Written by Tommy Tracy
There is a reason Steven Spielberg has been able to make films for the past four decades; he’s a magical spirit with an eye for the fantastical and spectacular. He knows when to mix fun with drama, captivating audiences like no one has ever done before (and will ever do again). And while the man has had some films that weren’t critically acclaimed, he has still managed to create something that no one else can.
That’s the case with The BFG, Spielberg’s 29th (or 30th, depending on who you ask) directed film, a tale adapted from the late, great Roald Dahl. The BFG depicts the titular giant (played by a CGI Mark Rylance) making friends with young Orphan, Sophie (newcomer Ruby Barnhill), whilst working in the land of giants and trying to come to terms with his own insecurities amongst his peers. Along the way, we encounter the creation of dreams, angry giants and even the Queen of England (no, I’m not making that up).
If you’ve read the source material, you know what you are getting here. Dahl made a career out of creating nonsensical things that somehow made sense. Does that make sense? How it’s taken Spielberg so long to adapt one of his novels is beyond me but maybe this was the right time. You won’t see anything too ambitious; in fact, the film is pretty safe. Spielberg adapts it so closely that it is just a retelling of the novel. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing is up to the viewer to decide.
What truly stands out is Spielberg’s direction and use of CGI and scope to create a world unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. We enter a bright world that is new to us, and we see it through Sophie’s with bright-eyed wonderment. Speaking of Sophie, actress Ruby Barnhill is a revelation. She plays the role with such innocence that it’s hard not to fall in love with within minutes. Her assertiveness and willingness to learn everything about our giant creates a perfect cocktail of a character that we haven’t seen in years. And anyone who says (Oscar-winning) Mark Rylance was a one-hit wonder will need to re-evaluate his performance in Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies. Rylance as the BFG is phenomenal here, and if this wasn’t deemed a “kid’s movie”, I could see him getting another Best Actor’s nomination. His battle against his fellow giants (who happen to be twice his size) is a sight to see.
Yet, the other giants are the biggest problem with the film. While they do create a dangerous atmosphere, especially to young Sophie, they’re incredibly one-note outside of their leader. It’s also apparent that they are CGI, not truly blending well with their backgrounds. They’ll create laughs for the kids, especially of the gross-out variety, but anyone over the age of ten may find it to be a bit tired.
The BFG reminds me a lot of Hook, which was one of my personal favorite Spielberg films as a kid. It works incredibly well for kids who enjoy the beautiful atmosphere and silly nature of the film, but adults will long for a more relatable Spielberg film. However, The BFG is acted, directed and shot so beautifully that it is still quite the sight to see. While it’s not one of Spielberg’s best, it does say something that this will be a film that a whole new generation of young Spielberg fans will adore. And that is a great thing.