The BFG or BFD? — Peter Fitzgerald Reviews

Whimsy is at it again, with Steven Spielberg’s movie adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic book of the same name — a well meaning live-action/CGI Disney/Amblin film product that misses the mark and then some.

Written by the late, great Melissa Mathison, the film concerns Sophie, (an abrasive Ruby Barnhill) a staunch orphan who is kidnapped by a Big Friendly Giant of the kindly, poetic variety, (Mark Rylance at his most winsome) who is an outcast among his kind because he doesn’t devour little children like the other giants.

As stories go, it’s little wonder that the book hasn’t been adapted much, (unlike Dahl’s more reliable Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) chiefly because Sophie, (who comes off like a demanding little pill) says she’s been horribly mistreated at the orphan’s home only to beg to return to the cruddy institution instead of staying with the awesome BFG. Unlike dreamy Dorothy Gale of Kansas, Sophie is like Wonka’s bratty Veruca Salt suffering from a case of Munchausen By Proxy syndrome with her giant captor. This film is proof of how an unsympathetic protagonist can fell a big budget behemoth and lose many millions for Walt Disney Pictures.

To be fair, Ryance’s BFG steals the picture, and the hearts of everyone in the movie, including Queen Elizabeth II, (Penelope Wilton in a mildly amusing comic turn) as well as Little Miss Fault Finder. His otherworldly performance transcends the BFG’s motion capture shell and is a delight to behold.

It seemed that no expense was spared creating the other CGI/motion capture giants, (played with Three Stooges goofiness by Jemaine Clement, Bill Hader, Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, and Adam Godley, among others) but somehow the animation looks slightly off. In some shots the CG/MC giants are gravity deprived, while in others are combined with matted live action characters that look as mismatched as they are badly-lit. Note to the art department: the “Land of the Giants” sets Sophie inhabits are painted with such a broad stroke that they inspire disbelief rather than suspend it.

Among the film’s enjoyable moments are the dream-catching scene and the flatulent breakfast segment. I refuse to spoil either by saying any more, suffice to say there are laughs and wonders to behold here too.

John Williams’ score reliably provides all of the requisite Spelbergian swooshes and twinkles to delight the ear. But alas, the soundtrack is devoid of a single, memorable musical hook, rendering the music into a mish-mosh of magic in a vacuum.

I’m sorry to report that Steven Spielberg’s direction seems lazy, though far from static by any stretch of his imagination. Mr. Spielberg’s harried camera moves, and now commonplace graphic novel look, play slight of hand to distract from the story’s flaws rather unconvincingly.

The BFG is proof that even our most accomplished and imaginative auteurs are capable of phoning in a comic book on steroids, which is what the film amounts to at the end of the day.