The BFG review: Spielberg’s personal time machine
The circumstances of my BFG review viewing were, shall we say, less than ideal.
I don’t generally talk about the behind-the-scenes stuff surrounding a movie review. It’s almost always irrelevant, I tend to sound like an ingrate when complaining about seeing a movie before most people, and it’s boring. You don’t care about my physical experience any more than I care about the wacky email Paul in accounting just forwarded you.
With The BFG though, there are a few things worth mentioning. The air went out in the fully packed and sweltering theater, it was crammed with kids that expressed their excitement through ear-piercing screams, and the kid behind me was possibly the reincarnation of Dr. Mengele as he experimented with my sanity by methodically kicking the back of my chair in patterns that were just out of synch enough that I couldn’t ignore them. I wanted to suplex him. (For the record, I would have destroyed him. It would have been awesome).
Even with all of that working against it, The BFG absolutely won me over. None of the other distractions mattered, not even the kid behind me (although I hope he has to wear braces for a decade).
The BFG is a return for Steven Spielberg to an earlier moment in his career. Over the last few decades, Spielberg has moved more towards the dramatic spectrum. His films are generally appropriate for all ages, but it’s been a long, long time since he directed something made with kids in mind – not just in terms of the story content, but in terms of the innocence and even optimism shown. (The Adventures of Tin-Tin: The Secret of the Unicorn doesn’t count given its animated nature. And because it was kinda meh.)
The BFG is a movie filled with joy and heart, which immediately puts it in stark contrast to many of the other live-action films out this summer that are fueled by cynicism and/or explosions. There is, of course, a place for both types of films, but it is becoming more and more difficult to appeal to families without talking down to them or going with animation. That’s always been the case, but it is more prevalent now than ever.
Spielberg manages to walk the line between saccharine and wondrous, telling a story that is impossible and yet you don’t care. The BFG is a complete film, highly polished and skillfully shot, anchored by a pair of memorable performances from the film’s young heroine Sophie (played by newcomer Ruby Barnhill), and the Big Friendly Giant (Oscar-winner and recent Spielberg collaborator, Mark Rylance).
Part of my enjoyment of this film may have come from my ignorance at what it is all about. I never read the Roald Dahl book the film was based on, and I didn’t know there was an animated 1989 film version of it until I started writing this review and I needed to look up a few background details. I had only seen a quick trailer for it too. That was all intentional for the most part. If I know I am going to review a film, I don’t really want to have baggage going in.
All I really knew about the film was that it wasn’t about the classic weapon in Doom. I was disappointed, but I accepted that.
The story is classic Spielberg, straightforward enough, but packed with a depth of character that lends itself to building relationships that go beyond the narrative and rest at the heart of the film. Sophie is a lonely orphan girl who accidentally spots a giant in London. Out of a fear of discovery, the giant kidnaps the girl and takes her home to giant land. The antagonistic relationship quickly blossoms into a powerful, tender bond, and the giant earns the nickname “BFG.”
Sophie’s trip to giant wonderland is soon upended after the other, man-eating giants catch her scent. When the giants head to England to indulge in a little human buffeting, it leads to a confrontation and one of the best fart jokes on film in a long time.
The story is simple, almost to a fault, but the movie isn’t about the plot, it’s about the BFG and Sophie. It’s about two lonely people finding each other and forming an innocent and honest friendship. It’s about a huge CGI guy that speaks a weird, funny dialect and befriends an adorable child.
Spielberg crafted a complete film, polished from the top to bottom. Thought went into every shot, and John Williams score is a strong audio companion throughout – it isn’t Raiders of the Lost Ark or even The Lost World, but it accompanies the film well. The effects, especially those that brought the BFG to life, are incredible as well.
It all works, and it’s classic Spielberg.
The BFG review conclusion
The BFG has a childlike innocence that hides sophisticated storytelling. That shouldn’t come as a surprise given that it’s Spielberg, but it is a departure from his last few live-action movies, all of which were much daker and more mature in tone and content.
This isn’t Spielberg’s deepest film, it isn’t even in the top 10, but it is a return to the days of Hook. Just, ya know, better than Hook. Much better. Just see it in a theater with air condition. And maybe sit in the back row of the theater with no one behind you.
The BFG is rated PG, with a run time of 1 hour and 55 minutes.