Last night I took my two girls who are 6 and 3 to see the film version of Roald Dahl’s ‘The BFG.’ We’re in Peru at the moment, so we watched the film dubbed into Spanish. This was actually kind of fun because Roald Dahl dearly loves playing with language, and ‘The BFG’ is probably the work where he indulges himself the most in this respect.
I’ve always been a great admirer of Dahl, and I’ve only recently finished reading all his works to my daughters so the story was still fresh in their minds. Dahl gets unfairly criticized for his use of reoccurring themes like: “poor people are morally superior to rich people” and “evil people should be punished.” I find it odd that Dahl would be criticized for paraphrasing ‘The Bible’ but I guess most people don’t read that either.
Although I’m a big fan of Dahl, ‘The BFG’ is probably my least favorite of his works. For me, the best is ‘Danny the Champion of the World‘ which a lot of people haven’t even heard of. ‘Matilda,’ ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,’ and ‘James and the Giant Peach’ are all great, but ‘The Great Glass Elevator,’ and ‘George’s Marvelous Medicine’ are a tier below.
My problem with ‘The BFG’ is that too much of the entertainment is just how the BFG talks. Yes, it is funny, but after a time the language games start becoming a little self-indulgent. But that’s just my perspective and I see and respect how other people absolutely love this book. I don’t consider it a Dahl classic though.
The film is quite beautiful but I have to wonder how much of it was actually “Directed” by Steven Spielberg. He’s at the point now where he can just hire a young, upcoming director to do the work and then show up on set four or five days before racking up the credit. I think there is some sort of rule about how you have to shoot 51% of the film to call yourself “The Director” but every rule can be worked around.
There aren’t a lot of Steven Spielberg type moments. He likes to do things like point the camera at a mirror and then you see the action in the mirror…kind of self-indulgent just like the word play complaint I had before. What Spielberg is really good at is capturing the child/adult relationship, and that doesn’t really come across here. Although maybe my impression comes from the fact that I’m watching this as an adult now and not a child. Come to think of it, Spielberg hasn’t done any kid’s movies for a while has he?
The actor playing the BFG is spot on. He does a good job with wry smiles and emoting sad kindness. Sophie is also pretty good, though a lot of her performance is just her staring over the rims of her eyeglasses.
I thought the film really missed the mark with the giants though. They were a little too big and creepy and not ridiculous enough. I think Dahl’s weird sense of humor is the hardest thing to transfer to film. In his books, it’s funny when an evil school teacher grabs a child by the hair and swings her in circles before launching her over a fence. Yes, you wouldn’t think a scene like that would be funny, but somehow Dahl makes it so. However, if you try to convert that scene to film and play it straight, it comes across as super creepy.
The giants are a bunch of evil bullies who pick on the BFG, so you had the option for an important message there, but I think this film focuses on the value of friendship a little more, so it kind of falls flat. It does a good job hitting the plot points of the book, but I think the ending is a mistake. As I recall, the evil giants were sentenced to live in a pit, in this version they send them off to an island, forgetting that the giants have a magical running ability which allows them to cross the earth in a single evening (I presume that includes the ability to run across water).
The fuzzy drink that the BFG loves is well employed and if you’re into fart jokes this movie is a must see. Normally I’m not into them, but my kids enjoyed the ‘breakfast with the queen’ scene so much that just those two minutes justified the whole rest of the movie.
All in all, the movie is quite beautiful, hits some high notes, and the kids will probably really enjoy it. I don’t expect them to sell a lot of DVDs though as this doesn’t seem like something that can hold up to many repeat viewings. If you’re a big Roald Dahl fan, this is certainly a respectful treatment of his work, which is always good to see. Hopefully some kids will be inspired to pick up the books which remain, as always, better.