I’ve read “The BFG” a very long time ago, but I have to admit that I can’t quite remember much of it by this point, which disappoints me seeing how fondly I seem to remember it. In fact, I seem to remember all of the Roald Dahl books quite fondly, with “The Witches” sticking out to me as my favorite. But when I heard that Steven Spielberg was going to be adapting “The BFG” for Disney, I felt two emotions, 1. excitement that he was finally doing a film with Disney (his Touchstone-distributed DreamWorks films don’t count) and 2. shame that I couldn’t remember “The BFG,” despite knowing I loved it. The release of this film snuck up on me quickly too, giving me no time to re-visit the book from my childhood, only having the film to convince me of its past magic.
While no repressed memories were jogged in this, I certainly did feel the magic.
After winning his Oscar for “Bridge of Spies,” another Spielberg film, Mark Rylance plays the titular character of The BFG (Big Friendly Giant) with a heartbreaking magnetism that only someone like Rylance could pull off. He’s a character that makes you smile in the moment, but you know that there is a good deal of pain behind his eyes from the start, and this becomes all the more evident as the film goes on. Rylance fits the bill perfectly. Though, it’s newcomer Ruby Barnhill that stole the show for me. It’s evident from the start that Barnhill is a star in the making and this film is the perfect film to help her achieve that. Her take as the plucky, spunky Sophie is one that I didn’t see coming and enjoyed every second of, even in the slower parts of the film.
And there are slower parts.
“The BFG,” despite its magic, takes a LONG time to pick up, almost an entire hour to be exact, and even then, things don’t get incredibly exciting until the final act. The first 45 minutes of the film are solely devoted to world building, but the world of Giant Country, while grand in scale, doesn’t require quite as much exposition as it’s given in the film. Had they added this lost time to the final act of the film, it would’ve flowed a lot better and definitely would’ve been quite the exceptional film, but its pacing issues are what brought it down a lot. Especially in a film so made for families with children, a leaner start is key.
In the film, I couldn’t help but think of what a departure from form this film is for Spielberg, especially in his recent years. At first, I found it strange, but as the film went on, I was actually quite pleased with how different the film ended up being from all of his other films. This shows that Spielberg still has ingenuity and craft in his veins, unlike the colder feeling I was left with after “Bridge of Spies.” “The BFG” shows that Spielberg still has the classic magic we’ve come to expect from him with an all new look and twist on the genre.
While also being his first film for Disney, this also marks Spielberg’s first live-action 3D film (“The Adventures of Tintin” was his first 3D film, though it was animated), which is just as magical as it sounds. The world is lush and magical, with the sequence in Dream Country truly being one of the better 3D sequences I’ve seen on film in years. Absolutely worth the extra money for a 3D ticket.
“The BFG” harkens back to days of Spielberg family movie magic like “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” and “Hook” and hopefully might pave the way for a new Spielberg film for a new generation. Rylance is as good as ever and Barnhill is at the precipice of a fabulous career. It’s not perfect, as its pacing issues hurt some of the film overall, but the magic that’s in the final act of the film is something to behold, as Spielberg hasn’t lost his touch in the slightest, with a beautifully crafted family movie that’s sure to please the purest of souls.
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Penelope Wilton, Jemaine Clement, Rebecca Hall, Rafe Spall, Bill Hader.
Runtime: 117 minutes
Rating: PG for action/peril, some scary moments and brief rude humor.
Also available in Disney Digital 3D and RealD 3D.
Disney, Amblin Entertainment and Reliance Entertainment present, in association with Walden Media, a Kennedy/Marshall Company production, a Steven Spielberg film, “The BFG”