The BFG remembers what its like to see the world through the eyes of a child, whisked away into the fantasy fairy-tale world of giants. The BFG is a trifling, pleasant film, which sees director Steven Spielberg attempting to reconcile the scale and dazzle of modern filmmaking with the mischievous charm of Roald Dahl’s enduring classic. The BFG lessens the darkness of Roald Dahl’s classic in favour of an entirely good-natured, visually exquisite and largely popular family adventure.
The Giant, although at first an embodiment of childhood terrors, turns out to be a gentle soul with expressive ears, a melancholy countenance and a nonsensical flair of speech. After his accidental encounter with young orphan girl Sophie, he plucks her captive to a faraway valley with his much larger fellow giants who roam the wilds nearby. Spielberg opted to eliminate Dahl’s depiction of lumbering monsters eating humans, thereby transforming them into relative buffoons with fewer associations to terror. But when Sophie discovers the Big Friendly Giant has spent his entire life succumbing to his aggressive child-gobbling siblings, she hatches an elaborate plan to stop them.
Mark Rylance takes his role as BFG cautiously here, rolling words around to create an ordinary fully rounded character out of a children’s book invention. His face and body have been enhanced and distorted by digital magic, but his unique blend of gravity and mischief imbues his fanciful character with a dimension of soul the rest of the film lacks. For her part, brown-eyed beauty Ruby Barnhill is bossy, fearless and well spoken, but her personality rarely leaps off screen or nests in our hearts. As a whole, the movie represents Spielberg in a more pensive and philosophical vein, less interested in propulsive cinema and more reflective of what matters most; the power of dreams and the ability to bring them to life. Unfortunately, that’s all you can get with his generous measure of explicitity. But of course the digital effects that render the story are exquisite in their shimmer and glow, and childhood wonder floats vividly from the screen to enchant all the little kids.
The BFG lacks the strident messaging of children’s films, drawing melancholy from the compromises of adulthood. In particular, Sophie’s latter conversation with her giant about the future feels like the film’s one strange concession to subversiveness and sadness. There’s little silver lining in this one, showing its entirely possible for a film to completely inert, even if its constantly in motion. The BFG is hopelessly charming and hopelessly dull, but if I can sum it up; it is a kind-souled movie about kind-souls for kind-souls.