Nearly thirty-five years after its publication, director Steven Spielberg has delivered Roald Dahl’s The BFG onto the big screen. By reimagining the story with a script by the late Melissa Mathison, combined with cutting-edge digital effects, the magical world that Dahl created comes alive. Is The BFG one of Spielberg best films? No. That would be a tall order to fill. However, despite some fits and starts, The BFG delivers moments of pure joy that shouldn’t be overlooked.
Newcomer Ruby Barnhill plays Sophie, an orphan with insomnia. She spends many sleepless nights prowling the orphanage, checking things out. One night, while reading under the covers, she hears a strange noise outside her window. Sophie sees a giant, many times bigger than any human. Despite hiding in her bed, the giant’s massive hand reaches through the open window and snatches her up. As it turns out, Sophie isn’t in any danger. The “BFG” (Mark Rylance) or Big Friendly Giant, takes her back to his home. Surprisingly, the BFG is the smallest fellow there. The other giants are idiotic flesh eaters who enjoy tormenting the BFG. Fast friends, Sophie soon learns that the BFG has the power to control and influence dreams. Together, the two must find a way to stop the other giants from eating children and find Sophie a new, happy home.
Fresh off his Oscar win for Bridge of Spies, Mark Rylance is captivating as The BFG, brought to life through the magic of performance capture, Rylance handles Dahl’s special use of language–“Use your titchy little figglers!,” “Hippodumpling”–with a aplomb. One gets the sense that Rylance, like Spielberg, is fully committed to capturing what it might feel like for a child, stepping out into the world and finding it far more wondrous than any book can ever describe. Rylance’s voice rises and falls with emotion. It’s clear that despite the sparkle in his eyes, the BFG is a lonely guy; like Sophie, he wants and needs someone to love. The animators have given the BFG a reactive but gentle physicality, particularly his finely tuned ears. Combine that with his age –as old as the earth is–and the BFG appears wise and curious.
Screenwriter Melissa Mathison (E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial) maintains the magic and mystery of Roald Dahl’s original novel while avoiding the more astute parts of the story, choosing instead to expand on the BFG ‘s background. In a surprising but smart move, she and Spielberg elected to change the ending. This one is more poignant and reminiscent of the coming of age themes that made E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial so special.
With all that said, the movie is so unevenly paced, it’s frustrating. Slow to get going, in contrast, the second act might have too much going on. At times, it appears Spielberg didn’t know what to do with it all, so he let the fart jokes fly. Even so, there’s so much that’s good here–including the sweet, earnest performance of Ruby Barnhill–it would be a mistake to simply dismiss The BFG without giving it a look.
Framed in the 2.39:1 aspect ratio, this digitally shot film shines in 1080p. The image is clear and detailed and the digitally constructed giants are a real standout. The level of detail is truly amazing, right down to the wrinkles and individual hairs on each body. Surrounding environments are no less amazing, as grassy greens simply pop. Likewise, human features are fabulously detailed and skin tones appear natural. Black levels are accurate. This transfer is on point.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack offers a fully enveloping experience, with appropriate spacing and heft. Dialogue remains clean and clear throughout, while action scenes maintain the necessary depth. Atmospherics are precise, perfectly blended with everything else the track offers up. Focused in the front-end, music sounds beautiful and enjoys a wide berth in the over presentation. Much like the video, the audio track is an impressive offering.
English SDH, French and Spanish subtitles are included.
The following extras are available:
- Bringing The BFG To Life (HD 27:09) Ruby Barnhill shares a series of video diaries that capture her experiences on set. Also included are a number of other cast and crew, notably Steven Spielberg, who discuss the production special effects, costumes, props and more.
- The Big Friendly Giant and Me (HD, 1:55) A very brief, animated version of the story.
- Gobblefunk: The Wonderful Words of The BFG (HD, 3:16) A quick examination of the unique vocabulary used by the BFG,
- Giants 101 (HD, 4:54) A look at the process of casting and performing the nine giants.
- Melissa Mathison: A Tribute (HD, 5:54) In memory of the late screenwriter, who died of cancer in 2015.
- DVD of the film.
- Digital Copy.