I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

The BFG

tn_bfgTHE BFG is the latest BFD from Steven Spielberg (E.T., A.I.) and it’s an LSM (Lesser Spielberg Movie), but still won me over PDQ. Based on the children’s book by Roald Dahl (Charlie and the CF, James and the GP, The Fantastic MF), it’s the story of a 24-foot tall individual (Mark Rylance, BLITZ, BRIDGE OF SPIES) whose thing is he comes into town at 3 a.m. with a trumpet that blows dreams into people. But this time he’s seen by Sophie (Ruby Barnhill), a little night owl girl at an orphanage, and he doesn’t want her to burn his whole operation so he reaches into her window, picks her up in his palm and absconds with her to Giant Country.

I love the way this giant sneaks into town. It’s not one of those things where he’s invisible to people who don’t believe in him or something. No, he just comes in late at night and knows how to hide when people are around. He wears a cloak that he wraps around himself and he’ll move into the shadows, curl up on the bed of a truck or stand in the shape of a tree. I like that it’s not all that convincing of a tree, because it shows that there could be crazy shit going on right under our noses that we just don’t notice because we’re not looking for it. Nobody expects giants.

BFG stands for Big Friendly Giant, which he says people used to call him, so Sophie abbreviates it. As a G he doesn’t really know how to behave around a human, let alone understand the concept of consent (he doesn’t care that she doesn’t want to be forced to live in his house for the rest of her life). But on the positive side it turns out he doesn’t want to eat her because he’s not a “canniabal” and only eats “vegeterribles” such as the snozzcumber, which looks similar to a cucumber except for the worm-like seeds that slither out of it when sliced. He has lots of words he says that I figured were some kind of G slang or dialect, but he explains that he speaks “squiggly” and tries to say words right but sometimes gets them left.

mp_bfgThe screenplay is by the late Melissa Mathison, and in a way it’s like a reverse of her E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL. Instead of a kid finding and taking in an extraordinary creature, it’s the creature that takes her in. He has to try to hide her in his home and teach her about his ways and keep her from being harmed by his people and instead of drinking beer and burping like E.T. he has her drink “frobscottle” which makes her “whizzpop,” which is G-talk for “fart.” And she figures out how to phone home for help.

Of course, it can also be compared to the other Mathison children’s book adaptation, THE INDIAN IN THE CUPBOARD. In that one a kid had a tiny Native American man, magically taken away from his world against his will, living in a miniature camp inside the regular sized bedroom, in danger from the others who might discover him, but there to keep a lonely kid company. Here the giant is the kid and the kid is the Indian.

The BFG is lonely because he doesn’t fit in at all with the other Gs. They’re twice as B as him and completely unF. They barge into his house, push him around, call him “runt,” make him clean them. They have names like Meatdripper, Childchewer and Gizzardgulper, and they actually do eat “human beans” like a bunch of canniabals. They dress like barbarians but they’re kind of the Giant Country equivalent of rednecks I think, they hang around together doing stupid shit like going down hills standing on top of human sized vehicles.

I didn’t notice any signs that this was a period piece until late in the movie when I was surprised by the reference to Ronald Reagan being president. This makes sense, since the book was written in 1982, and it explains why they didn’t add any jokes about N.W.A or calling him “The Notorious B.F.G.” But since it’s the year of Thriller they really could’ve worked “P.Y.T.” in there somewhere in my opinion.

This is actually pretty gentle for a Dahl story. The giants are loathsome but most of the human race gets off easier than usual. Sophie reports that the orphanage headmaster Mrs. Clonkers (Marilyn Norry, BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW) gives them cruel punishments, but we never see any of this. We also never see Sophie interact with other children, because they’re asleep the whole time we see her around them. But it seems likely she’s not a popular kid judging from her adult preoccupations (she considers Mrs. Clonkers incompetent and takes it upon herself to do parts of her job like locking the doors and chewing out loud drunks in the alley) and the fact that she never mentions any kids back home that she might miss or anything.

Ten year old rookie actress Barnhill is another amazing kid performance in a Spielberg movie, and I thought the uptightness of the character was really funny. She gets to meet the Queen of England (Penelope Wilton, MATCH POINT) but spends most of the time terrified that the BFG will say something embarrassing and trying to signal him about etiquette. Rylance gives another fantastic performance, making the odd language sound natural and the weirdness lovable. The amazing part is that he does so much acting with his eyes, which had to be digitally re-created by WETA in a motion capture character kinda like the ones in THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN. And it works! The beautifully bittersweet ending of the movie (which seems to be about the only big change from the book, judging from Wikipedia’s summary) really got me, and it’s 100% dependent on a facial expression.

Because it follows the book it’s not a typical movie structure, and it ends up being largely a two person acting duet between child actor and animated giant, which is really cool. I confess there was a point when the meandering whimsy started to get old to me, but right about then it shifted into the completely different third act and things picked up again.

While I would rank this low in my favorite Spielberg movies if I was an internet guy who ranked Spielberg movies, there were scenes where his potent filmatism had my brain screaming I LOVE YOU SPIELBERG!, like the part where she gets snatched and he puts us right there with Sophie peeking out from a blanket being carried through the city and across the water.

Whatever its weaknesses may be, I’ve definitely never seen another movie quite like it.

* * *

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summer2016originsThat includes the old version. The BFG had already been adapted back in 1989, an animated special for British television, directed by Brian Cosgrove, who did that cartoon Danger Mouse.

It must be pretty close to the book because it’s very similar to the Spielberg movie. The look of the snozzcumber and the giant in the cloak are pretty much the same too.

In the Spielberg version there’s a major scene of fart whizzpop humor when they drink the frobscottle and it makes them fart whizzpop, which makes green fumes come out of their asses and sometimes blasts them off the ground like a rocket. In this version it’s confined to the early scene where he explains what frobscottle does. There’s a whole musical number with both BFG and Sophie flying around propelled by farts. It’s a much more unpleasant version of that scene in WILLY WONKA/Charlie and the Chocolate Factory where they have to burp to lower themselves after the Fizzy Lifting Drinks make them float to the ceiling.

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When they get the military involved it gets pretty cool. The sky turns psychedelic for the big scene of the helicopters flying to Giant Country. It’s like suddenly Oliver Stone got involved.

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But right after that some of the animation reminds me of GI Joe.

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And yes, they meet the Queen in this one too.

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I can’t say this one really worked for me, but it’s of a higher quality than I assumed from the box, with some decent animation of the old school hand made variety where you can see pencil marks and brush strokes. If your kid read the book and saw the Spielberg and is still suffering from acute BFGmania you might as well throw this one on to calm them down briefly before their next serious episode.

P.S. I saw the new BFG in 2D, but it seemed like it would’ve been great in 3D tbh. IMO it is worth seeing ASAP and I don’t have an ETA on DVD/VOD anyway but YMMV, LOL WTF YOLO.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Thursday, July 14th, 2016 at 11:38 am and is filed under Family, Fantasy/Swords, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

16 Responses to “The BFG”

  1. Ace Mac Ashbrook

    July 14th, 2016 at 12:14 pm

    The Fantastic Mother Fucker is a favourite childhood book of mine. I’ve loved all of Roald Dahl’s books apart from the BFG. I’ve been reading them to my five year old son, but I’ve had to hand the BFG over to my wife to read because I think the BFG’s an arsehole. I just can’t stand him. And I fucking hate the Queen. Fuck this shit. But I’m sure Steven Spielberg made this amazing etc etc.

  2. I haven’t seen this one yet. Probably will one day. But as someone who played a lot of the game Doom in the 90s, BFG has a totally different meaning to me.

  3. By the time this film leaves theaters, I’m sure people working at the cinema are going to be absolutely sick of the “Two for the Big Fucking Giant” jokes.

  4. Outstanding first sentence, sir. Bravo!

    “…there were scenes where his potent filmatism had my brain screaming I LOVE YOU SPIELBERG!”
    This is something I always say when talking about Spielberg flicks. Even if they are cloying or not very good, there’s at least one masterful scene in it that makes your brain happy. I didn’t care for the Crystal Skull movie that much, but the motorcycle chase scene is just as good as action scenes from Last Crusade or Temple of Doom.

  5. I was shocked at how much I liked this film. I agree it’s a less essential Spielberg film but it’s so full of wonderful little sequences full of gentle charm. The sequence where the BFG and Sophie watch the boy’s dream as visualized by shadows on the wall is probably the highlight. I also like the long, long shot where Sophie tries to hide from the evil giants. It’s a masterful piece of filmmaking that’s full of incidents and complications but it never feels confusing or disorienting.

  6. George Sanderson

    July 14th, 2016 at 10:59 pm

    Spielberg is an absolute master. As soon as his films start you just know that you are in safe hands and that even if the story isn’t up to much there will be visual storytelling of the highest standard. I haven’t seen The BFG but I definitely will be buying a ticket once it comes to my local cinema.

  7. I love The Beard of course but I don’t feel compelled to see every single one of his movies in theaters, I finally got BRIDGE OF SPIES not long ago and really enjoyed, so I’m sure I’ll enjoy this too when I get around to watching it.

  8. Hey remember that time when an actress patted herself on the back for “calling Spielberg’s ass out” about never having a female lead in a movie while forgetting the director’s MOST RECENT MOVIE as well as The Sugarland Express and The Color Purple, which then led to her being called racist? As a liberal, I’ll go ahead and say shit likes this is why we’ll keep losing elections, and the layers and layers of hot takes this whole thing has started is pretty much everything wrong with modern-day liberalism (aka the never-ending Kumite of Wokeness).

  9. The term woke is ruining the English language.

  10. I’ve been complaining about this for a while now. There seems to be a competition to see who is more progressive (I hope you’ll let me borrow “Kumite of Wokeness” for my everyday conversations!). I’ve been making jokes for a while now whenever some big overblown useless progressive debate comes up: “Which stance will make me more progressive?”

  11. Woke is not lit enough to ruin the English language. The English language is bae!

  12. I don’t have a problem with the word “woke.” I do think that we should have more films with female protagonists. I don’t think forcing individual artists to focus specifically on female protagonists is the way to solve this issue. Ultimately, we need more women creatives in Hollywood.

  13. CJ, you’re my new Bae now.

  14. Yeah, this sort of thing pushes so many buttons for me.

    1. I agree with her that there need to be more stories about/by/for women.

    2. But I hate when people try to be provocative by criticizing a great artist but don’t actually know the topic very well

    3. Also (as has been pointed out) it is the duty of Hollywood to give more opportunities to women such as Banks, not the duty of Spielberg to make movies about what Banks wants him to make movies about

    4. But also she just said a dumb but well-meaning thing in a little speech, it’s not worth turning every comment a celebrity makes into days or weeks of essays

    5. Furthermore I have the conflicting beliefs that A. it is legitimate and important for white people to be called out for something like casually not counting THE COLOR PURPLE in a discussion like this but B. the recent popularity of shaming white feminists seems like falling into classic divide and conquer shit that only benefits the oppressors

    Most of all I just try to remind myself that the leftists whose tactics I disagree with have the same goals as me. Some of these internecine squabbles (mostly the continuing Bernie vs. Hillary horse shit) are LITERALLY disinformation talking points fed to our side and popularized BY FUCKING VLADIMIR PUTIN. So I get mad at the people still falling for that shit, and then I realize I’ve fallen into the trap too. We all just need to remember to keep our eyes on the prize, stay true to our beliefs but don’t waste our energy fighting people who share our goals. (That’s kinda what my lady told me when I got into it with a guy trying to sell me a socialist newspaper.)

    People talk about being “The Resistance” – I worry that if the left were the Rebel Alliance, we would spend weeks arguing about whether or not to involve the Ewoks in the fight. Either because we don’t want to colonialize them or we object to them eating humans. I say let’s talk about that after we blow up the Death Star. So my challenge is to worry about getting that done and not about the people who object. We can’t stop them from running around in circles, but we don’t have to chase after them.

  15. It bums me out that the focus has moved from Banks’ intention to harping on the mistake she made. I feel like this is a double standard where men are given leeway to be inarticulate but still heard.

    I think it would be incredibly badass if Spielberg came out and said, “I don’t care about the mistake and I want to help.” But That’s not the sort of thing people say and the smartest thing to do would be to stay out of it.

    Vern is right about not chasing them in circles.

  16. “That’s kinda what my lady told me…”

    Oh I see, YOUR lady. She can’t be her own lady she can only be an appendage to you! I see how it is. I SEE HOW IT IS!! I thought you were woke, man! I thought you were one of the good guys!!

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