The BFG is one of Roald Dahl’s most-famous works, and for those who love to see their childhood favourites hit the big screen, the delayed opening in Singapore (almost a month-long) was an excruciating wait. With Steven Spielberg at the helm of this adaptation, is The BFG what fans have been waiting for?
If you have read the book, The BFG doesn’t stray much from the source material at all, other than a change at the very end. For those who haven’t read the book, The BFG tells the tale of Sophie, an orphan with insomnia who catches sight of the titular BFG one night, only to be whisked away to giant land when she finds out exactly what he’s doing in the human world.
Spielberg and Weta have teamed up to create an amazing world, especially once one enters Giant Country and Dream Country. There’s a sense of unhinged realism that feels like its right out the pages of Dahl’s book. Some wonderful visual tricks – especially in Dream Country – are a delight. All this is paired with some great humour, especially what is perhaps the best fart joke in the history of film, which already makes this worth watching.
And even with the amazing CGI, what really stands out in The BFG are the human performances. Playing Sophie is Ruby Barnhill in her big screen debut, and what a joy it is to watch her. Barnhill in the role brings a wide-eyed wonder to the proceedings, while providing the steely resolve of someone who won’t let life – or human bean-eating giants – overwhelm her.
But the giant of the screen is truly Rylance as the BFG. While this is a fully motion-captured performance, the giant is Rylance in every way, just enhanced, or caricatured. The veteran stage actor brings a depth of melancholy to the giant who delivers dreams to the world, and its this layered performance that lets us believe that, no matter how fantastical, the BFG may exist.
But as with most adaptations, where The BFG trips up is trying to bring the book to screen, marrying what was in our heads with what is on screen. It sags in the middle, largely from trying to include as much as it can from the books, leaving the ending feeling more like deus ex machina – moreso than the book anyway. It’s a bit of an uneven experience, but in the end its clear that the movie doesn’t feel beholden to fans of the book, but is purely working from the standpoint of being a whole new experience for children.
Add to that the changed ending, and there isn’t any real explanation why it’s so. I’m leaving this review spoiler-free, but let’s just say it’s a little weird the way it was changed.
Which is a bit of a weird spot to be. While a large number of us who grew up with these books would be most interested in watching it (and are much older now), the film is firmly aimed at the kids. This isn’t some multi-layered work that’s a treat to both kids and adults in different ways, but just an honest, simple film.
That’s not entirely a bad thing – but with Spielberg’s presence one would have expected something a little different. There’s still the Spielberg shine that elevates the movie above a lot of drivel aimed at kids these days, but Dahl’s tongue-in-cheek, mischievous humour and Spielberg’s wide-eyed wonder don’t always blend well.
Nonetheless, those familiar with the tale will be filled glee – much of the movie hews close to what one would remember, whether its Quentin Blake’s illustrations or the BFG’s created words. Even then – first-timers need not worry, for it’s a simple enough tale to be caught up and carried away in.
For many of my friends – and those around my generation – Roald Dahl remains a huge influence on our childhood (and if you’re a fan of his adult short stories, your adolescence). A quick straw poll put The BFG easily among the most well-loved Dahl novels, and rightfully so. Here, Spielberg’s rendition of it is spellbinding – helped by solid performances by the two lead actors – but it doesn’t quite stand on the shoulders of giants.