In the past, adaptations of Roald Dahl’s books like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach have been outsized, spectacular cinematic experiences that take you on a journey with offbeat characters, outlandish circumstances and just the right amount of fantastical creepiness. But running through all the oddities of his stories was a foundation of heart and soul that made your emotions swirl and put a smile on your face. Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Dahl’s classic tale THE BFG hits all these marks, but with generic and bland adequacy.
The story follows Sophie (Ruby Barnhill), a 10-year-old orphan who spots a giant outside of her window in the middle of the night (like many of us do). She, like any normal human being in a situation like this, hides under her covers in hopes that the giant will just disappear. But he doesn’t. Instead, he kidnaps Sophie and takes her to Giant Country.
Scared at first, Sophie calms down after she realizes this big-eared skyscraper of a man named BFG is harmless. She gets acquainted with the larger-than-life creature and empathizes with him when he is bullied by a group of oafish giants led by Fleshlumpeater (Jermaine Clement). True to Spielbergian form, the BFG and Sophie become BFFs. And true to Spielbergian form, The BFG becomes a family-friendly movie that’s been churned out of his Hollywood ditto machine.
Instead of being dark, macabre, eerie and delightfully moody, it’s light, paint-by-the-numbers, and gets resolved once the young heroine — SPOILER ALERT — is reunited with some sort of family. It’s pretty much the same story as E.T. but instead of Elliott, it’s Sophie and instead of E.T. it’s the BFG. This shouldn’t come as a surprise considering it’s Spielberg working with E.T. screenwriter Melissa Mathison. There is absolutely nothing wrong with having a familiar story told through a different lens. Star Wars: The Force Awakens followed the pattern of A New Hope and it’s safe to say that it did fairly well. But with The BFG, the movie’s story actually felt regurgitated and wasn’t as fun as one would hope.
The movie has moments of silliness, including farts — yes, farts — which provide flashes of energy and plucky spirit for the audience. And there are also moments of whimsy that echo previous Dahl adaptations like The Witches, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and The Fantastic Mr. Fox, but Spielberg tends to coddle the story like an overbearing father, smothering its off-center and fantastical appeal.
90 percent of the film is Barnhill acting with what I assume was a tennis ball on a long stick against a green screen. Either way, the young actor deserves kudos for acting against something that would be conjured up in post. Barnhill acts as if she were in the Golden Age of Hollywood with all the wide-eyed fervor and pageantry of a Shirley Temple-type. But it’s Mark Rylance that fuels this film’s heart and keeps the movie afloat. As the titular BFG, the Academy Award manages to cut through all of his CG makeup and convey emotional brilliance that connects with the audience.
The BFG is a visual marvel when it comes to its towering CG cast of creatures and epic scenery, but when it comes to the movie as a whole, it lacks the childlike wonder and excitement that tends to dazzle in other Dahl adaptations.
Score: 2 out of 5
Dino-Ray Ramos watches too much TV, enjoys reality singing competitions and laughs inappropriately during dramatic films. He’s a fan of comedy, podcasts, and comedy podcasts. He’s a reformed comic book geek and thinks “The Goonies” is the best movie of all time. When he isn’t stuffing his face with a burrito, he’s thinking about his next trip to Disneyland.
Dino-Ray Ramos | Staff Writer