Many people would have read the beloved children’s book by Roald Dahl, and many people will have seen the 1989 animated film featuring David Jason as the voice of the BFG. Over 20 years later we have new technology to bring the story to life even more, with fantastical visuals and performance capture techniques. While it does succeed in that department, it sadly fails to capture any charm of the source material.
I can’t put my finger on what it is, but I think a majority of the risk and threat that made Dahl’s books that little bit darker for children to read is missing here. Director Steven Spielberg, who to be fair could have been any director here as it doesn’t stand out as a Spielberg film, chooses to make the film much more child friendly, with little threat or scary moments. And in a story many know to feature man-eating giants, to take away the moments that could thrill us a little makes it a very lukewarm story. The only link you can really make is the soundtrack by John Williams having that almost “Raiders Of The Lost Ark” touch about it that you can associate with the Spielberg/Williams combo.
Mark Rylance does a decent job as the BFG if you can get past his surreal half-human, half-tree like appearance that can be pretty creepy at times, but his oafish, naïve performance and ways with words make the BFG just what he was meant to be; noble and likeable. Newcomer Ruby Barnhill gives it all she’s got in a role that 70% of the time has her facing off against CGI giants replacing their 49ft smaller motion-capture actors, CGI locations and CGI action sequences. It’s a tough job for any actor, but for a young newcomer, kudos to her for doing a great job.
We have the usual pomp and circumstance of 80s London and the Royal Family, with the Queen, her corgis and stiff-upper-lipped Army Generals to boot, and we also have plenty of silly moments with the BFG and a good dose of fart gags to make this real child friendly stuff.
It does suffer with the narrative, being very non-engaging over a good portion of the 2nd act. Spending time in Giant County is nice on the eyes, but nothing really happens to engage us. The man-eating giants don’t do anything very scary, and never come across as a threat, except the fact they are bumbling oafs bar their leader who, initially, I thought was played by Vinnie Jones! When the man-eating giants don’t do much opposite the BFG himself, the wider threat doesn’t feel very threatening and so the story is just very weak in that aspect.
It all zips along during the 3rd act and ties up as nicely as you want, even if the final few seconds genuinely pulls on your heart strings! A really nice, tender moment to end on. It’s visually very dreamy and obviously CGI, which is fine and not asking you to believe that much is really happening.
However it’s not very memorable and I’d stick to the 1989 film that at least had the courage to make this a little more scary in places to add that urgency about the plot, and even the novel itself that stands the test of time over this mildly amusing but forgetful offering.