The BFG is a film adapted from a classic children's novel by Roald Dahl and hits theaters this weekend. Directed by the prolific Steven Spielberg, the movie is highly anticipated as it returns the filmmaker to one of his most well-regarded genres of children's fantasy.
The BFG is about a little girl named Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) who meets the Big Friendly Giant (Mark Rylance) and the pair soo develop a special friendship. Sophie's presence attracts the attention of many bad giants, so they have to travel to London to convince the Queen of England (Penelope Wilton) to help them destroy all of the eviil giants in the kingdom.
Check out the trailer for The BFG:
The movie has been deemed "fresh" on Rotten Tomatoes and currently stands at a respectable 73 percent rating. Critics had a lot to say about this movie — and it seems like the overall reaction is mixed.
The BFG Is Not Quite The E.T. Of This Generation
E.T. the Extra Terrestrial was a culmination of a thematic, creative, and magical experience which included a heartfelt friendship that heavily affected children of the past generation. Steven Spielberg has returned to explore yet another compelling relationship with The BFG, but most critics say that it doesn't live up to its predecessor. Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter said:
"An uncanny thematic mirror to 'E.T.' some 34 years later, Steven Spielberg and Melissa Mathison’s 'The BFG' emerges as a conspicuously less captivating, magical and transporting experience than its classic forebear."
However, some critics disagree, such as Peter Debruge of Variety:
"An all-digital Mark Rylance wins over audiences with his big, big heart in a forbidden-friendship story that serves as Steven Spielberg's 'E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial' for an all-new generation."
Where's The Adventure And Darkness?
Besides the comparisons to E.T., the main problem critics had with The BFG seems to be that there is no sense of adventure, failing to capture that aspect of the book. My mother used to read me The BFG late at night in my living room as I slowly slurped a cup of hot chocolate and my imagination would sprawl as I imagined myself as Sophie — becoming a part of a world bigger than I ever imagined. A.O. Scott of The New York Times points out that this is what's really missing from this movie:
"What’s missing, above all, is the wild, palpable sense of excitement that has galvanized so many of Mr. Spielberg’s other juvenile adventures, from 'E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial' to 'The Adventures of Tintin.' His approach to the material is dutiful and appreciative, and his devotion to his own craft is impeccable. He lays out an imaginary world in meticulous detail but never grants it full life. There are delights on display, but not many surprises."
Most of the critics agree that this film lacks a sense of adventure — which seems to tip the scales for most from "great" to just "good." Brian Truitt of USA Today explains how the lack of adventure affects the movie:
"For some, it might be a little too safe. There's never a sense that Sophie is in any real danger, even when surrounded by a bunch of ginormous cannibalistic giants who mock the relatively runt-sized BFG. While the screenplay expands Dahl’s plot, it’s still very much on the simplistic side, albeit perfect for a younger crowd."
Unfortunately, a sense of adventure isn't the only thing that the movie lacks. The movie also neglects the darkness that the novel handled so well. Kurt Loder of Reason explained how the movie stuck closely to the source material but left out the darker aspects:
"Spielberg sticks fairly close to his source material, the famous 1982 children's book by Roald Dahl (several of whose other works, like 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' and 'Fantastic Mr. Fox' have already been adapted for the screen). But Dahl's stories derive some of their enduring power from the darkness with which he shaded them. Darkness isn't something that Spielberg seeks out, and so 'The BFG' is quickly drained of tension and almost suffocated by niceness.
Mark Rylance Is A Treasure
Critics are praising Mark Rylance's performance, as he makes the BFG feel like a real character with genuine emotions. Lindsey Bahr of The Associated Press touched on this while also pointing out how well the movie successfully depicted the story on the big screen:
"Rylance’s BFG is an astonishing meld of real life and CG animation. It’s jarring at first but kids won’t mind, and adults will grow accustomed to it. Thankfully, it somehow stays clear of the uncanny valley. Most importantly, it fits in the context and look of this storybook world, which truly does feel like the page come to life."
Peter Travers from Rolling Stone agreed:
"For special effects alone, there's no problem: They're spectacular. And there's no faulting Mark Rylance, a newly-minted Oscar winner for Spielberg's 'Bridge of Spies,' whose motion-capture performance as a 24-foot giant is both subtly nuanced and truly monumental."
The idea of depicting a character such as the BFG on the big screen is a risky endeavor as faulty CGI could make the character feel very fake. Spielberg did the opposite and made the BFG a real character — one of the most important things they had to get right.
The Verdict On The BFG
Despite strong performances and great special effects, it seems that this movie is just average compared to Spielberg's other efforts. IGN explained this pretty well:
"If 'The BFG' occasionally whizzes, it never pops off the screen like the very best Spielberg fantasies do, despite the best efforts of Mark Rylance’s genial giant. Mid-level Spielberg is still streets ahead of much of the competition, of course, but any recommendations must come with the caveat that this director has explored the bond between a young child and his otherworldly friend so much more effectively before. And by those incredibly high standards, 'The BFG' isn’t quite one to phone home about."
I haven't seen the film yet myself, but critics have given the impression that The BFG is a sweet, heartfelt movie — just nothing special. Even if it's no E.T. the Extra Terrestrial, it's probably still worth checking out.