Spielberg Does Roald Dahl in The BFG—But Where’s the Storytelling Magic? | Film Review | Indy Week
Pin It

Spielberg Does Roald Dahl in The BFG—But Where’s the Storytelling Magic? 

Heavy lidded: Nine-year-old Sophie befriends a giant in The BFG

Photo courtesy of Walt Disney Studios

Heavy lidded: Nine-year-old Sophie befriends a giant in The BFG

Turns out the "F" in The BFG doesn't stand for what I thought it stood for, and it's not the latest Judd Apatow comedy. It's actually a family film from Steven Spielberg, based on the story by famed children's author Roald Dahl. You can imagine my surprise.

In fact, The BFG stands for The Big Friendly Giant, and it's a middling entry in the Spielberg canon. The film trades heavily in Spielbergian themes of childhood wonder and absentee parents, but it lacks the pure storytelling elegance of the director's best pictures.

The title character, voiced by British theater veteran Mark Rylance, is a giant all right—five stories tall, with enormous elephant ears and a satchel the size of a boxcar. But in a land of ferocious giants, he's a relative runt—and a pacifist weirdo to boot. He doesn't eat humans, which comes as a great relief to nine-year-old Sophie (Ruby Barnhill), when the BFG plucks her out of an orphanage window. The BFG—he never gets another name—protects Sophie from the other predatory giants and takes her along on his adventures, which involve capturing dreams and keeping them safe.

Like all of Dahl's stories, the movie has an agreeable kid's-eye view and a surreal logic. The title character, as interpreted by Spielberg, Rylance, and Disney's digital artisans, is a wonderful cinematic creation. Using state-of-the-art technology, the movie combines live-action filmmaking with impossibly detailed animation. That's the movie's prime selling point: It is a genuinely beautiful thing to behold. Rylance also does an interesting thing with the BFG's dialogue of spitzwiggled and slogroggled malapropisms. Rather than demonstrate his verbal dexterity with spitfire readings, he slows ... everything ... down.

It's a bold choice that affects the pacing. Spielberg goes with the molasses flow for the first half of the film, which unfolds in a languid dreamland. But then everything accelerates in the second half, which shifts to 1980s London and incorporates helicopters, British special forces, and a Ronald Reagan joke. It's a conspicuously jarring shift in pacing and tone, and not for the better.

But the real trouble with The BFG, for grown-ups, anyway, is that there's no subtext, no tension, no layers. Nothing is at stake. That might not be so bad for a kids movie, except that the screenplay was written by the late Melissa Mathison, who last collaborated with Spielberg on E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. That movie has so much at stake that it still makes me cry every time. I guess I was hoping for something similar. No such luck.

This article appeared in print with the headline "Rocky Roald"

  • The famed children’s author’s Big Friendly Giant comes to life on the big screen on Friday, July 1.

Comments

Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

INDY Week publishes all kinds of comments, but we don't publish everything.

  • Comments that are not contributing to the conversation will be removed.
  • Comments that include ad hominem attacks will also be removed.
  • Please do not copy and paste the full text of a press release.

Permitted HTML:
  • To create paragraphs in your comment, type <p> at the start of a paragraph and </p> at the end of each paragraph.
  • To create bold text, type <b>bolded text</b> (please note the closing tag, </b>).
  • To create italicized text, type <i>italicized text</i> (please note the closing tag, </i>).
  • Proper web addresses will automatically become links.

Latest in Film Review



Twitter Activity

Comments

Just saw Pitch Perfect 3 trailer. Looks like its going to be another year of fun ride. Incredibly excited to …

by Andrew190 on Dueling college a cappella groups in Pitch Perfect (Film Review)

We'd be hard pressed to find a free local weekly with film reviews this poetic. Your writers translate complex ideas …

by Aims Arches on Isabelle Huppert Unforgettably Avenges Herself in Elle (Film Review)

Most Read

Most Recent Comments

Just saw Pitch Perfect 3 trailer. Looks like its going to be another year of fun ride. Incredibly excited to …

by Andrew190 on Dueling college a cappella groups in Pitch Perfect (Film Review)

We'd be hard pressed to find a free local weekly with film reviews this poetic. Your writers translate complex ideas …

by Aims Arches on Isabelle Huppert Unforgettably Avenges Herself in Elle (Film Review)

Ever since the surprise success of the Fox TV show Glee audiences have been exposed to the world of choirs, …

by philip190 on Dueling college a cappella groups in Pitch Perfect (Film Review)

robertm748: You mean without warning, apart from the very first paragraph of his review???

by Neil Morris on Amy Adams’s Authenticity Elevates Tom Ford’s Glam Pulp Fiction in Nocturnal Animals (Film Review)

Nathan Gelgud is unsure whether the disenfranchised classes in England are whiter than in the US? Really?

Well, …

by Eileen Smyth on Aliens land in an English slum in Attack the Block (Film Review)

© 2017 Indy Week • 201 W. Main St., Suite 101, Durham, NC 27701 • phone 919-286-1972 • fax 919-286-4274
RSS Feeds | Powered by Foundation