Now to a British person around my age (30 +), Roald Dahl will mean a great deal. Back in the UK during the 80’s Roald Dahl was huge, probably the most well known and loved children’s story teller around at the time. His stories were virtually legendary for all kids. We read them in school, we read them at home (no internet or much on the home videogame front back then) and we saw them read on TV courtesy of Jackanory on CBBC. ‘The BFG’ was arguably Dahl’s most glorious achievement in this field, but to be blunt, they were all fantastic.
The story is all about a little 10 year old orphan girl (named Sophie) living in London. One night she accidentally sees a giant as he goes about his business. The giant notices the girl and basically kidnaps her, bundling her away to giant country (to protect his existence). In giant country Sophie learns that the BFG catches dreams (in dream country) which allows him to control children’s dreams, making them nice or nightmares. This why the BFG goes into the human realm every night, to give children dreams. Sophie also learns about the bad giants that eat people, a real threat to all humans. The main crux revolves around Sophie and the BFG convincing the Queen to help them capture all the bad giants before they can eat anymore people.
So here we have the big screen adaptation of the beloved classic. The big Hollywood adaptation with flashy effects and A-list stars. We have already been blessed with the Jackanory reading of the story back in 1983 by Bill Oddie which blended narration with still hand drawn imagery perfectly. So did we really need a movie? More to the point, was a live action approach the right approach?
The first thing that hit me with this movie was how weak the CGI was, at least at first. Its a strange thing but the movie looks like something made for TV for quite some time. Now baring in mind this IS a Steven Spielberg flick I did find that really quite surprising. For around the first 30 minutes or so there is nothing of interest going on both story wise or effects wise, in fact the greenscreen effects are bad in my humble opinion. Its only when you start to see the BFG’s face up close do you fully appreciate the CGI quality on display. So yes as things progress the effects do start to look much better, oddly, although don’t go expecting a visual treat of colour and wonder.
What was impressive, as said, was the detail on the BFG’s face, and other giants. I think they really captured the look of the BFG from the original drawings by Quentin Blake, perfectly. They have nailed the giants scrawny, ragged, wrinkly physical appearance whilst also getting his country bumpkin-esque face right too. That might sound odd but it could of been very easy to get the face wrong, the wrong type of face. It seems they actually modelled the giants face on the actor who voices the BFG, Mark Rylance, I think. You can clearly see a resemblance if you ask me and this shows both good casting and decision making. Using Rylance’s actual face will have clearly helped tremendously in giving the giants face such a realistic, original and quirky appearance, more like a caricature. I noticed they also got the mouth movements/speech pattern of the BFG spot on too. The CGI creation actually looked like it was speaking the dialog whilst Rylance’s vocal tones and accent were also spot on too.
So the visual effects were a mixed bag really, stunning close up details on giant faces but overall its a rather glum looking flick. Not even the sequences in dream country look overly marvellous, but I suppose it does all fit in with the book. Had everything been set in a vomit inducing CGI world much like the recent ‘Alice in Wonderland’ flicks…well that would have been very bad.
Of course the story is now dated so it kinda seems a bit shallow really, at least compared to some kids stuff these days. The bad giants eat people, but do they do this a lot? often? We don’t actually get much insight into why Sophie decides to try and capture all the giants, other than they are bad and are rumoured to eat people. Sure they ate a previous child that the BFG was friends with but there isn’t really any evidence of much else. Its also very cutesy how the duo are able to get close to Buckingham Palace and the Queens window (a giant not getting seen??). All the typical British character stereotypes such as the stuffy military officers, the cliched British kinks and quirks such as what they eat with the Queen, attire and accents. But again its all part of the book, the time it was written is obviously a big part of the story thusly things are out of time.
I think the movie is pretty faithful to the original book and it does well in bringing everything across to be fair. Although overall the movie has clearly been lightened up somewhat because believe it or not but Dahl’s stories are actually pretty dark. This is why they were always so popular with kids, the fact that his stories were a bit gruesome and twisted (a modern equivalent of the Grimm fairy tales perhaps). Interestingly Spielberg did feel the need to include the tragic backstory for the BFG which surrounded the previous child that got eaten. This is not in the book but is actually just as dark as other bits of content, so it does question why some things were lightened up whilst this was added. The entire notion of different humans from different parts of the world tasting differently is totally gone. I can see how that might have triggered some types in this modern age (groan!!). Also the ending has been changed quite a bit from the book, although, I do actually feel the movies conclusion for the bad giants is actually better than the book. Quite frankly the books ending for the giants is ridiculous.
So despite this being an all American affair I do believe they did capture the olde worlde, whimsical British atmosphere to a tee. I think the casting was very good (Ruby Barnhill as the chirpy Sophie especially), the voice work was very good and the effects were good in part. I think the general problem here was the stories lack of bite because they watered it down, plus the fact it generally didn’t really feel all that thrilling. Maybe its because I know the tale and I’m an adult, I’m sure kids will enjoy this…I would think, but I could be wrong. In all honesty when watching this classic Dahl story as a full movie you do notice how light on plot the story actually is. Its very basic (obviously as it was for kids) and relies heavily on the quaintness of merry old England (in the 80’s), the movie that is not the book.
All in all I was kinda expecting a timeless journey of wonder and excitement…but it just felt lacklustre, a bit drab. I’m not a fan of all things being CGI even though it might look very good (in part). I dunno, I just get the feeling this could of looked and felt so much more fantabulous had it been created with stop motion animation (think ‘James and the Giant Peach’), or maybe hand drawn animation. You really can lose that special magical spark with something like this and CGI if you ask me, not always of course. Anyway, ’tis a fine family adventure for sure, but I think it could/should of been better.