I needed something to wash The Legend of Tarzan out of my mind. Here’s what I saw next.
Roald Dahl’s children’s stories are a bit notorious for having a nasty edge that big screen versions often tone down. A new film of one his works, The BFG, has come to theaters courtesy of director Steven Spielberg. How was it?
Quiet. Very quiet.
Look, let’s get a little something out of the way first: if you played the video game Doom or knew someone who did, this was the BFG:
But that’s not the BFG here. This BFG is the Big, Friendly Giant. He doesn’t really have any other name. Humans call him “BFG”. Other giants call him “runt” since he’s noticeably smaller than they are. One night, an orphan girl with insomnia spots the giant walking through the streets of an unnamed city (probably London). The giant, in response, snatches the girl up and takes her off to Giant Country. Why? Well, he’s worried she’ll tell people what she saw and then there’ll be trouble. Most giants, namely the other nine, eat people, but the BFG is a vegetarian from the looks of things. He and the girl, Sophie, quickly bond while he goes about his work, all the while trying to keep Sophie away from the other giants who will gladly make a snack out of her.
Mark Rylance, working through motion capture, makes for a fine friendly giant. His soft-spoken ways and kindly demeanor work well for the character, and it is easy to see why Sophie would take a shine to him. Spielberg also shows some creative fun by showing how a large giant can move through a city at night and not be seen by, oh, anybody. There’s some really clever hiding going on, and the giant makes perfect use of his environment to show how something so big can go so unnoticed.
That said, the movie itself is rather tame. Despite the implication that the other giants really are going out at night and eating anyone they can catch, the plot is rather threadbare. While the movie never felt overlong, it also made me wonder why it had to be a feature-length film. Spielberg can move the camera very well and is a fantastic visual storyteller. All the best directors tend to be in one form or another. But I generally got the impression there was only so much for him to do with Dahl’s source material, which he was apparently very faithful to. The highlight may have been a breakfast with a certain head of state, which showcased an interesting sense of visual humor and inventiveness, but much of what happened in Giant Country was less than impressive in many ways. The BFG may have been a rather spectacular visual, but the other giants were less so and much more cartoony in their appearances.
The movie is probably harmless and safe enough for kids, but I can’t give it more than seven out of ten whiz-popping Corgis.