“BFG” disappoints despite good production
I had high hopes going into “The BFG.” It was created by one of my favorite directors, Steven Spielberg, and looked very promising. I remember reading the novel by Roald Dahl as a kid and thoroughly enjoying it. The idea of a giant roaming around while delivering dreams was a noble concept. As you can imagine, the hype was immerse with each trailer and TV spot that came my way. It looked good, had a unique cast and seemed to stick close to the source. And by the time I finally saw it, I found myself torn. For something that looks good and held such promise, how did I end up feeling so disappointed by the end?
Mark Rylance starts as the title character who snatches an orphan named Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) after she sees him. The two hit it off like a grandfather and grandchild relationship which is cute at first. The early parts follow the tone close to the book as Sophie learns of the BFG’s world and its dangers. When these two have a conversation, it lingers between exposition and character development heavy as we learn how similar are two leads are. They both live in dark environments and feel like the only bright spot to their lives.
Even the BFG (“Big Friendly Giant”) is interesting himself with a slang vocabulary and secret passion to deliver dreams to sleeping patrons. There’s a hidden tragedy to all seeing how alone he is, despite being surrounded by nine other giants who not as kind as he acts. There is a sense of sadness to the character who is stuck with a disgusting vegetarian diet of snozzcumbers and his house which is full of knick knacks and other trinkets. Even the girl they got to play Sophie is not too bad. Despite having her react with awe most of the time, there is a nice spunk to her attitude that meshes with the big and sublime giant friend.
Sadly, it all goes downhill when the changes to the source material kick in. The mean and cruel giants in Giant Country only come off as feeling threatening instead of frightening. At first, the idea of these big homeless creatures dressed in garbage like rags and rubber tires is a touch creative. But when we see them in action, there’s not much tension or menace. They all come off like big bullies instead of brutal beasts we dare not mess with. The leader Fleshlumpeater (Jemaine Clement) really tries to be villainous, but there’s not much to feel about his threats to the BFG.
And I completely blame that on how much the source material has been watered down. In Dahl’s tale, these giants were brutal and deadly creatures while looking deformed and gruesome. There were talks of how much they like the munching of bones and how each country they went to tasted so differently (“Swedes taste of sweet and sour.”) And that was something I always loved of Roald Dahl’s work. He knew how to balance the dark and light side of his stories without pushing any limits.
In Spielberg’s case, the lightness and fantasy elements are played up way too much. While the design of the dreams and nightmares are interesting, like floating fairy lights breezing about, we spend way too much time on these bright things that it undermines the darker elements. Or at least what is left of the dark stuff. We don’t see the giants on their crusade to eat people (or in some cases, barley gets a mention), there is no feeling of danger or peril at all and even the big climax only happens for a mere 90 seconds. Heck, there’s even a scene when the evil giants tear through the BFG’s home to find Sophie. All the camera does is focus on Sohpie running about while the giants rip up the place and smash stuff in the background. Even the score during this sequence feels more whimsical and less intimidating.
If I had to compare this version of “The BFG” it would be to the “Nutcracker Suite” segment from Disney’s “Fantasia” and Spielberg’s “Hook.” Both are light and look bright, yet there is a problem. In “Hook,” you felt there were risks going on and felt the danger of Neverland. In the world of “The BFG,” if you took out the scenes with the bad giants, you wouldn’t miss much. Without proper antagonists or even a will of darkness, you will just end up with a movie that has pretty lights and an overload of whimsy. I feel bad because I can tell there is effort behind this and there are points when it does adapt the source well enough. But alas, not enough justice was done to make this a pure classic. The right beats are there but nothing felt engaging or unique. I’m sure little kids will enjoy it, but older viewers might be bored very quick with its podding pace.
In a case of “watch this, not that,” I actually recommend the 1989 animated adaptation by Cosgrove Hall. A Roald Dahl adaptation that even Dahl himself applauded over after seeing it. The animation is good for its technical effects, the designs for the giants are memorable, the stuff it uses from the source is appropriately put to good use and even the synthesizer score is edgy and fun. I’m certain this will be reissued to DVD at some point and when it does, I say give this one a better look. Because at the end of the day, when an animated adaptation is more emotionally engaging than one done by Steven Speilberg, you know something is clearly wrong.
Posted on July 9, 2016, in In Theaters (Sort of) and tagged Adaptation, Amblin Entertainment, Cosgrove Hall, Dreams, Fantasy, Mark Rylance, Roald Dahl, Summer Blockbuster, The BFG. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.