The BFG

As I was looking back over Steven Spielberg’s films in IMDB, desperately searching for a first sentence for this review, I realized that The BFG is actually only his fourth film made specifically for children.  The others are ET of course, Hook and The Adventures of Tintin.  Now many of his films have children as protagonists, like AI or Jurassic Park, but those are made mostly for an older audience.  This was surprising to me; I would have expected him to have made more children’s films and frankly better ones.  If you look at that small list, it’s definitely a mixed bag.  Hook was a notorious flop.  I enjoyed Tintin but it failed to leave an impression on most people.  ET, of course, is a classic.  He’s never taken on anything like a Roald Dahl book and it doesn’t seem like a very good fit.

I’m afraid that The BFG is going to land somewhere in the middle of that range.  It’s not a horrible misfire like Hook but at the same time it can’t touch ET.  It’s a very pretty film with all kinds of beautiful floating lights and fantastical sets, which is part of the problem when Spielberg brings the momentum to a screeching halt to linger over the pretty pictures.  The computer generated elements are seamlessly integrated with the live actors.

Using motion capture technology, Mark Rylance gives a great performance as the BFG.  He’s friendly, sure but also a little sad and somewhat rough around the edges, speaking in an earthy cockney accent.  Ruby Barnhill joins a long list of child actors who have given great performances for Spielberg.  She is cute and spunky, encouraging the BFG to stand up to the other giants in Giant Land when they tease him.  He’s small for a giant.

There are some loose ends that bother me.  The BFG mixes up words coming up with unlikely concoctions like “buckswashling,” or “delumtious.”  When Sophie tries to correct him, he says very sadly that he doesn’t know why he mixes up his words and she immediately feels bad about criticizing him.  I was expecting this to become a plot point later but they never did anything with it.

Likewise when he is throwing his bullying brethren out of his cave he admonishes them that giants were at one time more courtly.  And yet when he goes to Buckingham Palace to meet the Queen, played by Penelope Wilton, he has no idea how to act.  It’s not an important point but it does present an incongruity.

Nonetheless I think children will like it.  They will be charmed by the BFG, and identify with Sophie.  There are a few fart jokes thrown in.  As I said it is a good looking film that really should be seen in theaters.

As for Spielberg, he’s made enough masterpieces that I am always willing to give any film of his a chance.

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