Roald Dahl’s book for children, The BFG, was published in 1982 and an animated film was released in 1989. I’m familiar with both, so when I saw that this so-called box office flop was available to watch on BBC iPlayer, I was curious to see what it was like.
The story is about a little girl, Sophie, who is taken from an orphanage by the Big Friendly Giant (BFG for short) because she’s seen him creeping around the streets at night; he doesn’t want her telling anyone about his existence. I realise that sounds a bit dodgy, and indeed you can’t help but feel uncomfortable at the idea of a stranger peering into children’s bedrooms. Also, surely very few people leave their windows open at night, especially in London where our story takes place. Anyway, the BFG’s purpose is to bring dreams to people. He takes Sophie back to his house in Giant Country, where she’s at risk of being eaten by the other giants, who are a lot bigger than the BFG and unlike him, are not vegetarian. Together the BFG and Sophie form a plan to deal with the giants.
There was something not quite convincing about this Spielberg-directed film, but maybe I’m just seeing the flaws in the original story, which was never one of my favourite Dahls. The pacing of the film seemed slow and the beginning could have been more dramatic. A thundercloud marks the border between our world and Giant Country, which was underwhelming compared to the funky portal leading to a weirdly-coloured landscape in the 1989 film.
Of course the special effects were excellent. I particularly liked the visuals of Dream Country and also the BFG himself, who is a CGI entity with the expression and voice of actor Mark Rylance. The music is also lovely and I wasn’t surprised to learn it was the work of John Williams. Interestingly, the other giants were made more human (as it were). They act like a pack of school bullies, are frightened of water and expect the BFG to bandage little finger cuts. They’re not actually as scary as in previous versions. I liked Penelope Wilton’s turn as the Queen of England. I was a little worried by one scene, which shows Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) telling herself to jump, and then jumping off the orphanage balcony when she can sense the BFG’s presence; his hand catches her before she hits the ground, but I thought it was an irresponsible and unnecessary addition. Sophie herself is not exactly likeable, but that’s true of the book character too. The film was certainly worth watching but I probably wouldn’t repeat the experience.
The film was written by Melissa Mathison, who also wrote the screenplay for E.T. However, she died before The BFG was released in cinemas and the film is dedicated to her.