I’ve just seen The BFG, so I thought I’d jot down my thoughts while it’s fresh. If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s your spoiler warning!
I really liked it. I went in with low expectations, but to my surprise Spielberg has made a surprisingly faithful adaptation of the book. He preserves most of the good stuff, and even introduces some new things that work really well.
Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) is excellent. She’s incredibly smart and capable and brave, while still being believable as a real child. I loved that she threatened to run away, repeatedly. She’s not helpless! Sure, the bit about her dream was a little bit sappy, but I think they earned it by playing up the connection between the two of them. It makes sense that an orphan would dream of a life with a family and adventure.
Mark Rylance IS the BFG. They nailed it. His voice, the words, the way he looked, his beautiful crinkly face, it all worked. My only quibble was that the scale was slightly off, such that Sophie couldn’t fit in his ear. But that actually always seemed a bit weird to me too, so I didn’t mind it too much.
The look of the film was terrific. Giant Country could have been slightly more fantastical, I guess, but I liked the demonstration of how to get there. The old cars and tankers didn’t bother me so much; it makes sense that the giants would have stolen things to play with. (Actually upon thinking about it further – those vehicles probably all had people in them who got eaten. Yikes.) There’s a bit at the end though where the Fleshlumpeater smashes through, like, the wall of a church–at which point I went, “Huh? How did that get there?” Does that imply that Giant Country used to be inhabited by people? That it’s a part of our world? Or did they somehow bring a building over with them “for frolics”?
Which reminds me – I think the giants in general were very well done. Dahl’s original description was slightly problematic–I remember reading that his editors actually pushed him to tone down some of the racial elements–so I heartily endorse this version of them. The story makes it clear that the giants eat people, but it leaves out the long passages in the book where Sophie questions the BFG about just how many people get eaten and how the giants hunt them. (Probably for the best; I could see that giving nightmares to some of the kids in my cinema.)
I really liked the addition of the backstory for the BFG, that he had another child companion that was caught and eaten by the others. It makes sense, and Rylance did a great job of conveying his sadness and regret. (I did amuse myself by thinking of the BFG as Dr. Who for a moment though.)
And the dreams! I was so happy that they kept the labels on the dreams, and they worked in a way of relating one of the funniest ones. Those were always my favourite part of the book. (I’ll need to get the DVD and pause it at some scenes. I think when the BFG peels a label off one jar, you can see some others in the little box he pulls out.) The dreams themselves looked just like I pictured, and I thought jumping into the pond in Dream Country was a great way to show that transition to another world.
I pretty much giggled through the entire Buckingham Palace scene. It was absolutely perfect, and it might be my favourite part of the whole movie. From him crashing into the chandelier, to his improvised table on top of four grandfather clocks, to his cutlery of a sword and a garden fork… it was all perfect. Penelope Wilton was THE BEST, and I thought the added jokes (her calling Boris, Nancy, and Ronnie, not to mention the corgis!) were hilarious. Sure, the scene where everybody whizzpopped was a bit over the top, but the kids in our screening all thought it was the funniest thing ever. And truth be told, I was laughing too. 🙂
Okay, so what didn’t I like? For starters, I thought the BFG’s cave was a little too steampunk. He definitely had egg beaters and a trumpet in the book, but water wheels and overhead conveyors were taking it a bit far. Some of it was clearly stuff he’d stolen from the human world–like his boat bed, and the road signs he used as trays–butI found myself wondering about the giant pot he cooked his stew in. Where did he get that? Are you telling me the BFG smelts his own iron, somehow? This stuff all felt a bit more Spielberg than Dahl, really.
I also thought the scene where the BFG takes Sophie back to the orphanage was pretty pointless. The sole purpose seemed to be so that he had an excuse to explain about the previous kid, but we were able to work that out. I guess it also injected some tension, maybe, that the BFG was going to leave her there? I also wondered for a moment if maybe the Fleshlumpeater was following them, and would try to get Sophie in London. But instead she jumped off the balcony, he caught her, and then they went back to Giant Country as if nothing had happened. Pointless.
I’m a little sad that Jack the Giant Killer didn’t make it in. It always amused me that the giants were so dumb they believed this fairytale was about a real person. Of course, you only find out about Jack during the trogglehumper/nightmare scene, which gets moved towards the end of the movie. I guess having it happen earlier undermines the “arc” for the BFG, which is learning to finally stand up for himself. As it is, it makes no sense to give the trogglehumper to the giants at the end of the movie. It wakes them up but it’s made them all remorseful. What? In the book the BFG quietly trusses them all up while they’re sleeping, and the only one that wakes up is the Fleshlumpeater. Sophie stabs him with her brooch and the BFG tells him it’s a Venomous Vindscreen Viper in order to finish tying him up. That all gets cut in the film, and instead the army somehow manages to, like, shoot ropes and nets all around the giants even though they’re awake. It made for a really exciting sequence, but it seems pretty silly in retrospect.
And lastly, the ending. First of all, I thought for a second the army was DROWNING the giants! I guess leaving them on an island makes for cheaper visual effects than a 500-foot deep pit. As for Sophie and the BFG, I actually found their ending kind of sad and melancholy. So he goes back to Giant Country to be a hermit? I wanted to see him living in a castle next to the Queen and Sophie, riding an elephant and eating peachy fruits! Instead she just talks to him out the window now and then, and he smiles off in his cave. The poor guy was alone before, and he’s alone now. He needs companionship! I felt sorry for him. At least Spielberg still had him write his book.
What did you think?