following the media to know all she can about this production. Knowing Steven Spielberg (E.T. – The Extra Terrestrial) was helming the film adaption of her favourite book made her excitement palpable.

So, what’s Spielberg’s adaptation actually like?

To those that are not familiar with the storyline, Dahl’ story focusses on ten-year-old Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) and her unexpected friendship with the Big Friendly Giant (Academy-Award winner Mark Rylance). This orphan is whisked away to the land of giants and finds herself cared for by the gentle and charming BFG. As their friendship grows, Sophie gradually realises the BFG has a magical role in the lives of human’s dreams and she begins to enjoy her role of catching these dreams alongside her enormous friend. In the process of building their familial bond, Sophie unwittingly catches the attention of Bloodbottler (Bill Hader), Fleshlumpeater (Jemaine Clement) and the other giants who have less than savoury intentions for her and the rest of humanity. She and the BFG must work out how to convince the Queen of England (Penelope Wilton) to help thwart these evil plans and bring about peace in the lands of the humans and giants.

Steven Spielberg puts forward an ambitious effort in helping audiences to visualise Dahl’s imaginative book. The visual development of the story is the defining feature of Spielberg’s film and is captivating throughout the adventure. Advancements in computer-generated imagery have finally caught up with the visionary styles of film makers like Spielberg, and they are richly used to bring The BFG to on-screen life.

Spielberg’s capturing of the visual element of The BFG is critical to supporting the characters, as well as establishing Dahl’s fantasy world. The Big Friendly Giant is given the nuances of character and size that provide the believability within Dahl’s absurd creation. The magical visuals are balanced by the miniature human element that is convincingly portrayed by Ruby Barnhill. Her performance is reminiscent of the acting prowess showed earlier this year by young star Neel Sethi in The Jungle Book. Both Barnhill and Sethi rise to the challenge of acting within a computer generated world, and proved they have the needed skills to support iconic stories.

However, even among the great effects and characters, something is missing. The BFG  fails to rise above the ordinary. In the realm of  children’s films, this one does not manage to  connect with all ages. Much of the film relies on a thorough knowledge of the original story, which works well for fans of Dahl’s classic. Avid readers will enjoy the film’s subtleties but everyone else will be lost for a good portion of it.

Perhaps a more effective use of humour could have helped to connect the audience to the characters. Compared with many of Spielberg’s films, the humour component is sadly lacking. Most of the funnier elements fall flat and won’t connect with adults.  With few laughs along the way, viewers not devoted to Dahl’s original story might feel a bit lost. Hoping this giant’s tale will eventually get on track and arrive at a satisfactory conclusion doesn’t quite work out.

Steven Spielberg has built a marvellous world for Sophie and the BFG in which to reside, but he leaves it without the needed heart to deliver a great film. Fans of the book will walk away satisfied, but it will be less than satisfying for those who are new to Dahl’s story. The recommendation for anyone going to see this visual spectacle would be to first read the book with your children, grandchildren or friends.

 What are the bigger questions to consider from this film?

  1. How should we respond to bullies?(Proverbs 6:16-19, Matthew 5:43-48)
  2. What does the Bible say about dreams? (Amos 3:7, Ecclesiastes 5:7)

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Russell Matthews

Russell loves film and enjoys engaging in discussions about the latest cinema offerings and then connecting this with the Gospel. He has worked for City Bible Forum for over 10 years, is a reviewer for Insights Magazine and Entertainment Fuse and has a blog called Russelling Reviews. He moderates events for Reel Dialogue which connect the film industry with the general public.