There might be those of you out there that may be aware that in 1989 there was an animated film version of The BFG which featured the legendary David Jason as the voice of the titular Giant. In this review I am not going to be talking about that film too much, instead I am going to be talking about the 2016 live-action film which was directed by Steven Spielberg. I really enjoyed the animated film, however, I am not familiar with the book so how true to the novel the two version are, I am afraid I do not know.
As I mentioned above there are currently two versions of The BFG, which was a novel written by Roald Dahl, who has written numerous books that have been adapted into films like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Some of his books I have read and others I haven’t. The BFG is one of the few exceptions, and I haven’t read the novel. So the only knowledge I had of this film going into it was the 1989 animated film. The BFG getting a big screen outing was something I was hesitant about, on the one hand the Giants are going to be creations of CGI so I wondered how realistic they would look compared to the humans, but on the other hand the legend that is Steven Spielberg was sitting in the director’s chair. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a fan of Spielberg, E.T, Jaws, Jurassic Park, are among his successes that have become box office phenomenons. However, I wouldn’t say that I like all of his work, some films like War of the Worlds have left me with the resounding…meh…but if there was anyone that could bring this film to the big screen and make it a success it would have been Spielberg.
Right as I am prattling on a bit, let me give you a quick insight into the plot…
A young orphan named Sophie (played by Ruby Barnhill) is still awake due to suffering from insomnia, at 3.00AM one night she is disturbed from her bed by a noise outside. She goes to the window and sees a giant. She watches him for a moment before he turns and spots her watching him. Sophie returns to her bed and hides under the covers. As she peeks back out a giant hand reaches into her window and grabs her. The giant flees from London with Sophie, and returns to his home, a mysterious land known as Giant Country.
The giant tells Sophie that he had to take her because if he didn’t she would have run around telling everyone that she saw a giant (and naturally the authorities would have immediately believed her) and fearful of being captured by humans the giant had no choice but to take her with him. Sophie tells him that she is an orphan and she suffers from insomnia. Later that night she does fall asleep and dreams about escaping and other giants devouring her. She realises on waking that the giant who took her made her dream that dream to discourage her from trying to flee.
During the day the pair head to Dream Country to capture dreams, but on the way they awaken the other sleeping giants who torment and bully Sophie’s giant, calling him “runt”, fortunately the giants retreat when a thunderstorm appears, and Sophie and her giant head to Dream Country. Whilst there the giant tells her that aside from being called runt by the other giants he was once called the “Big Friendly Giant” and so Sophie decides to call him the BFG.
The other giants find evidence of Sophie in Giant Country and break into the BFG’s home, smashing his dream bottles as they search for Sophie, his work is destroyed and in the wake of what happened Sophie convinces him to go to the Queen of England to get help in beating the other giants once and for all…
Okay, comparisons to the animated version is inevitable and whilst I will try and be as unbiased as possible, I can already feel my opinion being swayed by the 1989 version. Like I said I haven’t read the book so I don’t know which version is truer to the novel but…I might as well be honest…I liked the animated version better, and now I will tell you why.
In this film it is initially implied and then later directly stated that the BFG has taken a child before, and that something happened them. We later discover that the Fleshlumpeater, and the other giants ate him. The thing is that there is no emotional weight behind that discovery, the BFG has taken one child that ended up dead, and yet without hesitation he stole another one. How many children has he taken in his time?? Sophie finds this other child’s home but we don’t even know what his name was, we don’t know how long ago it was, and like I said the BFG himself doesn’t seem to be too bothered about it. Yes, his facial expressions do convey sorrow when the other giants remind him that they found the last child but considering how easily he is ultimately able to chase them away from his house it does make you wonder if he even put up a fight before the other child was devoured. In the 1989 film Sophie was the first and only child that the BFG had ever taken, or if there were others they weren’t ever mentioned, so it carried more weight that the BFG was determined to protect her. Whereas in this version he seemed to only make a very passive attempt to keep her safe from the other giants. It is after his dream jars are all smashed that he decides he has had enough and chases them away from his home. In the wake of this there is also a scene in which he returns Sophie to the orphanage, but hangs around as she jumps off the ledge to prove that he is still there, and he catches her, returning to Giant Country. Why was the sub-plot about another child even there if it, in fact, had nothing to do with anything as it didn’t stop the BFG taking Sophie or putting her in danger by keeping her with him in Giant Country after the other giants start looking for her??
The BFG collecting dreams and using a trumpet to blow them into children’s bedrooms is an idea that is intact in both the 1989 film and this one. But here the BFG has no invisibility cloak so he hides in shadows, pretends to be trees or hides behind his regular cloak, so it makes me wonder how more people haven’t seen him. He does his dream-blowing (should think of a better term for that) at 3.00Am when most people are asleep but there are plenty of people who wouldn’t be, so how is Sophie and the other nameless child, the only ones who have ever spotted him???
During both films the pair decide to go to the Queen to get help to defeat the other giants, in the 1989 version Sophie comes up with a plan to capture the giants without harming them, but in this film they don’t have a plan even after heading to Giant Country. They put numerous soldiers in danger without actually having a means of fighting the giants that they have come to put down. It isn’t even clear what is going to happen when they arrive. The plan seems to just be thrown together on the fly and unlike the other film in which things go wrong everything just works and the giants are easily captured.
However, by far the biggest problem with the film rather than the animation is the fact that in this film the giants are simply not scary. Yes they pick on the BFG but we never actually see them in the human world taking children from their beds to eat them, which we do get in the animation. There is a scene in which the audience sees a giant reaching into the bedroom of a child and when he turns round you glimpse his mouth moving as he eats a child…yes, in an animation from 1989 you witness a giant eating a child. The newspapers have reports of lots of children disappearing and bones being found under bedroom windows. In the live-action film there is a scene when Sophie is held up and dropped into the open mouth of a giant, but it is a dream, and it is the only time that a giant seems to be dangerous to humans.
Plus if I say the name: Fleshlumpeater to you, what do you imagine, this…
Holy fuck is the animation scarier, when you have names like Childchewer, Meatdripper, Butcherboy and Bloodbottler are these really the kind of images your mind comes up with??
Hell no, the animation went all out with the design of the giants, each one was unique, they varied in size and whilst they did still attack the BFG on sight, he was still a giant. Giants do not kill other giants and over the years the BFG has turned a blind eye to the others killing children, it isn’t until Sophie comes into his life that he realises that humans are not the selfish beings he believed them to be. Sophie convinces him to go to the Queen and when the Army and Air Force head to Giant Country things go wrong, and it is left to the BFG to stand up to the Fleshlumpeater alone.
Tell me something, does this guy look like he is afraid of water??
The giants retreat when a thunderstorm appears overhead whilst they are bullying the BFG and hide in a cave…so basically if the children of the world are armed with water pistols they will escape being eaten by a giant?? Why does the Queen send the army when surely sending the Fire Brigade would have been better as they could have simply hosed down the giants in order to subdue and move them. In the film’s ending the giants are dumped on an island somewhere, well actually they are dumped in the sea and they swim to the island, so they are afraid of water and yet all of them can swim. How can they swim if they are afraid of water?? There was no mention of the giants having any fears during the 1989 animation and whilst it may be something that was in the book, it just strikes me as being a bit stupid.
I’m not saying that the 1989 film was perfect but it was better than the live action, yes the ending of the animation was a bit weird because the Fleshlumpeater is not captured with the other giants and instead of freeing them, he leaves them incapacitated whilst he goes after the BFG and Sophie so obviously he wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer.
It must sound like I really didn’t like the live-action film but I have to say that there were a number of things that worked, and worked well. In the animation Dream Country was reached through a silver waterfall and consists of lily-pads floating and both the BFG and Sophie can fly whilst they are there (although the BFG could fly anyway). Here they get to Dream Country by jumping into the reflection in a pool, it is creative and gives Dream Country more substance than it had in the animation. The dreams themselves also seem to have more to them, they shift and move almost like insects, and change size depending on whether the BFG or Sophie have them in their hands.
Plus it has to be said that the CGI is very impressive, not just the dreams look alive but the giants themselves look like actual beings. The world of The BFG also has been elaborately created with the simple cave the BFG had in the animation replaced with a modest home that he obviously lives in. The Snoz-cumber is also pretty grotesque looking and it is easy to see why giants despise eating it. The attention to detail is excellent with the different workshops and equipment the BFG uses to create the dreams creative and well designed. So the film is very impressive to look at and the motion capture and the voice work of Mark Rylance as the BFG is also top quality (although I was a little disappointed David Jason wasn’t asked to return to reprise the voice).
On the whole I wasn’t massively keen on this version of The BFG, it is obvious that a lot of time and work has gone into the film, and Spielberg is directing the film because he loves the source material but it just doesn’t have the edge of the 1989 animation. The BFG is about giants eating children, and if that element is downplayed, as it is here, what we end up with is more like a series of shorts than a coherent film. The journey to Giant Country, the BFG getting bullied, Sophie’s dream, going to Dream Country and so on…it doesn’t link together, the film just jumps from one location to another and doesn’t seem to have a direction, in much the same way that when Sophie and the BFG go to the Queen they have got no idea what they are going to do about the other giants.
If you want to see some very impressive CGI then I recommend seeing this film because unlike Avatar in which the CGI looks impressive only until the CGI is in the same scene as the actors, this film makes seeing the lines between the giants and the humans much harder to see. The film may follow the book more closely but if it does I wouldn’t know. The 1989 film is superior to this one mainly because the giants in the animation look like monsters that devour children, and if the giants aren’t the monsters that children have nightmares about then the film hasn’t done what it should have. Ultimately I found this film lacking, and whilst I don’t think it is fair to give it a Thumbs Down, I spent most of it comparing it to the animation, so I think I’ll have to give it my meh rating and leave my Thumb Horizontal.
6/10 – The CGI is impressive and it is obvious that a lot of work has gone into the film, but in the end I liked the animation better. The story seems more coherent, and the motivations of the characters make more sense in that version than in this one. Plus the giants are way scarier in the animation than they are here and they are certainly not afraid of a little H2O