Cinema Review: The BFG

Directed by: Steven Spielberg

Screenplay by: Melissa Mathison

Story by: Roald Dahl

Duration: 117 minutes

Cast:  Mark Rylance. Ruby Barnhill. Penelope Wilton. Jemaine Clement. Rebecca Hall.  Rafe Spall. Bill Hader

A much beloved book and animated film, this tale now graces the silver screen and is quite a brave choice for this day and age. Granted that remakes are always risky, and the affection that nostalgic fans have for the original can often attract views but also taint opinions. This story however is essentially about a young girl being taken by an old man and forced to live with him while other children are killed in the night. Dead children and a possible advert for Stockholm syndrome is not the sturdiest of foundations for a feel good family feast. So like the jars in BFG’s workshop, is this filled with the stuff of dreams or is it a torrid narrative nightmare?

The premise is that Sophie stays in an orphanage and has a grand time dragging a duvet around and reading by torchlight like she’s auditioning for the Goosebumps TV series. She also shouts at drunken people to quiet down and in doing so she makes enough to noise to wake children still in the womb. Cementing her popularity with the other orphans she creaks from room to room murmuring rules about how to survive ‘the witching hour’ while eagerly breaking them at the same time. Sympathy is limited then when she is snatched from bed by a giant who takes her to the imaginatively titled ‘giant country’. There she learns how he catches and gifts people with dreams while other giants counter this somewhat by devouring live children, this traditionally makes them the bad guys and Sophie needs to stop them.

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Now this is a time where nearly every animated family film looks like it was drawn by Sketchlor, the god of art and pencils. CGI has only improved this and with movies like Polar Express, A Christmas Carol or any Pixar film they put out from their money printing machine, we are in danger of being spoiled when it comes to visual quality and taking it for granted. Animated films are now like film reel and honey have been put in a blender together then poured directly into our mind mouths, and it’s now hard for films to stand out in visual aspects alone. I’m saying this not because I have a word quota but because I want it to carry more weight than a steroid infused mule when I say, this film looks absolutely amazing and not just for the sake of it. This film uses the special effects and animation to inject this film with wonder, and beautifully thins the veil of the imagination between magic and reality. This isn’t aimless either as he cinematography is pretty stunning. A shot of the BFG leaping through a cloud as lightning strikes is breathtaking and the picture painted of Sophie holding BFG’s finger in her hand is nothing short of heart-wrenchingly iconic. My favourite sequence however was where BFG crafts a dream and it could be a film in itself, a ballet of colourful chemistry as a miniature story dances in front of you, all the ingredients coaxed into life by BFG himself. The music is also brilliant  and reflects the movement on screen with great commitment, even in a sad or scary scene if a good dream is passing through shot a whimsical and positive melody will be present to emphasise it.

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By far the biggest success is the BFG himself, the writers take their flag of emotions and rive into the audiences hearts to claim them as their own. He is the pinnacle of innocent well meaning. As Doctor Frankenstein made him from parts of kindly old men to make the perfect Grandad. His smile is heart warming as his eyes twinkle with the power of Michael Bay screen glare, his creaking ears should be in the credits they have so much character.. His vocabulary is faulty just like in the book but they do it in such a way you can always tell what he means. If not written properly he could be more verbally jumbled than Boris Johnson after a long nap, while on meth. It is thankfully kept pure and child like, they manage to keep it understandably endearing and never frustrating or forced. His lines such as “some times will be hard, some will be soft”, these use his verbal simplicity as an emotive strength. As he creeps through the background skilfully manipulating the environment to avoid people spotting him, it is a satisfying joy to watch. Although confusing since in his introduction he couldn’t reveal his presence Sophie more dramatically unless he hurled a nearby building at her face. He is more than a giant, when I watched this film he was the guardian of your dreams good and bad. When he visits a family to give dreams in the film he opens the window with with a breath instead of his hand, it adds that vital and often elusive magical element. As the window creaks you realise what he means to children, noises that usually scare you at night such as windows creaking could be your protective kindly giant….ok so there’s no way to make that sound non creepy but the point remains.

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There are flaws though in this adventure, this story makes some changes from the cherished original, some of the new and original scenes work better than others. The famous scene wizzpopping with the Queen is not the worst euphemism but one of the most famous scenes and the one i was most concerned about. It is important to show the enjoyable contrast of the irreverent force of the BFG meeting the pinnacle of decorum in our monarch. Sadly this usually subtle and un-patronising film throws caution and taste to the wind for obscenely over the top gross humour and lavish ‘gas’ effects. It will amuse the children, but is very out of place in a largely uncompromising film about friendship in a world of dead parents and children being eaten. It’s so overly childish it would make Alvin and the chipmunks vomit up a torrent of e-numbers and rainbows in disgust. Also they leave out the line of “On the whole i think i prefer the bagpipes” which is frankly some grade ‘A’, English, droll genius. The other giants which are bigger and less friendly are portrayed as childish school bullies on a street corner, comedy relief rather than terrifying as they were done before. In the animation if BFG was the manifestation of positive dreams then the other giants such as Bonecruncher were nightmares incarnate. There is a scene far before the end where BFG mans up and lays some fiery smackdown on them, this is very out of character and makes them seem far less fearsome. It also dampens the impact of the final ‘battle’ with the army back up which is rushed and simplified far too much although wonderfully shot and directed. Credit should also be given for a new, chilling story thread beginning with Sophie’s choice of coat. It shows heart aching character flaws and leads to a harrowing, discreetly developed secret.

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The pacing is largely erratic, the initial moments before BFG arrives go by as quickly as BFG’s teenage growth spurt. It’s strange and gives little atmosphere but they seem to be aware BFG is their best character and Sophie is fine, flawed and fairly convioncing in her passion but not really gripping. She’s mostly just a solidly played vehicle, to carry us into this beautiful world. Speaking of world it is largely fine and well represented but a high point is the tree where they catch dreams. Dark and colourful, contrastingly complex and beautiful like the very minds these dreams enter, it’s as if Tim Burton remembered to take his meds one day and tried to do a more cheerful watercolour. There are new moments but most of them in the spirit of the book and aptly adorable such as how Sophie ‘summons’ BFG to the orphanage halfway through the film.The ending is tweaked but understandably so to achieve a heart warming end monologue and more tastefully accessible in it’s conclusion. Sophie needs an ending to this chapter in her story and this film tweaks the original and does a thorough and effective job. The BFG explaining her dream may be one of the most thought provoking and wonderfully honestly descriptions of a life on film. When the script takes off in parts, it truly soars in the winds of dialogue.

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The last quarter is fairly weak and the impact of an otherwise bold film is robbed of it’s full impact by it desperately adhering the family film stereotypes. Still this is a worthy remake and will chisel away at the stoniest of hearts with a pickaxe of genuine warmth. The BFG character is worth the price of admission alone, inspiring in his uncompromising simplicity in a market of competitive complexity.Like the big man says himself, “I can’t be right all of the time”, but when it is right it’s truly impressive. At the end of it all the BFG movie is maybe the most moving and well made family film showing in cinemas, all over again.

The Verdict: Like it’s lovable lead role striding through the night, this film is imperfect but wholly worth your time and truly by it’s own merit.

3.5/5

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