‘The BFG’ May Be Minor Spielberg, But It’s Still Stunning

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For the first time in his illustrious career, Steven Spielberg has made movie under the Walt Disney banner. Adapting Roald Dahl’s 1982 children’s book The BFG, Spielberg’s first film for the Mouse House seemed to have been built on a foundation of whimsy and wonder before a single frame was captured. While The BFG isn’t the greatest cinematic work under the banner of either Spielberg, Dahl, or Disney, it’s still an astoundingly well-crafted fantasy tale that employs astounding imagery balanced with a light touch of emotional resonance. Even if many write off The BFG as a minor work from Spielberg (which it is), the film is still a masterwork in tone and visual language – Spielberg trademarks that are routinely taken for granted.

Being unfamiliar with the source novel, The BFG comes off as dramatically light, which is somewhat of a hindrance in the film’s first act. As events unfold, it becomes easier to take the film on its own terms of story and character in the screenplay by the late Melissa Mathison.

The film opens in at an orphanage in London. While the rest of the orphans sleep, Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) sneaks about tending to the issues that are overlooked by the orphanage’s management. But Sophie’s late night duties take a turn for the extraordinary when she notices a massive figure in the dark. Before she can find refuge in her bed, a massive hand comes through the window and transports the young girl to Giant Country. Soon, Sophie befriends the Big Friendly Giant (Mark Rylance), who lives up to his moniker with his kind heart and habit of mangling words in pronunciation. In Giant Country, the BFG is the runt of the sparse giant population, with our eponymous hero being the object of torment for the crude Fleshlumpeater (Jermaine Clement). The towering bully has a taste for human flesh and has his senses attuned to detect fresh meat.

When not being bullied, the BFG captures and disperses dreams in some of the film’s most visually striking moments. These aspects may not be as wondrous as the director’s past classics, but there’s still a sense of awe to Spielberg’s ability to effectively capture these moments. This all leads Sophie and the BFG on a quest to ask the Queen (Penelope Wilton) for her assistance in combating the more nefarious giants. Suddenly, Spielberg shifts the tone of the film to outright comedy, providing The BFG with some of its most entertaining aspect, including a genuinely effective and elaborately constructed fart joke. That’s right, there’s an epic fart joke in the latest film from Steven Spielberg.

Though lacking with a dramatic weight of intense life or death situations, The BFG still has an emotional element that is crafted in the relationship of Sophie and the BFG. In a motion capture performance, Oscar winner Mark Rylance allows a great deal of empathy to seep through his digital avatar, and his counterpart in Ruby Barnhill brings the sense of awe to her youthful character. Their bond is much more subtle one, lacking in impassioned monologues and convoluted backstory. As the film’s chief villain, Jermaine Clement captures a menacing energy with his booming voice conveying an ugly mind that prizes brute force over thoughtful understanding.

The biggest standout to The BFG is the fact that the film is simply eye candy. Colorful images of dreamlike worlds of imagination are complimented by some of the most judicious camera movements possible in the striking cinematography by Janusz Kaminski. Spielberg employs a wonderful sense of scale to this world. With the extraordinary special effects, heartfelt performances, and a whimsical musical score from John Williams, The BFG has Spielberg in complete control of the film’s tone visually and emotionally – had this work been done by a young filmmaker on the rise it’d be discussed as a groundbreaking work by a revolutionary new talent.

Steven Spielberg hasn’t made one of his all-time great fantasy films with The BFG, but it’s still a work that no other filmmaker could possibly achieve. Here’s a filmmaker who is so good so often that his lighter fare might be undervalued because it’s easy to take Spielberg’s greatness for granted. The deft balance of eye-popping spectacle and emotional core is seldom achieved with seemingly such ease. However, just because Spielberg is the type of director who can make this look so easy doesn’t make its achievement any less spectacular. As a movie The BFG is a lot like its eponymous character – not quite the largest of his peers, but truly larger than life.

The BFG
  • Overall Score
3.5

Summary

Charming and whimsical, The BFG may not be the most wondrous movie from Steven Spielberg, but it’s thoroughly entertaining despite being a minor film from the legendary filmmaker.

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