Quick Hit: Overly filled with whimsy and goodness, this film is a neutering of the source material, and hangs on due to Rylance’s superb transformation.
Roald Dahl is one of those entries into the world of dark fiction that most of those that have some experience with horror came across once or twice. As a child, I was relatively late to discover the Dahl books – probably sometime in my teenage years. However, I do remember several Dahl movies I watched as a kid – first, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, which featured a number of dark scenes (and of course Gene Wilder’s gleefully insane Wonka), and James and the Giant Peach, one of my first entries into the world of stop-motion animation.
What I remember most about those movies is how at times they could be so fun, and then quickly it could turn into something absolutely terrifying. I don’t dream much anymore, but when I do, they’re often nightmares. I haven’t dreamed of the giant rhino storm in the sky for many moons, but even now, despite my adult brain, I can’t help but remember the dread those scenes would fill me with.
Therefore, it’s a shame that often times the BFG heavily pulls its punches when it comes to the more gruesome parts of the movie.
For those that don’t know the story, we’re treated to a Dahlian orphan who knows everything about the world; that is, until she is taken by a larger hooded figure from the orphanage. This is undoubtedly the strongest sequence in the movie, with the BFG slipping through the streets of London, hiding in a variety of ways, nearly all of which are creative. But it’s at this scene a lot of the forward motion stops, and we fall into an almost by the numbers story and plot. We also begin to see a lot of the typical size oriented images that have been assaulting us for years in films like The Borrowers, Stuart Little, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, and so on and so forth. There’s only so many times a person can see a little girl in a big bowl and find it humorous.
The only concession to Dahl’s original darkness is some dialogue nods (“The other giants eats beans”) (for those that don’t know “beans” equals “human beings”), and the names of the other giants, like Jermaine Clement’s FleshLumpEater. But we’re quickly whisked back to the landscapes and the focus on the BFG’s occupation as a dream blower before we can linger too long on the unpleasantness that comes with the idea of flesh-eating giants.
In my research for the film, I came across the fact that Walden Media, who has done similar neutered efforts of some beloved children books (like the Narnia films), were involved in this movie. It all makes more sense now.
What saves the movie entirely is the fact that A) Spielberg can still spin a yarn full of whimsy, and make it at least watchable and B) Mark Rylance.
The spy from Bridge of Spies, that fellow that won a Best Supporting Oscar for his performance, is now a towering figure on the screen. All the small intricacies that play across his face are now magnified a thousand-fold, and it’s actually a delight to see. The technical marvel that was brought to screen here is a testament to all the hard work the effects team, and Rylance in particular with his performance did. Otherwise, there would be no emotion to come out of the film, because we’d just be looking at another special effect. Rylance is frequently allowed to play with the fun delivery of Dahl’s invented language, because the BFG has a bit o’ trouble with words, and things comes out alls a squiggly. It’s wonderful and playful, and often buoys the most boring parts of the movie by only listening to Rylance speak.
Overall, I think this movie was made safely to be a family film, and most kids will find some enjoyability in it. But it’s not a great movie, and if taken as a while, is only average. I’m giving it a “C”.
For more on this movie check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"