The BFG is like an incontinent labradoodle. It keeps pissing itself but it’s so cute I can’t stay mad. This isn’t Spielberg’s best effort but by God he is still the master of whimsy. I just couldn’t stop smiling. The BFG is a wonderfully retro, silly jaunt and a pretty poorly made movie at the same time. This somewhat undermines the position of the critic, so out of spite, I’m going to give you a detailed analysis of why this good movie isn’t a great one. What I’m saying is, kids will love it and if your heart hasn’t been turned to stone by the ravages of age you will enjoy it. If it has turned to stone, then sit back and enjoy me tearing it apart for the rest of this article.
Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) is a little orphan girl who one night sees a giant walking the streets of London. He sees her too and takes her away to Giant Country. Once there he introduces himself as the Big Friendly Giant (Mark Rylance). He tells her she has to stay put because if she goes out into giant country without him she’ll be gobbled up by the evil man-eating giants, lead by Fleshlumpeater (Jermaine Clement). Their friendship is a bit unsteady at first but over time their bond grows. But increasing danger from the evil giants forces them to take up arms. Can they stop the evil giants before it’s too late?
As I said in the introduction, this is a very retro-style film from its John Williams’ score to its heartwarming but unlikely friendship to its slapstick. Two out of three of those things work well. I’ll give you three hints which is which. One, John Williams has created some of the most iconic scores of our time. Two, Spielberg has had a lot of experience in the unlikely friendships department. Three, it’s the slapstick. At its best it feels poorly timed but generally still funny. At its worst, it comes off as contrived. The biggest offender here is the farting jokes. I realise they were the original book but the green gas was a step too far for me.
The timing issue mentioned earlier though stretches beyond the comedy and affects most scenes. A lot of scenes are reduced to shot, reverse shot without the characters interacting with their environment and even then the cuts feel like they happen a second too early every time. The characters can’t breathe in the space. The film is at it’s best as well when it allows the characters to interact with the world they aren’t familiar with, our world for the BFG and Giant Country for Sophie. All these poorly timed scenes then are connected by some really weird and off-putting transitions that kept bringing me out of the film.
Those weird transitions even happen in dialogue and it makes everything feel really unnatural. The absolute worst example of this is when Sophie says to the BFG (I’m paraphrasing here) “Hey we should stop the bad giants murdering children… where’s my blanket?”. That’s spectacularly lazy. This brings us onto the completely pointless “parting ways” story thread that occurs and is resolved over two back-to-back scenes. There was absolutely no need for it. All this leading to a fairly forgetful and uneventful climax.
And yet, despite all these huge problems, I still like this movie. It’s just adorable and it is mostly due to Mark Rylance as the BFG and some incredible facial animation. His face was more expressive than any human face could be and it just made me smile every time I saw it. After the let down of a climax, Sophie and BFG part ways and it’s all feeling a bit hollow and I’m getting annoyed but then we cut to a full face-face shot of the BFG smiling and my anger dissipates. That happens all the time in this movie. It’s just magic.
So in conclusion, The BFG is a deeply flawed film that will warm your heart and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it.
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