The BFG is a dream team pairing of Spielberg and Dahl. Steven Spielberg is undoubtedly one of the greatest film directors of all time. Roald Dahl is undoubtedly one of the greatest children’s authors of all time. Combine the two together and you’ll get the the greatest children’s movie of all time. Right?
I’ll save you the suspense, the answer is no.
Being one of the greats in your profession does not automatically make any joint work between you and another great from a different profession great, even even your two professions should really go hand in hand like books and film. You need more. You need chemistry. It’s not just enough slam two great things together.
Is The BFG a great book? Yes. Is Spielberg a great director? Yes. Are the two compatible? Not quite.
I believe Roald Dahl’s greatest attributes as an author was his irreverence and his ability to tie that irreverence back into a deep feeling of love and hope. Most of his catalog deals with serious topics but he does so in such an utterly mad manner that to approach it seriously is to approach it incorrectly.
Spielberg is a master filmmaker but most of his films (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull aside) maintain a high level of reverence towards the subject matter. Spielberg has made fun, humorous movies but usually the humor is used to breakup serious or tense moments. And more often than not, the humor is played relatively straight, not all gobblefunked like Roald Dahl.
The disconnect between these two opposing forces is evident from the start of the movie and it doesn’t seem to ever want to let up. We spend most of the movie in the fantastical Giant Country but it somehow feels dull. Everything is played so serious with maybe one or two brief moments of irreverence.
When those few glimpses of Roald Dahl’s style pop up quickly, like a big belch begging to get released but to do so would be to impolite so it’s best to hide it and release a small series of burbs quietly into a napkin.
But eventually the setting moves from Giant Country to Buckingham Palace. And with zero warning and to the delight of people like me who had given up on The BFG, the movie takes a huge swig of Frobscottle. The quirkiness of the source material bursts through. All politeness is gone and in its stead comes a full blast of wildly entertaining filmmaking.
It took almost the entire movie but The BFG finally felt like a Roald Dahl story. The most frustrating aspect of this is how I just spent almost the entire movie (and this review) thinking about how ill-suited Steven Spielberg was for making a proper Roald Dahl adaptation. I didn’t think Spielberg could get the tone right. But you know what? He does. While at Buckingham Palace Spielberg nails it and it is miraculous.
What the heck Steve! Where has this been for the past hour and twenty minutes?
Now with all that being said, I should be fair and try to judge The BFG for the movie it is and not the movie I think it should be. The BFG still isn’t that great of a movie. It has a ton of little parts that are good, but as a big whole it’s just not there.
For starters, there are only a couple scenes that look and feel real. The giants and Giant Country look spectacular but the little girl running around on a green screen just never looks right. Sophie sticks out like a sore thumb. Her interactions with objects don’t look right. Her reactions are stiff. And worst of all, the blending of her and the CGI is completely distracting.
Just because they nailed the special effects in The Jungle Book doesn’t mean Disney should keep locking little children into blue-screened cages and forcing them to act against against thin air. For The BFG, it ruined what was otherwise pretty cool looking CG work.
I think the biggest disappointing aspect of The BFG is that the it simply doesn’t deliver on the emotional impact of the story. To the movie’s credit, I really loved BFG. He is given a ton to do. His dialogue is spectulariffic and he is 100% of the heart in the movie.
Unfortunately he needed to be 50% of the heart.
Sophie just isn’t given a solid chance to counterbalance BFG. The action of the movie starts far too abruptly before we even have a chance to know Sophie or care about her. All we know in the movie is that she’s a bossy little girl who lives in a rather nice looking orphanage in a harshly light part of London. It wasn’t enough.
BFG waxes poetic about hearing Sophie’s heart, but the audience doesn’t have gigantic giant ears like BFG. We need to see it and we never do. The imbalance of emotional weight causes the conclusion to not hit with the impact it should.
And that’s surprising considering how Spielberg and Dahl are both proven masters of emotion. You’d think at least one common trait would shine through.