I really wanted to love The BFG. How could a combination of Roald Dahl, Steven Spielberg and Disney be anything other than a roaring success? Fans of the book will be pleased to know that this is a loyal adaption. Unfortunately, staying true to the book is also the film’s biggest downfall, as the book doesn’t really have much of a plot, and the big screen only serves to highlight this.
Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) is an orphan who struggles to sleep at night. One evening, as she is staring out into the streets of London, she sees a giant. Realising she has spotted him, the Big Friendly Giant (Bridge of Spies star Mark Rylance) snatches Sophie right out of her bed and takes her back to Giant Country, so that she won’t go blabbing to the rest of the world about having seen him. The rest of the film tells of their adventures together, as they try to keep Sophie hidden from the unfriendly giants who like to eat “human beans”, and the BFG shows Sophie how to catch dreams.
Rylance is the standout, and his performance carries the film. His big ears and sad, amber eyes perfectly capture the harmless nature of the giant, and he nails Dahl’s quirky, original dialogue, ensuring it is “a little squiggly” with his soft mutterings about crockadowndillies and snozzcumbers.
Technically, the film is extremely well done. The effects used to ensure the 1.3-metre-tall Sophie and 7-metre-tall BFG look realistic and believable when they are on screen together are not overly digitalised, and the scenes in Dream Land, with glowing firefly-esque balls of coloured light whizzing around set against a backdrop that looks rather like the Northern Lights, feel magical. It’s also a lot of fun to see the BFG served coffee from a watering can and eating breakfast with a garden spade, and younger siblings will get a lot of laughs from all the whizzpopping (farting!) that takes place thanks to the bubbles in a bottle of frobscottle (a special drink made from snozzcumbers) that the BFG just can’t get enough of.
But it’s hard to ignore the lack of any real plot for two hours. The chemistry between Sophie and the BFG is touching, but the problem is that nothing really happens – most of the scenes are just them talking, so they end up feeling a bit pointless and longer than they need to be. Although the screenwriter tried to add in more of a storyline to give the film a sense of direction, there isn’t any tension until the final scene. Sophie and the BFG visit the Queen to try and convince her to stop the unfriendly giants from snatching children and eating them, and the audience waits with bated breath to see how the Queen will react to a little girl on her windowsill and a giant in her garden.
But while the story might be a bit weak, as a celebration of imagination and all things magical this film is a touching tribute to the genius of Dahl.