The BFG review: a lot of wasted heart

The film feels like a preview to what could have been

The BFG is a beautiful movie with two adorable main characters that pull at the heart strings.

There are a couple of funny moments sprinkled throughout the film and a couple of awe-inspiring moments of great cinematography. In pieces, the film is quite spectacular, and it's easy to point to individual scenes as traditional Steven Spielberg filmmaking.

As a whole, however, The BFG never picks up speed and never amounts to being as interesting as those individual scenes are. The story barely progresses, and when it does start to move forward it gets stuck, choosing to explore unnecessary moments of the storyline that feel tedious rather than move onto more exciting and vital scenes.

The BFG feels overly ambitious, like something that Spielberg knew he wanted to make — and has proven he could have made — but then got bored of it halfway through and sloppily threw it together so there was at least something to release.

The BFG feels overly ambitious

It's even more disappointing when the good aspects of the movie appear, because when they do, they're great. The relationship between the main character, the Big Friendly Giant (BFG) and Sophie, the young orphan who stumbles upon the realization that giants are real, is well written, well directed and is where the movie finds its moments of brilliance. The conversations the two have in the BFG's humble abode act as the heartbeat to the film. When the focus is on that, it feels like Spielberg is back in the game.

Those moments are fleeting, however, and instead there's a focus on hyping up a promise of action that never actually occurs in the film. It always gets close, but just when it looks like something may actually happen, it all quiets down again.

The BFG spends its entire time promising to be something more than what we're given and never manages to actually deliver upon that promise.

Based on Roald Dahl's book of the same name, The BFG follows an older, harmless giant who spends his days creating nice dreams for the human beings just across sea. It's how he meets the young, imaginative and fearless orphan, Sophie, who travels with him back to the land of the giants and eventually becomes his closest friend.


The chemistry the two characters have together, thanks to strong performances from Academy Award winner Mark Rylance and newcomer Ruby Barnhill, is undoubtedly the best part of the movie. When the rest of the world is removed from the film and the two are allowed to simply co-exist and find solace in one another, there's a real magic that happens. There's a loneliness that the two share, that they recognize in the other, that allows them to open up in ways they couldn't previously. Sophie finds a real friend in BFG, and BFG had found someone to legitimately care for and talk with.

Roald Dahl was a wizard of creating unique, fantastical worlds for his characters to inhabit, but at the heart of all his stories was this idea of misunderstood characters coming together and recognizing something in the other that they've been searching for. It happened in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and it happened again in The BFG. But whereas Dahl was a master of using the complex emotions of his characters to also help progress the story, it seems difficult for Spielberg to merge the two avenues. Instead, there's either action or emotion, but the two never work hand-in-hand. Because of this, the big moments never feel especially interesting and the smaller moments almost get lost in the race to get to the more explosive events.

the other giants' presence just seems tedious and annoying

The biggest downfall the movie has to contend with is trying to get you to care about the sect of giants that bully BFG and want to eat Sophie. Whereas BFG is like the giant version of Bruce from Finding Nemo — you know, the, "Fish are friends, not food. I am a shark. Not a mindless eating machine," guy — the other giants, who have names that sound like old-school wrestlers (Bloodbottler and Fleshlumpeater, for example), are all for the devouring of human beings.

These giants represent the main conflict BFG and Sophie have to deal with, and while Spielberg tries multiple times to get you to care about their existence, you never actually do. Instead, their presence just seems tedious and annoying.

Anytime they're on screen, the movie loses some of its momentum and we're forced to remember that these giants exist and we'll probably have to watch them have boring conversations with each other and BFG for a few minutes before the film can get back on track.


While the loss of focus at times can be aggravating, the moments between BFG and Sophie make up for it. There's one scene in particular where the two are just allowed to exist with one another, be at their most vulnerable and bond, and it's one of the few major highlights the film has. It's a great reminder of what Spielberg can do with characters and it's something I wish we saw a little more of.

When The BFG succeeds, it is breathtaking in its willingness to let the characters explore their vulnerability and connect. The problem is that this doesn't happen nearly enough and instead importance is placed on derivative action sequences that make the film seem boring and unoriginal.

The BFG never manages to actually deliver upon its promise

The magic that Roald Dahl managed to capture in his book appears sporadically throughout Spielberg's film, but there's a gaping hole that lingers throughout. It's distracting and it's noticeable, but it's hard to determine exactly what should be there in its place. Something about the movie just seems unfinished and it's blatantly obvious.

The BFG relies pretty heavily on the adorable factor of both BFG and Sophie, not to mention their friendship, but could have leant into it a little more and gotten a much better movie out of it. It's their friendship and willingness to accept each other's differences that the movie thrives on, but we only get to see it in fragmented pieces.

When I walked out of the theater for The BFG, I turned to a colleague and mentioned that it was cute, but wholly underwhelming. Ten minutes later, I had simply forgotten about the movie altogether. The BFG is a decent movie that has some stellar moments, but is overall pretty forgettable, and that's a downright shame.