The work of Roald Dahl is well known and beloved worldwide, and almost as much time has passed with studios wishing to bring his book to the big screen. This latest attempt from Disney carries a lot of the story’s heart, but does it work as a movie too?
A young orphan girl named Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) gets snatched from her bed during the night by a giant. (Mark Rylance) He takes her to Giant’s Country fearful that after seeing him, Sophie will tell the world of his existence. The tale is one of discovery and adventure, as Sophie begins to learn more of who she calls The Big Friendly Giant.
Directed by Steven Spielberg, this really does have the feel of an Amblin Studios production. If you are a fan of that aesthetic, you’ll see a lot here to enjoy. It holds to the original story quite faithfully, but with the drawback of being a story which is incredibly simple and… with no particular set goal to aim for. But, this is a children’s story after all, so let’s not lean too much on that for now.
The visuals are what stand out most prominently right from the beginning. There was some excellent work put into this in order to generate the fantastical world. The highlight probably being the sequence where they both set out to capture dreams, conceptually it looks fantastic, and has some great lighting effects to boot too. There’s some fun too where the BFG has to blend out of sight in the human world – stealthily going into the shadows in clever ways to avoid being seen. It was a very nice touch.
Mark Rylance delivers an excellent performance through voice work, and the CG integration, as the giant. Carrying what I can best call a “strong” Yorkshire accent, he has a lot of character and personality. Which means a lot in a story that centralises on just two characters. Ruby Barnhill is good too, certainly delivering the best performance she can, although lacking at some points during the story line. Penelope Wilton and Jermaine Clement also make interesting appearances.
But although the visuals are very, very impressive, this didn’t quite grab me in the same way that “Pete’s Dragon” did. Where in that example there was so much honest heart to push up the simple story, here the attention to faithfulness of the source material can only take it so far. The plot leaves little to the imagination, since it doesn’t particularly have a lot of drive to push it forward. It’s very hard to put down into words, and especially so to describe to a Dahl fan but… it hasn’t made the jump from book to screen that allows it to play out as a cinematic narrative. Most of what happens are little discussions where the giant and the girl learn about each other, but I needed some sharper focus to find what was happening compelling. The end sequence in Giant’s Country also ends surprisingly quickly, considering all the lead up it had.
I don’t want to be too hard on “The BFG” since it is a Spielberg creation intended for kids. And they’ll have a great time with this one I am certain. But the lacklustre story means that it won’t be a particularly memorable one, even though it is worth the watch for the visuals alone. For all the glitter and sparkle that shimmered off of the screen, it left me feeling somewhat unimpressed. But because of that Roald Dahl connection, plenty other people will enjoy it more than I did.
Thanks for reading!