- by Jeff Beck
The BFG: A Surprisingly Uninspired Spielberg Offering (Blu-ray)
With all of the incredible prestige pictures he does (“Schindler’s List,” “Saving Private Ryan,” “Lincoln,” etc.), there are times when people forget that director Steven Spielberg has also brought us some excellent films for children as well, including the Oscar-winning “E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial,” the incredibly underrated “Hook,” and the outstanding “The Adventures of Tintin.” Now he turns to the realm of kids’ films once again for “The BFG,” an adaptation based on a book from the great Roald Dahl, the man who brought us such classics as “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “James and the Giant Peach.” “The BFG” is another unusual book to say the least, but given the author’s reputation, and that of the amazing filmmaker behind the project, surely there’s something to it that makes it worth bringing to the big screen.
As the film begins, we meet a young orphan by the name of Sophie (Ruby Barnhill). She’s an insomniac who usually finds herself wandering around the orphanage at night or reading books in bed by flashlight. On one particular evening, she happens to notice something very strange outside her window, something that just happens to be a giant (Voice of Mark Rylance) that snatches her up and takes her home with him all the way to Giant Country. At first, Sophie thinks that he wants to eat her, but soon realizes that he’s actually quite friendly. In fact, his name happens to be The Big, Friendly Giant (or the BFG for short)
As it turns out, the BFG is actually a runt of a giant and is constantly tormented by nine other, bigger giants, a problem that Sophie can’t believe he puts up with. However, the BFG usually just shrugs it off and goes about his work, which has to do with catching, and even creating, dreams. It is this skill that Sophie eventually convinces the BFG to use in order to solve not only the problem of him getting bullied, but also the even bigger problem of a rash of disappearing children in Sophie’s hometown of London. With a somewhat dangerous plan in mind, it’s up to this pair of unlikely heroes to convince the Queen herself that giants are indeed real and that the troublemakers must be dealt with.
Indeed, “The BFG” seemed like it had all the necessary ingredients to be a big success: a beloved author’s work adapted by the late Melissa Mathison (“E.T.,” “The Black Stallion”), and directed by the great, three-time Academy Award winner Steven Spielberg. So what happened along the way to turn it into a rather drudging experience at the cinema? Well, for starters, this is a rather uneventful film. It spends unjustifiably long periods of time on scenes that are almost entirely superfluous, as in they don’t help advance the plot at all.
This includes such sequences as Sophie and the BFG going dream-catching, a long sequence in which the mean giants go on the hunt for Sophie in the BFG’s home, and a never-ending breakfast with the Queen that tries to inject the film with a little more humor, but falls short due to it being a completely unnecessary scene. It does eventually try to get to the point by developing the plot to get rid of the antagonists, but by then, it’s far too late into the needless two-hour runtime to make up for the thinly-plotted spectacle we’ve had to get through.
There are some things to like about it, including the spectacular special effects. The giants are incredible to look at, as are the environments that Sophie is placed in in Giant Country. You also have a very likeable cast that features newcomer Ruby Barnhill, who gives it her all as a young girl who wants to help her new friend, and Oscar winner Mark Rylance, who handles the bizarre language of his character as though it’s second nature. With such talent in the cast as well, you have to wonder what would have been had they had better material to work with.
“The BFG” is a film that should have been rather special, but unfortunately it ends up being almost completely forgettable due to the fact that there wasn’t very much effort put into the storyline. Because of this, it seems rather unlikely that even kids will be entertained by it, more than likely resulting in them being fidgety for a good portion of the two hours. In the end, it just goes to show that even great directors have their off days, leaving us merely to hope that Spielberg will bounce right back with his next project.
“The BFG” comes to Blu-ray in a gorgeous 2.39:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of excellent quality. Every frame of the film is beautifully sharp and clear, which does a great job of showing off the plethora of CGI effects. The 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is equally impressive, giving you all of the dialogue, sound effects, and John Williams’ grand score in outstanding quality. Overall, there’s not a single complaint to be had, leaving you with a great experience in both departments.
Bringing The BFG to Life (27 Minutes): A marvelous featurette that delves behind the scenes of the making of the film. Includes lots of footage shot on set and interviews with the cast and crew.
The Big Friendly Giant and Me (2 Minutes): A very brief animated short.
Gobblefunk: The Wonderful Words of The BFG (3 Minutes): An easily skippable featurette that takes a look at the BFG’s language.
Giants 101 (5 Minutes): A featurette that explores how the other nine giants were brought to life.
Melissa Mathison: A Tribute (6 Minutes): A touching featurette that discusses the late screenwriter’s involvement in the film.
“The BFG” may have had a lot of talent involved and some outstanding special effects, but thanks to a rather uneventful storyline, it becomes a surprisingly uninspired and vapid experience. Perhaps Spielberg and co. tried to be a little too faithful to the source material, for while I’ve never read the book, a summary matches up quite well to the finished film. In the end, it would appear that they should have taken a little more artistic license with the material, for it’s all too clear that a film adaptation was going to need a little more substance if it was ever going to have a chance of succeeding.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD starting tomorrow.
Follow me on Twitter @BeckFilmCritic.