The BFG: before you watch the Steven Spielberg film, here are 9 things you should know about the Roald Dahl story

The BFG: before you watch the Steven Spielberg film, here are 9 things you should know about the Roald Dahl story

From understanding Dahl’s Gobblefunk to the illustrator behind the books

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The BFG is the story of a young girl named Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) and the Big Friendly Giant (Mark Rylance).

Steven Spielberg’s The BFG opens today. It is a part live-action, part-motion-capture movie featuring the work of Weta Digital, the team behind the effects in films such as the Lord of the Rings series and this year’s The Jungle Book.

It stars Oscar-winner Mark Rylance as the title character, and nine-year-old newcomer Ruby Barnhill as the protagonist, Sophie.

Before you watch it, here are nine things you might not have known.


1. Dahl’s favourite book

The BFG – which stands for “big friendly giant” – was published in 1982. It was British author Roald Dahl’s 11th book for children, and has been published in 41 languages. According to the author’s official website, it was Dahl’s favourite book. Even before the BFG’s first appearance in his 1975 book, Danny, The Champion of the World, Dahl was telling his children the tale of a dream-catching giant.


The author's granddaughter, Sophie Dahl, is also a model.
Photo: AP

2. Super Sophie

The BFG is dedicated to Dahl’s eldest child, Olivia, who died when she was seven of complications related to measles. The story’s main character, Sophie, is named after Dahl’s first grandchild. Although she is only 10 years old, she is incredibly brave, and something of a role model. Spielberg described her as: “one of the strongest female characters I think I have ever had in one of my films.”


3. Art that brought The BFG to life

The book was illustrated, as many of Dahl’s children’s books have been, by British illustrator Quentin Blake. Blake had already worked on The Enormous Crocodile and The Twits, but The BFG was a far longer story.

Originally, the artist’s editor asked him to produce 12 illustrations, but then he got a call saying Dahl was “not happy” – 12 drawings was not enough. Luckily, Dahl’s desire for more “moments” led to their meeting in person for the first time. Something clearly clicked: they would go on to work together for 15 years, until the author’s death in 1990.


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4. Get to grips with Gobblefunk

Dahl was well known for creating new words in his children’s books, and The BFG is perhaps one of the greatest examples of his ability to incorporate nonsense words that make perfect sense.

He came up with nearly 300 words and phrases for the book, in a language he called Gobblefunk. Some words sound like confused versions of the real thing – for example “buckswashling”, which means “swashbuckling”, or adventurous, or “propsposterous”, which means and is almost the same as “preposterous”, or ridiculous – while others describe things better than the real words: “biffsquiggled” means confused, scrumdiddlyumptious means utterly delicious, and whizzpopping means ... well, farting!


5. Not every film is a hit

This is not the first film to be made based on Roald Dahl’s book: in 1989, British animation studio Cosgrove made a cartoon version of the story. Unlike the 1971 version of his book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which the author hated, Dahl was a big fan of this version, and “stood up and applauded in delight” after watching the screening, according to the director Brian Cosgrove. 


6. Cinematic giants unite

The BFG is a collaboration between two of the film industry’s biggest names – Spielberg and Disney. But this is actually the first time the director has worked for the studio, or, as he put it, “the first time that I got to make a picture that has Sleeping Beauty’s castle and Disney embossed on the beginning and the end of the picture”.


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7. Dedicated to original dialogue

The film is dedicated to its scriptwriter Melissa Mathison, who died in November. Mathison first worked with Spielberg on his movie E.T. (which, incidentally, was released in 1982, the same year as The BFG was published), another story of a friendship between a child and a fantastical creature. While she had to add more of a storyline than the original had had, Mathison said: “I tried to use Dahl’s dialogue verbatim as much as possible. “We didn’t want to tamper with the tone.”


8. A tall order for the technology

The movie uses Simulcam, a process created by Avatar director James Cameron. It blends real actors and sets with computer-generated ones. This meant that Rylance, dressed in a motion-capture suit to portray his 24-foot-tall character, could be on set at the same time as 4-foot-6-inch Barnhill. “Actors need each other to act together,” Spielberg says. “It all comes down to the actors being able to look each other in the eye.”


9. Bonus!

The Queen of England plays an important role in the story; to make her character as real as possible, the costume designer enlisted the help of the actual British Queen’s glove and bag makers to make those items for actress Penelope Wilton.

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
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