Review: 'The BFG' Falls Short of Spielberg's Greatest Films

John Allegretti ’18 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

Ruby Barnhill and Mark Rylance in The BFG. Photo Credit: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.
Roald Dahl understands fart jokes. He understands that it’s not the fart that’s funny, but what you do with it. In the film adaptation of Dahl’s The BFG, Steven Spielberg expertly weaves a fart joke into a comedy of manners, situations and adds a dash of slapstick humor. Fart jokes could easily be considered the epitome of crude humor, the antithesis of comedy, the fart joke is an easy way to get a cheap laugh from the stupidest members of the audience. Either the humor of the viewers has downgraded or The BFG has one of the most clever fart jokes ever put to film.
The BFG follows Sophie (Ruby Barnhill), a young girl trapped in an orphanage. At the witching hour (which according to her is 3:00 in the morning), Sophie goes to her window and sees a giant man standing out on the street. Not wanting to be discovered, the giant takes Sophie away from the orphanage and to his house in Giant country. It is there that Sophie becomes acquainted with the man known as the BFG (Mark Rylance), or Big Friendly Giant. Most giants eat people, but the BFG spends his days collecting pleasant dreams and giving them to children at night.
Ruby Barnhill in The BFG. Photo Credit: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.
The BFG is directed by Steven Spielberg, an industry legend who needs no introduction. The film is a straight adaptation of the original Roald Dahl book, the screenplay written by the late Melissa Mathison (also known for penning E.T.). Spielberg is no stranger to fantasy films (see Hook), in this genre the director tends to embrace his most crude and juvenile tendencies. Maybe it’s the overwhelming possibilities fantasy presents, but The BFG never gets the careful attention Spielberg gave to films like E.T. or Jurassic Park. His direction feels reckless, and that hurts the emotional impact of the film. If Spielberg can’t take the story seriously, how can we?
The performances in the film are top-notch. Mark Rylance does an amazing job as the BFG in a motion capture performance that seamlessly interacts with the movie’s human co-star Sophie. Played by Barnhill, Sophie is the standout star of the film. Maybe’s it’s her British accent, but Barnhill’s performance carries a maturity not found in other child actors. The performances from the other giants are nice, but WETA Digital’s work on them is hit or miss. Unlike the consistent CG on Mark Rylance, all of the other giants seemed to be in need of another render pass.
Ruby Barnhill and Mark Rylance in The BFG. Photo Credit: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.
The BFG ranks very low in Spielberg’s filmography, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a good film. It certainly isn’t as bad as other notable misses in his career (The Lost World and Crystal Skull), and The BFG stands as a flawed but very enchanting outing. One particular scene involves Sophie leaping into a pond and falls into a mirror world reflected by the pool of water. Sharp eyes will also notice that the river feeding the pond is actually flowing uphill. It’s small touches like these that make the film more than a disposable children’s book adaptation. The BFG seems to be this generation’s Hook. It’s a movie that won’t appeal to many adults, but will certainly be embraced by their children.
Overall Grade: C
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