Before we get into this review, you may already be wondering what a “BFG” is. It stands for “Big friendly giant” and it’s the star of the latest Roald Dahl adaptation, following on the heels of Tim Burton tackling Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Wes Anderson’s The Fantastic Mr. Fox. This time, it’s filmmaker Steven Spielberg who makes his return to family-friendly fare with a movie that begins with the Amblin Entertainment logo, giving one hope this may be in the vein of E.T. The Extraterrestrial, or even The Goonies. Sadly, it’s not even close.
The BFG delves more into the fantasy realm than those other films, beginning with a little girl (whose name, Sophie, we won’t learn for an hour) roaming around her orphanage at three in the morning, when she spots a giant outside the bedroom window. The image of a giant hand reaching in a window to snatch this girl out of her bed is quite striking, but this giant then starts running away, taking this girl to “Giant Country,” hiding in the background whenever he might be spotted.
Voiced by Oscar-winner Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies), this giant talks in nonsensical words, but he calms down her fears by claiming himself to be a friendly vegetarian giant who doesn’t eat kids like his giant brethren. As it turns out, he’s one of the smaller giants in the area, and the other giants even call him “Runt” and constantly pick on him. “BFG” (as Sophie begins to call him) spends his time collecting dreams in his mountain home, and he sneaks into London to collect and share those dreams with families. It doesn’t make much sense, but those dreams are depicted like bright, shiny quarks kept in jars around the giant’s abode.
Sophie is played by newcomer Ruby Barnhill, who is quite precocious at first but quickly grows grating, especially since so much of the movie is just her and Rylance’s giant. Trying to keep things entertaining for kiddies, there’s lots of physical humor and even a recurring fart joke, but the other giants behave even worse, because their only motivation is to try to find and eat children, forcing “BFG” to keep his new friend hidden from them.
The only time things get remotely fun is when Penelope Wilton shows up as The Queen, who Sophie and BFG are hoping to convince to help them defeat the other giants. Wilton’s portrayal of the Queen is so incredibly fun, and it’s just as much fun watching BFG trying to adjust to Buckingham Palace and vice versa. It’s barely a fifteen-minute sequence, but it’s so enjoyable and entertaining that it almost saves an otherwise boring movie.
Creating anything even resembling a human using CG is always tough and none of the giants look particularly compelling except for the close-ups on their faces. But at least the production design in creating “Giant Country” environments and the giants’ look is well done. You can generally do very little wrong when you hire John Williams to compose your score (as Spielberg often does), and the music does a better job instilling any sort of emotion in the viewer than anything happening on screen.
Otherwise, this is one of Spielberg’s lesser movies, clearly showing he’s out of touch with what modern audiences might want to see, and basically dumbing down Roald Dahl to appeal to the youngest of kids. Whether or not you’ve read Dahl’s book, it’s quickly evident that this adaptation by Melissa Mathison (who also wrote E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial) is lacking something, primarily because it seems to talk down to all but the youngest of children, making it grueling for adults to find anything to keep them invested. Despite the Amblin logo and Roald Dahl pedigree, The BFG is a dreary drag of a film, and it’s barely saved by that 15-minute visit to the Queen, which is sadly, never revisited.
The BFG opens nationwide on July 1.