Review: The BFG

Last Updated on July 31, 2021

The BFG film review Steven Spielberg Mark Rylance Jemaine Clement

PLOT: A lonely orphan girl is snatched away by a giant, who whisks her away to his homeland, far from human civilization. Not exactly intimidating, the creature reveals himself to be rather hospitable, and the two quickly strike up a close friendship.

REVIEW: THE BFG is a kind-hearted tale that is perhaps a little too old-fashioned for this current world. Reaching into a new level of PG wholesomeness even for him, Steven Spielberg's film is taken from the pages of Roald Dahl's book of the same name, and in a day and age where kids are more savvy than ever, its brand of corny sweetness might not connect the way it would have, say, 20-30 years ago. That said, thanks to the technology available to Spielberg and his team, the film looks incredible, and the truly impressive CG on display – combined with the beating heart underneath all the wizardry – could still win over even the most cynical viewer.

I myself never read the book by Dahl, but as I understand it the film's adaptation – by the late Melissa Mathison – is quite faithful. So it goes that the film carries with it a whimsical attitude aimed squarely at children under 13; this is the most benign movie Spielberg has ever made save for maybe THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN. (Hell, even E.T. has its share of heavy moments that BFG never comes close to.) And while it doesn't have the emotional resonance of his best work – it's really just a silly fable with a simple message about friendship – the director's enthusiasm for the material is clear from the start; Spielberg takes a lot of joy in directing his most earnest feature. If it makes an impression on audiences at large remains to be seen, but I for one was mostly charmed by the movie. Sometimes it's nice to see a film completely lacking in cynicism or sardonic inclinations.

The BFG film review Steven Spielberg Mark Rylance Jemaine Clement

THE BFG introduces us to Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) a bookish orphan who, late one night, just happens to see the miraculous sight of a giant roaming the streets outside her orphanage. Having been spotted, the giant grabs the girl and sprints off, out of the city and into Giant Country, a picturesque valley unseen by human eyes. The giant (Mark Rylance) turns out to be a rather nice fellow, promising not to eat Sophie but also committed to not letting her go, so afraid is he of her shooting her mouth off about his existence. Before long, Sophie and the giant, who she comes to nickname BFG (Big Friendly Giant), are the best of friends, with the latter showing her some fairly amazing things, like the collection of dreams he keeps in jars (and the strange place he acquires such dreams). But just because BFG has a likable disposition doesn't mean the rest of the giants in the land do; the other locals – who are much bigger than even BFG – are children-kidnapping savages, and Sophie could very well be on the menu.

It's an uncomplicated story, and the film takes a little too much time telling it. The film's 117 minutes and it doesn't need to be that long, considering there isn't very much to the plot. Most of the movie is spent tagging along with BFG and Sophie as they squabble and mess around in BFG's cave/home, and if it's pleasant to watch it's not exactly always thrilling. Spielberg settles into a very calm rhythm and keeps things there, once in a while ramping it up a notch with the arrival of the villainous – but still rather unthreatening – giants, led by bullying Fleshlumbeater (Jemaine Clement). When "kids movies" from the likes of Disney and Pixar are so sophisticated, fast and clever, something like THE BFG may prove to be a bore to the youngsters; even I felt the film drag in various spots. Humor-wise, it's very juvenile; fart jokes and silly-sounding words will have to do.

The BFG film review Steven Spielberg Mark Rylance Jemaine Clement

But, visually it's a marvel. The motion-capture work on Rylance, Clement and the rest of the giants is phenomenal. Spielberg isn't afraid to get right up in these characters' faces, and you can see every nuance from the actor's performance in glorious detail. Even when the film is a bit sluggish, there's always something to admire on the screen. And the performances themselves are genuinely good; Rylance – who gave such an understated turn in BRIDGE OF SPIES – lets 'er rip as BFG, bringing the big guy to joyous life. Same can be said of Clement, who chews as much scenery as his character does, well, children (that's never seen, of course, and the very fact that the giants chow down on kiddies is never dwelled upon). On her end, Barnhill is entirely winsome as the precocious Sophie, creating a thoughtful character that will hopefully be inspirational to smaller boys and girls

Is THE BFG an instant classic? I would say not. The story just doesn't quite have the required substance or poignancy. But there's something kind of timeless about it that I think will connect with a certain subset of the audience. If nothing else, much of it will put a smile on your face if you're willing to let it.




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About the Author

Eric Walkuski is a longtime writer, critic, and reporter for He's been a contributor for over 15 years, having written dozens of reviews and hundreds of news articles for the site. In addition, he's conducted almost 100 interviews as JoBlo's New York correspondent.