REVIEW: The BFG
This summer we had some excellent choices for family fare and it boiled down to a contest between an adaptation of a beloved children’s novel and a sequel to a previous blockbuster. It was also a contest in whimsy and effective use of computer technology and in all cases, Pixar’s Finding Dory triumphed over Steven Spielberg’s The BFG.
Spielberg has always had a fondness for childish innocence, capturing their sense of wonder time and again in his films. As a filmmaker, he is always stretching and pushing himself so he can seamlessly go from high adventure in the Indiana Jones films to suspense in Jaws to wonder with E.T. He is always mixing and matching his genres and subject matter but it also means the results can be uneven. The BFG, now out on disc from Walt Disney Home Entertainment, is a bittersweet entry into his oeuvre because it represents the final screenwriting from the late Melissa Mathieson and a magical film that failed to connect with its audience.
The $140 million dollar film was a major misfire at the box office, earning a mere $177 million worldwide. When adapting the works of Roald Dahl, author of such wonders as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, and Fantastic Mr. Fox, directors have also been uneven in their successes. This film is based on the 1982 novel, itself an outgrowth of a short story included in Danny, the Champion of the World. In this case, BFG stands for Big Friendly Giant (Mark Rylance) who ventures into the world and is spied by Sophie (Ruby Barnhill), an orphan who can’t sleep. He takes her with him, to protect the secret of his existence, and brings her into his oversized, remarkable world.
Everything is a matter of scale and as big as he is to Sophie, there are nine man-eating giants who belittle the BFG and he needs her help to stop them. Along the way, she realizes he can control dreams, something the insomniac finds fascinating. Reality and the dreamscape are equally explored throughout the film as is the frequently-seen Spielberg theme of family.
It’s engaging and entertaining, but the characters and set pieces are as ephemeral as cotton candy, the magic is weak here, and the overall combination does not thrill as anticipated. We’re not as invested in Sophie or the BFG the same way kids thrilled to Dory. Rylance, in his motion captured form, is sympathetic and likeable but everything around him is just fine, not fantastic. In fact, he just won the Washington D.C. film critics’ award for Best Motion Capture Performance (when will this become an Oscar?).
The amount of CGI involved in this film looked good on screen and the high definition transfer is superb, capturing the colors in their richness, and dazzles on your television. The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 lossless soundtrack is almost as good, allowing you to enjoy another solid John Williams score.
Given the lackluster public response to the film, it’s little surprise to find an underwhelming assortment of extras found on the Blu-ray disc. The longest and most interesting piece is Bringing the BFG to Life (27:09) with a set of video diaries from Barnhill. There is also The Big Friendly Giant and Me (1:55), Gobblefunk: The Wonderful Words of the BFG (3:16), Giants 101 (4:54), and a touching Melissa Mathieson: A Tribute (5:54).