Review: The BFG (2016)

A worthy, if not wonderful attempt at the Dahl classic

Roald Dahl adaptations have, in all truth, been a bit of a mixed bag over the years  – for The Witches read Fantastic Mr Fox. The BFG manages to encapsulate the notion in a single film. It starts off like a train but, while it still manages to pack the odd punch for the duration, it seems to run out of bluster.

Whichever book they have been trying to imitate, a key point of each movie is how true they have managed to stay to the spirit of Dahl himself; that is to say that whilst it should remain a children’s fantasy in essence, there should be as little sugar-coating as possible. Naturally, the PG certificate would lead you to believe that this is going to be the case here. Sadly, it just misses the mark.

The opening scene introducing the concepts of giants and ‘the witching hour’ that served the book so well, do so here as well. Once we’re past this point however, the momentum gets lost somehow. The other giants could have been made far scarier without making this a picture unsuitable for children. This style of filmmaking is, after all, what made the aforementioned The Witches so successful back in 1990.

Here in 2016, we have the benefits of CGI and all the other animated wizardry that goes with it. Although what we see in The BFG is indeed dazzling and brings all the fantastical aspects of the story well and truly to life, a lot of it is considered standard fare nowadays. This is where Steven Spielberg and his staff’s own interpretation of the finer points come into play, none more so than when we reach ‘dream country’, so hats off to them for this.

All of this though, is eclipsed by Mark Rylance‘s towering performance in the title role, with a voiceover and delivery that are as close to perfection as you’ll get; even more so than Jim Carrey as Ebenezer Scrooge in Disney’s 2009 offering A Christmas Carol. If you’re familiar with The BFG as a tale, you’ll be particularly impressed, yet there will be aspects of the film overall that might leave you scratching your head. Back to the cast, and Ruby Barnhill as the young orphan girl Sophie makes you wonder how on earth this is her debut role, while Penelope Wilton and Jemaine Clement give amusing turns as the Queen and the Fleshlumpeater respectively.

So while the Spielberg-Dahl combo seemed to be a match made in heaven, The BFG doesn’t quite hit the heights that it could have done. It is still worth a watch having said that, but if you happen to be an afficianado of the great author then you should go with a slightly open mind. In the meantime, you can watch the trailer here.

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