Steven Spielberg’s The BFG, a precocious fantasy set in the early 1980s, contains the magic and mirth that have come to be associated with the filmmaker at his most playful and child-like.
The Production: 4/5
Even a master of movie fantasy like Steven Spielberg occasionally comes a cropper, at least in terms of box-office receipts. His Hook was a box-office disappointment, and this year’s The BFG was no less a letdown to Disney studio executives. Quality-wise, however, it’s another story as this precocious fantasy set in the early 1980s contains the magic and mirth that have come to be associated with the filmmaker at his most playful and child-like. The BFG might not have set any fires at the turnstiles, but it’s a lovely fantasy adventure that will likely find devoted fans who’ll discover it down the road and wonder why it wasn’t a bigger hit.
Insomniac orphan Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) happens to spy out the orphanage window during the 3 a.m. witching hour a giant elf-looking creature (Mark Rylance) who promptly seizes her and carries her back to the Land of Giants with him. She eventually learns he goes by the name of Big Friendly Giant (which she shortens to The BFG), a spritely being whose job it is to gather dreams and spread them through London at night. In his world, however, BFG is a pipsqueak who’s constantly tormented by the bullying, cannibalistic nine mean giants of the realm led by Fleshlumpeater (Jemaine Clement). Sophie can’t stand seeing BFG constantly picked on and gets the idea to enlist the help of Queen Elizabeth (Penelope Wilton) to find a way to stop the giants who are on a children eating rampage throughout London.
Melissa Mathison has adapted Roald Dahl’s fantasy novel with a light touch with its giants’ peculiarly charming lexicon of garbled English and just enough action, adventure, and whimsy to flesh out a feature film (the whimsy may have been a bit thick and the action a little on the short side which might account for the film’s box-office failure). Director Steven Spielberg, of course, is right at home with this kind of fantasy filmmaking, and many will find the film’s themes and tone cannily reminiscent of E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial without quite matching it in terms of emotional impact or drama. Several sequences are nevertheless quite dazzling including the journey to the Land of Dreams where BFG rounds up the illusions, both pleasing and terrifying, to be implanted later and the first real breakfast that BFG has ever consumed served to him by the Queen’s servants (a sequence that concludes with a succession of farting jokes, called “whizpopping” in the film’s particular giants’ jargon). The climactic raid on the Land of Giants promises more than it delivers in terms of action and thrills, and the movie seems to be counting on its outstanding production design and creative use of motion capture for the giants to carry the major investment of the audience’s attention and good will.
Oscar-winner Mark Rylance offers a charming and effectively affecting performance as BFG, relishing the twisty plays on language and making his vocal and visual performance of a piece resulting in by far the movie’s best portrayal. His co-star Ruby Barnhill is plucky and determined as orphan Sophie though the character seems more talk than action quite often (she spends much of the movie in hiding from those who’d consume her though it’s she who comes up with the idea of going to the Queen for help). Jemaine Clement is a great, blustering bully as Fleshlumpeater offering another expert motion capture performance as the film’s primary villain. Bill Hader as his second-in-command Bloodbottler is likewise most effective. Penelope Wilton is a lovely, noble Queen Elizabeth, and Rebecca Hall and Rafe Spall as her two assistants likewise provide able assistance.
3D Rating: NA
The film’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.39:1 is faithfully presented in this 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. An exceptional melding of live action and CG effects, the image quality is gorgeous with wonderful details in faces, hair, and clothes. Color is likewise outstanding (the magical tree of dreams sequence is breathtaking in high definition), and flesh tones are quite natural and most appealing. Contrast has been beautifully maintained throughout, and black levels and shadow detail should not garner any complaints. The movie has been divided into 20 chapters.
The movie was presented in 3D in theaters, but no 3D home video release has been announced for Region A.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 sound mix uses state-of-the-art mixing techniques to wring every ounce of whimsical charm and wonder out of the story with atmospheric effects and occasional dialogue spread through the fronts and rears. Master composer John Williams has provided another lively, music-heavy score for a Spielberg film with it beautifully spread through front and rear soundstages. Dialogue mostly resides in the center channel and is clear as a bell, better to understand every endearing syllable of the giants’ special language.
Special Features: 3/5
Bringing The BFG to Life (27:09, HD): a combination of actress Ruby Barnhill’s behind-the-scenes video diary and a backstage look at the making of the film with additional commentary by director Steven Spielberg, producers Frank Marshall, Sam Mercer, and Kathleen Kennedy, original author Raoul Dahl’s daughter Lucy, screenwriter Melissa Mathison, production designers Rick Carter and Robert Stromberg, costume designer Joanna Johnston, and actors Mark Rylance, Penelope Wilton, Rebecca Hall, and Rafe Spall, among others.
The Big Friendly Giant and Me (1:55, HD): a short animated film bringing to life the story left behind by the BFG’s first child abductee mentioned briefly in the movie.
Gobblefunk: The Wonderful Words of The BFG (3:16, HD): a brief lexicon and test on the peculiar language spoken by the giants.
Giants 101 (4:57, HD): a behind-the-scenes look at the nine actors playing the giants in motion capture featuring words by producer Frank Marshall and actors Jermaine Clement and Bill Hader, among others.
Melissa Mathison: A Tribute (5:54, HD): the screenwriter who died during the film’s post-production is paid tribute by producers Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall, and Kristie Macosko Krieger, production designers Rick Carter and Robert Stromberg, and director Steven Spielberg.
Promo Trailer (HD): Beauty and the Beast.
DVD/Digital Copy: disc and code sheet enclosed in the case.
A lovely and quite charming if somewhat slight Steven Spielberg fantasy, The BFG offers reasonably family friendly adventure and friendship while downplaying the story’s more violent and disturbing elements (the giants, apart from the title character, are, after all, cannibals who particularly enjoy the taste of children). The disc, while not offering the theatrical 3D presentation, is nevertheless reference quality and comes with a strong recommendation.