‘The BFG’ Review | We Are The Dreamers Of Dreams
The beautiful thing about fantasies is that they have absolutely no limitations. If you can dream it, then it’s a fantasy, so more power to you. But the problem with fantasy movies is that, like most movies, they tend to conform to the tropes of an established genre. So we get an awful lot of films that recycle the same types of characters, monsters and plot points, even though – by their very definition as “fantasy” stories – they should have the freedom to do any damned thing they want.
That’s a big part of why Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Road Dahl’s The BFG is a rare and beautiful treasure. Here at last is a fantasy film with state of the art visual effects, and one that doesn’t seem beholden anything else that came before it. It is a movie about giant monsters that is told almost entirely through meaningful conversations between dear friends, who are busying themselves with their hobbies. It sounds almost entirely non-commercial, and that’s exactly what it is, and as such it feels like a gasp of life-affirming freedom.
Ruby Barnhill plays Sophie, an orphan with a serious case of insomnia, who notices a giant man in a cloak skulking through the streets of London in the middle of the night. The giant snatches her from her bed and absconds to Giant Country, where he reveals himself to be a charming old fussbudget with a wonky with way words, play (via motion capture) by Mark Rylance. The Big Friendly Giant – or just “The BFG,” if you’re into the whole brevity thing – has no ill-intentions towards Sophie. He was just worried that if she told the adults that she saw a giant, he would have a pitchforks and torches situation on his hands.
Besides, he’s lonely. Giant Country is populated entirely by The BFG and a handful of brutish, child-eating giants who like to bully our skittish friend every chance they get.
Sophie, having nothing better to do (since being an orphan isn’t the end all, be all of her existence) decides to stick around with The BFG and eventually discovers that he has a wonderful pastime: he collects and constructs dreams, and gives happy ones away to humans in the middle of the night, in recompense for all the scariness his fellow giants have brought to the world over the centuries.
There is an overpowering kindness to The BFG that cannot, and most importantly should not be ignored. Although Spielberg’s film has a couple of scary bits, the implication of practically every frame is that everything is going to be okay. It is an assurance that doesn’t feel false and doesn’t seem to pander. It is an assurance made by an inventor of pleasant dreams, brought to life by a filmmaker who – in turn – is in the process of giving us a very pleasant dream.
So sweet and so unusual is The BFG, that even farts – the basest form of humor imaginable – manage to be endearing again (assuming they ever were). The BFG and his giant brethren drink a magical beverage called Frobscottle, in which the bubbles float down instead of upwards. The result is a mighty, green, propulsive fart that sends the imbiber into the air, whether they are a giant, a human, a dog or even The Queen. And these scenes play out not with the condescension of a so-called “mature” film that’s taking the easy way out, but with the lightness of jokes told by young children who, at worst, just don’t know any better. They are innocent fun, presented with innocent glee.
The BFG doesn’t rocket towards a pulse-pounding conclusion. It takes the time to let the characters talk, and not always about something that’s important to the plot. Just when any other movie would be ramping up, The BFG invites you to slow down and appreciate just how lovely its characters are, because its characters are genuinely lovely. The BFG himself is a wonderful old codger, Sophie has an infectious moxie, and even The Queen – who shows up eventually, played by Penelope Wilton – personifies what ever child assumes The Queen should be: a powerful, kind, solver of problems.
Steven Spielberg himself has solved a problem that not everybody had even diagnosed. He has brought vitality back into a stodgy genre, by adapting an unusual tale to the screen, with its essential unusualness intact. The BFG is light to the point of being luminous. It is a fantastic fantasy.
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Top Photo: Walt Disney Pictures
William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and Canceled Too Soon, and watch him on the weekly YouTube series Most Craved, Rapid Reviews and What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.