Originally published on July 5, 2016. The BFG is now available on Netflix Instant streaming in the U.S.
Overview: A girl and a giant go on an adventure in Giant Country. Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures; 2016; Rated PG; 117 minutes.
The Big Wonderful Movie: By now, Stephen Spielberg’s name has become synonymous with cinematic wonder and scope. Even the worst of his films – and I use the term as loosely as humanly possible – contain flourishes of scope touching the upper echelon of cinematic glory as perhaps only he can.
The BFG is a good movie and at times even a great one. It’s a story about storytelling. The titular BFG spends his days alone in Giant Country, weaving dreams for the populace until one night he’s spotted by a young orphan. Adventure ensues, and of course, Spielberg’s most natural storytelling mode reminds us that he is one of the best artists in his craft. Particularly, in his ability to cultivate wondrous imagery. There are many reasons we keep going back to E.T. , Raiders, Jaws, or [insert any movie Spielberg has ever made], but his imagery is an keystone part of cultural love for the commercial filmmaker.
If you could look inside the mind of a child to see how they perceive fairytales, I’d bet anything it would resemble any still image of The BFG. Eye-popping color washes over the screen as young Sophie learns about the loneliness the BFG feels. It’s a touching yet melancholy look at two individuals who feel isolated from their worlds.The starting point of loneliness extends to the discovery of more heartwarming emotions without falling into sappy trappings. This is all juxtaposed against the cartoonish story aesthetics of Roald Dahl’s original creations. I don’t know if it all works in tandem as well as it should, but no point of imbalance is enough to deter or dilute the emotional highs.
The Big Giant Production: The giant designs would fit well in the world of Azeroth. They’re just cartoony enough to be cinematically fantastic but humanoid enough to feel tangible. On its most base level of functionality, this story cannot operate without the work of Weta Digital. The visual effects company continues to push the medium and lead a digital revolution that enhances the theatrical experience both for the creatives and the audience. They may never receive enough praise for what they continue to do.
Ruby Barnhill as the young heroine is home-run casting. She bounces off the fluctuating tone and wondrous environments in a way that earns her favorable mention alongside the countless successful child actors Spielberg has employed in his time. Wide-eyed and adorable, Barnhill remains admirably convincing through her fantastical adventure alongside Mark Rylance’s BFG. Teaming up with Spielberg in the immediate followup to his Oscar-winning turn in the director’s last film, Bridge of Spies, Rylance delivers a performance full of warmth and admiration. Once again, Rylance proves to be Spielberg’s new secret weapon. Through Rylance, the BFG becomes one of Spielberg’s great modern heroes, a good giant who wants to remain a good man in a world where every other giant is a bully.
The Big Friendly Spielberg: All these elements come together so well, one can forgive the start-stop nature of story pacing. The film is never too as to be a bore and even at its slowest, this is still one of Spielberg’s best exercises of whimsy.
In Jurassic Park, Spielberg was able to capture the scale and essence of dinosaurs reintroduced into a modern world. In The BFG, the giants are given similar treatment but in subtler doses. The story isn’t about physical scale, but the size of our actions and immensity of our literal dreams. There are certainly huge moments in the film, but Spielberg hones in best on the quiet ones. It is in the moments of discussion between BFG and Sophia that Spielberg dictates his cinematic thesis to a wonder-swept, awestruck audience.
We’re all his Sophia. He’s our BFG. It’s a big friendly thesis. And only Spielberg could have done it.
Featured Image: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures