Steven Spielberg takes a break from his run of important historical films (Lincoln, Bridge of Spies) to film a charming fairy tale based on the classic children’s book by Roald Dahl (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, James and the Giant Peach).
1. What is it about?
The BFG follows the model of most of Roald Dahl’s stories for children: a good-hearted innocent trapped in a horribly unjust world finds the courage to keep being good-hearted and innocent, and somehow overcomes adversity to find the good life they deserve. In this case, we have two gentle heroes; Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) is a plucky orphan, and BFG (Mark Rylance) is the Big Friendly Giant, a gentle soul who wanders the London night delivering dreams to sleeping children. BFG is the runt of the litter, the smallest of a family of giants; his brothers prefer to eat “human beans,” particularly children, something BFG feels helpless to oppose, until he befriends Sophie and the two create a plan to stop Fleshlumpeater (Jemaine Clement) and the other giants with the help of the Queen of England.
2. Will I like it?
Probably, if you like a modern fairy tale. Spielberg does a masterful job of turning Dahl’s simple story into a visual spectacle, while keeping the human emotions and relationships front and center.
3. Will my kids like it?
I think so, especially if they like the book. Screenwriter Melissa Mathison stays pretty close to the source material, except for a few well-advised edits. The end is more merciful here than in the story, and the whole “giants eating children” thing is pretty soft-pedaled, only mentioned indirectly except for a sequence in which Sophie is almost an accidental appetizer.
4. When is a good time for a bathroom break?
The BFG has an old-school leisurely pace, with plot developments coming steadily, but never feeling rushed. Probably the best place to step out is about 45 minutes in, when BFG takes Sophie to gather dreams. Once they step through to the dream land, there’s a long sequence of dream chasing that’s very beautiful to look at, but no important plot developments take place, except one that’s adequately explained when it comes up again.
5. Is the rating appropriate?
The BFG is rated PG “for action/peril, some scary moments and brief rude humor.” The action and peril sequences generally involve a group of ravenous giants trying to find and eat a little girl, with some physical comedy involved. It’s mildly scary in a fantasy style, possibly upsetting for very young or sensitive children. The rude humor involves the giant’s favorite beverage, “Frobscottle,” a strange green concoction in which the bubbles go down instead of up, which produces spectacular green flatulence in anyone who drinks it. The sequence is surprisingly understated, considering it’s a series of fart jokes involving the Queen of England.
6. Do I need to have read the book to enjoy it?
The film works very well whether you’ve read the book or not. Since it’s something of a classic and pretty popular, if you happen to have read it with your kids, they may enjoy seeing how the movie differs from the book.
7. How are the performances?
Perfect across the board. Mark Rylance brings a gruff warmth to the giant, playing beautifully off young Ruby Barnhill in her film debut as exactly the plucky orphan the story requires, taking giants and royalty in stride with equal aplomb. Penelope Wilton’s ever-proper Queen provides a hilariously proper counterpoint to the uncivilized BFG, holding court over a hastily-assembled royal breakfast in which the guest of honor uses a pitchfork and shovel as utensils. Jemaine Clement’s performance as Fleshlumpeater, the worst of the giants, neatly walks the tightrope between comedy and menace, providing both laughs and a credible threat.
8. How’s the music?
John Williams returns to the Spielberg team after having missed Bridge of Spies due to a medical concern, and he delivers his usual excellent score. There are no pop songs sprinkled about for the sake of a soundtrack album, just a solid score that supports the story.
9. Do I need to stay to the end of the credits?
Nope. The whole movie is in the movie.
10. Is the 3D worth it?
Nope. Spielberg makes visually stunning films, but the 3D adds very little. There’s virtually none of the usual “thrill ride” sequences typically found in heavily CGI 3D movies.