First Look Review: The BFG

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The BFG is an adequate book adaptation but doesn't come across as anything special.

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Roald Dahl is one of the most beloved children’s authors in British history and subsequently his books have been developed in to several films including Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Fantastic Mr. Fox and James and the Giant Peach, to name a few. The newest iteration of one of his classic stories is The BFG, directed by Steven Spielberg. For those unfamiliar with the story, The BFG is about an orphan called Sophie (Ruby Barnhill), who is taken by the ‘BFG’ (‘Big Friendly Giant’ played by Mark Rylance) to Giant Country. The film sees the pair’s relationship flourish as they have to face the nefarious group of of larger Giants who would like nothing better than to eat Sophie and the many other children of England.

To The BFG’s credit, the film closely follows the main plot points of Dahl’s classic and doesn’t over expand the universe like many other films based on classic stories. But overall, it is generally uninteresting and disappointing, which is a real shame – especially coming from such a legendary director. This isn’t Spielberg’s equivalent to Hugo and is a step far removed from some of his more enjoyable classics like E.T.

There are some things to like in The BFG though. Mark Rylance is perfect has the titular character, charmingly interacting with Sophie, complete with his own peculiar vocabulary. The pair’s relationship is fun to watch but is somewhat let down by Barnhill’s performance. It does feel unfair to criticise such a young actress who is obviously trying hard, so perhaps her inconstant performance is down to Spielberg’s direction. She is adequate in the part but the film can’t seem to decide if it wants her to be a no-nonsense, independent girl or one that stares wide-eyed at everythingl exclaiming ‘oh my!’ or calling out the BFG’s name for the hundredth time. Her character really borders on annoying, which is a shame.

The meaner, less friendly giants, who constantly harass the pair, do provide some funny moments – but a lot of the humour in the film is pretty immature and clearly aimed at children. Again, the film can’t really decide what it wants to be; the humour is painfully clean but the film is not exciting enough to really keep a child’s attention. The magical realm of ‘giant country’ does have some quite intriguing features but is largely reduced to an uninteresting backdrop. The BFG also should have been a lot shorter; one part in particular significantly drags and makes you wish for the conclusion to come quickly.

Everything in the film is perfectly adequate, but ‘adequate’ shouldn’t be the choice word to describe a Spielberg film. The BFG is a good adaptation of a classic book but it is not a good movie. It has some enjoyable aspects, but most of it is quite mundane and there isn’t quite enough magic or excitement here to make it a great children’s movie either. Spielberg has balanced comedy, drama, mystery and wonder in several of his previous films, but The BFG falters on all these levels.

The BFG (2016), directed by Steven Spielberg, is distributed in the the UK by Walt Disney Studios, Certificate PG.

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