When adapting a book for film, the finished product often falls into one of three categories. Category One produces a film that bares little resemblance to the original story, where the narrative and characters have been butchered and shifted so much that it’s barely worthy of having the same title (we’re looking at you, 2017’s The Dark Tower.) Category Two are films whereby the additions, removals and changes to the story have resulted in a solid, worthwhile adaptation that, although different, stands confidently as it’s own product; The Shining, The Time Traveller’s Wife or Jurassic Park are all solid examples. Category Three is a rarer beast, a story that gets translated almost verbatim from page to screen with little or no alteration, and it’s this category that The BFG falls into.
Despite the addition of a minor new story strand about The BFG’s tragic past with ‘human beans’ the story remains largely unchanged. Whether you’re familiar with the book, or the original animated feature, this direct translation means that although Spielberg’s jaunt into Giant Country isn’t a bad film, it’s not exactly an amazing film either – strictly because it doesn’t offer anything new in terms of unexpected twists or surprises. The story is exactly what we expect. Again, in itself this isn’t actually a bad thing, it just results in a very bland watch narratively.
Visually however, The BFG is a wonder to behold. Mark Rylance’s take on the bumbling giant is nothing short of fantastic, his voice and physicality are spot on and the clever hybrid use of live performance/motion capture used to fully transform him into the loveable 24 foot dream blower is glorious; when the BFG smiles – his whole faces lights up and you can see Rylance bleeding though in every pore. The other giants too are well designed, however the effects budget can’t quite manage them all on screen at once, resulting in oft cartoonish looking scenes. This is a problem that plagues much of the physical interaction between Sophie (a fantastically competent performance by newcomer Ruby Barnhill) and the BFG, with many of their scenes not quite gelling as smoothly as one would hope.
Giant Country itself is perfectly designed; a rural, mysterious countryside that is scattered with the ruins of human vehicles that are essentially the giants toys. The BFG’s actual home is the highlight of the film, a wonderfully designed cobbled together lair inside a cave that is not shown enough of in the film – from his full size sailboat bed to his hand built furniture to the absolutely stunning dream factory, the BFG’s cave is a centre piece of the film, and although much of the action takes place inside it, you still feel slightly robbed that we couldn’t see more. The dreams themselves are beautiful creations – floating, whizzing, intangible wisps of every imaginable colour that just about have some sort of physical shape if studied close enough – from guitar players, to fairies, to dancers. The dream catching scene is one of the films highlights, and Spielberg toys with gravity, fog and dreams with such confidence it’s as if he’s visited giant country himself. He crafts an ethereal, hauntingly beautiful scene that says more about the BFG, and Sophie themselves than any other scene in the film.
It’s the London based scenes that knock a few stars off the film though. With such care and detail being put into Giant Country it seems that any effort to craft a convincing period piece has fallen by the wayside. With vintage cars and cobbled streets and traditional gas lamps populating the night time streets, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the film is set in the 50’s or 60’s – particularly given the state of Sophie’s orphanage. It is not until we meet Queen Elizabeth II though (an underwhelming, bored looking Penelope Wilton) that we suddenly realise we are in the 80’s – if her conversation with Nancy Regan is anything to go by – the time period production design creates a disjointed world that becomes quite distracting by the films end.
Overall, The BFG is a solid, faithful and often magical adaptation that more than does Roald Dahls’ original story justice, but perhaps, it’s best meant for young children -those who haven’t had the chance to discover Dahl’s world of giants – as the film probably works much better as a brand new, fresh tale, for un-jaded young ‘chiddlers’.