THE BFG (USA 2016). Directed by Steven Spielberg

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the_bfg.jpgTHE BFG (USA 2016) **
Directed by Steven Spielberg

Starring: Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Penelope Wilton, Jemaine Clement, Rebecca Hall, Bill Hader

Review by Gilbert Seah

THE BFG (big friendly giant) premiered at Cannes this year in the out-of-competition category to rave reviews. So expecting a lot from Spielberg, the director who is reputed to be a creator of dreams, I went into the BFG film (a film with a story of a giant collecting dreams in a bottle) expecting a lot but was duly disappointed.

The film based on the Roald Dahl children’s novel, deals with an orphan named Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) who lost her parents when she was a baby. Sophie is kidnapped from the orphanage one night by the BFG (Oscar Winner Mark Rylance from Spielberg’s NEST OF SPIES) and brought to Giant Land. There, Sophie befriends the BFG. The book and film fail to give a satisfactory reason of Sophie being kidnapped. The BFG turns out to be one who captures dreams and delivers them to children in the human world. In Giant Land, Sophie meets the other nasty evil human-eating giants. Going back to London, she convinces the Queen (Penelope Wilton) to capture the evil giants. That is the story, a simpler one compared to other Dahl’s stories.

Spielberg opts to leave out Sophie’s orphanage life. Nothing is shown about her life there, except of a mention by her to the BFG that the matron Mrs. Conkers is nasty and gives out lots of punishments such as locking children in the cellar which is rat infested. Not one other child is shown in the film leaving out a key element in the film – the human element. Other characters like the Queen’s Head of Army and Air Force, the King of Sweden and Sultan of Bagdad are largely left out. There are no ‘real’ human beings in the film except for Sophie. Everyone else like the queen and her men are shown as clowns and just pawns for the story’s movement.

At least the special effects animation and Janusz Kaminski’s cinematography are nothing short of stunning. The look of Mark Rylance as the BFG looks very close to Quentin Blake’s illustration in the Dahl book. From the very first frame to the last, there is always the feeling of awe. But the basic human story is lost. Special effects have undermined the simple pleasure of a Roald Dahl book. There can always be too much of a good thing. After being in Giant Land for an hour, the special effects animation begin to look normal.

Spielberg keeps his film in family mode. There is not gore or any scene in which a giant gobbles a human being. When Sophie is eaten by a giant in her dream, she is seen thrown into a dark black hole. Spielberg also resorts to cheap laughs like fart jokes The BFG offers Sophie a fizzy drink called frobscottle that causes noisy green-coloured flatulence. The flatulent humour is revisited when the Queen herself drinks the frobscottle.

The film is dedicated to Melissa Mathison, the scriptwriter (she also wrote E.T.) who passed away during the film’s production.

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