A young girl named Sophie lives at an orphanage, where she spends her nights dodging the matron so she can read late into the night hours. One night at 3 a.m., which she dubs the “witching hour,” she witnesses a giant in a cloak down the street. The giant sees her looking at him, grabs her, and takes her off to giant country where she finds that this giant isn’t so bad after all. As their friendship grows she learns about his work catching and shaping dreams which he then gives to sleeping humans. She names him the BFG, which is short for “Big Friendly Giant.”
This pleasant time doesn’t last forever, however, as her presence draws the attention of other, stupider, meaner, man-eating giants. What’s more, these evil giants have been stealing away children from the human world to eat. Can she and the BFG survive their viciousness? Who can they turn to for help? Can they put an end to these monsters’ murderous ways?
The film is very definitely aimed at children. The plot and characters are all structured like an old-fashioned fairy tale. Adults can quite easily find the story cute, and the visuals are very good, but aside from that they will find little to chew on. At the very least, the humor isn’t nearly as offensive as that of movies like “Minions” or the “Ice Age” series.
I am concerned for the film’s success because of how out of step the film is from modern tastes in kids’ films.
It moves much more slowly, it has much less slapstick humor, and it has far more moments and visuals that build their appeal on wonder and enjoyment of friendship than the chaos that defines current sensibilities. I think many modern kids would be bored, quite frankly, and that’s a shame. In the end, it’s really a film that appeals to those who have a sense of nostalgia for the way children’s stories used to be told, and it doesn’t offer much to anyone else.
While I never read this particular book as a child (I wasn’t exposed to much Roald Dahl) it reminds me a great deal of many of the books I did read. Like those books, plot logic doesn’t really matter, and character growth doesn’t really matter, instead, “The BFG” relies on relationships and experiencing the weird or wonderful. In that, it succeeds very well. The relationship between Sophie and the BFG is the heart of the film.
However, the fact that “The BFG” succeeds in this manner comes with the downsides as well as the upsides of those goals. The plot of the film isn’t very satisfying. The BFG’s reasons for bringing Sophie to giant country at the beginning of the film don’t make much sense and is clearly an excuse for the story to happen the way it does. The protagonists have very little agency throughout the film. Bad things happen to Sophie and the BFG, but their response is mostly to either take it on the chin or find someone else who can solve the problem for them. When the solution comes at the end of the book, it doesn’t feel satisfying or earned. It’s really mostly played for laughs.
“The BFG” is very simply a fairy tale. The audience is meant to take pleasure in the wonder of seeing a giant, or watching the dancing lights of the dreams, or to wonder at the speed and heights that the BFG can go. They are to smile at the sight of a ship in the giant’s house, and wish that they could climb around the nooks and crannies of his workshop. They are meant to chuckle at the strange sounding words that the BFG speaks, and grimace at the disgustingness of the snozzcumbers.
It’s not particularly important to watch Sophie grow and overcome challenges. It’s not important to put together a complex plot to defeat the giants. It’s far more important to enjoy the times Sophie spends chatting with the BFG. It’s nice, but it’s not for everyone.
If you were thinking about watching “The BFG,” I would say there is no reason not to. “The BFG” is a perfectly pleasant and harmless movie, but it also doesn’t do much for me, personally. While it’s great for kids, and I could easily see reading the book and watching the film with my own future children, right now I’d only buy “The BFG” if I found it in…
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Steven Spielberg had always worked well at putting wonder and adventure in his films, and while this effort is nowhere near his classics, it still bears some of his fingerprints. Individual sequences were very delightful, such as the early escape from the city, when the BFG takes Sophie to giant country, and I loved the scene where the giants invade the BFG’s home looking for Sophie. I just wish Spielberg had been able to channel that spirit more consistently throughout the film.
The kid who plays Sophie, Ruby Barnhill, is quite an actress. I don’t know if they had her acting against the actor who played the BFG, Mark Rylance, or if she had to do all of that while looking at a tennis ball. Either way, that was impressive, especially for a kid. For this film to work, the characters of Sophie and the BFG had to be relatable and charming, and most of all work well together. These actors pulled it off very well.
I love the design of the film. The lighting, the colors, the cinematography – it’s all quite enjoyable. The look of the giants, both the BFG and the brutes, suites their personalities well. I love the design of the BFG’s home. The ship that serves as the bed is delightful. The workshop is full of interesting sights, with all of the colorful dreams stuck in lovely glass bottles. I would love to explore it all, assuming I’d never have to try a snozzcumber or dodge the voracious appetites of a giant.
It’s old-fashioned sensibilities are applause worthy. I like the idea that not every film aimed at children has to be a roller coaster ride of noise and hysteria. Unfortunately, those old sensibilities meant that the beginning was thinly set up, and it all comes to an unsatisfying third act.
The middle of the film is where most of the magic happens. There are a couple of fun scenes where Sophie has to dodge the cruel giants, and the ways she does so are exciting and clever – or at least as exciting as this film gets. There is also a terrific scene around a tree and pond that had the most interesting visual elements for me.
In the third act, the threat of the giants becomes too much, so Sophie decides to go for help with the reluctant BFG in tow. I’ll save the identity of the source of aid they appeal to, just in case anyone out there is avoiding that particular spoiler (I don’t know if it’s in any of the trailers, I only saw one), but I was unsatisfied by it. While there were a lot of fun visuals playing off of size, the acting in those scenes felt weird and the tone was awkward. Any drive the plot may have had going into the final showdown with the giants was pulling against an anchor here.
To top it off, everything was in service to a belabored fart joke. I could deal with the earlier one from when Sophie first talked with the BFG, but this one was ridiculous, and reminded me too much of modern crazy kiddy films.
Conclusion and Star Rating:
From what I understand, the plot of the third act came directly from the book, but unfortunately that is the part I have the biggest problem with. I wish that Steven Spielberg would have just decided to abandon the source material at that point, and create something new and better. Of course, that would have upset a lot of fans of the book, but I think it would’ve been a stronger movie and a stronger story for it.
Despite this issue, there are a lot of simple pleasures to be had watching this film. Slowing down to enjoy weird and uncommon sights, to reject the need for a driving plot, and reveling in the sweetness of warm friendships, are noble goals in their own right. It’s sort of enjoyment is that of cool sheets and a soft pillow when compared to the ecstatic enjoyment of a trip to Disneyland. Both are good in their own ways, but they are very different experiences.
It may not hit the highs of a film that keeps me coming back and thinking over it years later, but it is a comfortable and sweet film that deserves a view. “The BFG” is a “Good” movie.
So, the third act. The person they go to for help is the Queen of England. Everything involving her and the royal court felt weird for me. I wasn’t particularly happy about it. Everyone in the palace had wooden reactions, and while I thought the visual gags around the BFG’s size (like his dining table being set atop grandfather clocks, and his silverware consisting of a shovel, a pitchfork and a sword) were clever and fun, I wasn’t happy that it was almost entirely a setup for a gratuitous fart joke. I’m sure kids might get a kick out of it – especially the fart-propelled corgis – but it was an out-of-place moment that hurt the tone they had been working off of for most of the rest of the film.
Similarly, seeing the modern soldiers and helicopters grabbing the giants at the climax of the film was weird and out of place. I mean, it makes sense to a modern kid more than seeing the fancy palace guards tackling the giant problem with ropes and nets or something, but is it really more or less believable than anything else that happens in the film?
I don’t know how the book goes, but it felt like the scriptwriters were trying to give Sophie and the BFG something, anything, to do with the resolution of the conflict. The problem is, for as much as I like the idea of the bad dream incapacitating the giants, it was ultimately just a minor bit.
I think I would have preferred it if they had cut the humans out of it entirely, and played up the bad dream element, and had it powerful enough to scare off the Giants, and then Sophie and the BFG could have had to find another, more clever way of dealing with the main bad giant, who escapes being affected by the dream. It would have felt like the main characters had played a bigger and better role in their own fates.
That’s it for now. Until next time!