Roald Dahl’s The BFG may be considered one of his lesser known children’s fantasies, but those familiar with the 1982 novel should be thrilled with Steven Spielberg’s big screen adaptation. With some tweaking of details and a slightly different conclusion once the adventure itself is resolved, the film is pretty close to the book. And it’s a total, magical delight, even if it makes no sense at all.
As an adult, in order to enjoy the film, you need to switch off all logic. Children should have no trouble, but the literal minded may and probably will. Interestingly, despite Dahl’s often dark approach and his uncompromising story-telling manner, The BFG doesn’t possess that perceived underlining nastiness that often accompanies many of his children’s tales. There are some scary giants, much bigger than the big friendly one of the title, and their sole purpose is to eat beans – that’s beans as in human-beans – and some close-ups of their heavily detailed faces with oversized features as they lean into the camera may alarm smaller audience members. But generally there should be no problem.
Opening with a night-time, dreamy fairytale look of Westminster Bridge while Big Ben chimes in the background, this is London at an earlier time, probably the early eighties. At an orphanage situated not far from a noisy pub lives young Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) and Sophie doesn’t sleep well. Outside in the quiet, deserted, cobbled streets somewhere around three in the morning there’s a giant; a tall, lanky, long-limbed giant with a long nose and large ears that hears all. His job is to plant pleasant dreams into the minds of sleeping children, but he’s not supposed to be seen. Peering through the curtains of her orphanage, the bespectacled Sophie sees him, even though she’s just told herself to never get out of bed, never go to the window and to never look behind the curtain.
Now that he’s discovered, the giant (Mark Rylance) reaches in and grabs the little orphan. With a hop, skip and a really long jump across the country, the giant, or the BFG as Sophie will later call him, takes the girl back to Giant Land, which geographically is a little difficult to locate as the dials on a compass tend to spin when you’re near the area; you have to know where you’re going.
Once on Giant Land, Sophie finds that her lanky giant is about as caring and as friendly as you would want out of someone who happens to be several storeys high. The problem is not Sophie’s BFG; it’s those other, nastier, bigger giants, all nine of them, who eat children. Recently, they’ve taken to hopping out of Giant Land and back to England to various orphanages, kidnapping children in order to eat. None of that is ever seen, by the way; it’s inferred. With help from Buckingham Palace, the Royal Guards, the military and the Queen herself (Penelope Wilton) Sophie and her BFG all team together to solve the problem of those ever-hungry giants once and for all.
It’s all childlike nonsense, of course, which is why going into any detail about almost anything will mean little on the printed page. Just know that Mark Rylance, last seen in Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies as the Soviet on trial, brings life, warmth and humanity to the character of the big friendly giant. With his distorted, CGI enhanced features, a twinkle in his eyes and an accent that makes him sound like a Devonshire country yokel – his dialect is known as gobblefunk – he’s an astonishing invention that continually enchants and amuses.
Ruby Barnhill’s Sophie with her youthful, ever inquiring face that lights up the screen, is equally enchanting, though it’s interesting that a character with a North West English accent should be cast as an orphan living in the south. It spoils nothing, and audiences outside of Gt. Britain shouldn’t even notice, but it’s curious, all the same.
Plus, the scenes at Buckingham Palace which could have been disastrous are consistently great fun as the Queen plays host at meal time to Sophie and the BFG. The giant isn’t too pleased with the coffee so he shares a bottle of his own green liquid refreshment where the bubbles fall down instead of up and create a comical moment of colorful flatulence known as a whizzpopper. It’s funny, not to mention rude enough to see the Queen of England let rip a whizzpopper – the anticipation of what’s about to happen after everyone samples the green drink will have you laughing before the event occurs – but the look on the faces of her three corgis once they glance up after having sipped from their bowl and realize what’s about to happen is priceless.
For some youngsters with a low attention span, several of the early, establishing scenes may feel like a lull, but the film more than makes up for it once Sophie and her BFG arrive in Giant Land. There’s beauty to be enjoyed when the little girl and the giant visit an upside-down world and gather the very material that dreams are made of. Like the giant who plants those hypnotic, magical dreams into the minds of sleeping children, director Spielberg does the same to us through his film. Whether The BFG will become a classic is difficult to say, only time and repeated viewings will tell, but while you have the chance to see it on a big screen before it eventually routes to the home market, do so. And with giants like these, the bigger the screen the better.
MPAA Rating: PG Length: 115 Minutes Overall Rating: 9 (out of 10)