Blu-ray Review: The BFG

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The BFG is the swan song of screenwriter Melissa Mathison, best known for her Oscar-nominated screenplay for E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Adapting the 1982 Roald Dahl novel was a long process, one that dates back to 1991 (Robin Williams was at one point attached to star as the BFG—aka "Big Friendly Giant"). Numerous screenwriters were involved, with Mathison coming on-board around 2011. The final film, released to theaters last summer and now on Blu-ray (also DVD, Digital HD, Disney Movies Anywhere), is a reunion for Mathison and E.T. director Steven Spielberg. Another E.T. alum (and Spielberg's longtime composer of choice), John Williams, provided the score.

Melissa Mathison did not survive to see the finished product, having passed away on November 4, 2015. Prior knowledge of this adds a bittersweet tinge to The BFG, a film I very much wanted to love. It's clear that Spielberg is really striving for magic to strike again, the way it did with E.T. in '82. It doesn't, but that's not to say the film is a total washout. Mark Rylance, Academy Award-winner for Spielberg's Bridge of Spies, brings sweetness and nuance to the titular character. Though technically a "giant," he's dwarfed by the larger, meaner giants he live among in Giant Country. These nasties consume "human beans" (the mangled English spoken by giants is one of The BFG's most distinctive features) and constantly fight with each other. To them, the BFG is simply "Runt." 
BFG Mark Rylance.jpg Even better than Rylance is 11-year-old newcomer Ruby Barnhill, who plays the orphanage-dwelling Sophie. Struggling with insomnia, Sophie spies the BFG late one night during the giant's excursion into the "human bean" side of town. Scared she'll tell others about the giants' existence, he essentially kidnaps Sophie and brings her to Giant Country. The aforementioned aggressive giants are all-too-hungry for a new "bean" to snack on, putting Sophie in great danger. But Sophie takes to the BFG pretty quickly, with Barnhill doing an excellent job of making the relationship feel genuinely warm.

Alas, that central relationship can't sustain The BFG for nearly two hours. The "job" of the BFG is capturing and bottling "dreams" (visualized as globs of shimmering, neon-colored pixie dust) and dispensing them to sleeping humans. The concept isn't fully fleshed out enough to carry any emotional heft or sense of purpose. 
BFG Ruby Barnhill.jpg The BFG is set in contemporary England and no one there has any idea about the giants. There's been a real problem with missing children, who have been abducted by the mean-spirited giants. While the middle portion of BFG lumbers around almost aimlessly, the third act tries to cram in too much. By the time Sophie gets Queen Elizabeth II (Penelope Wilton) involved, Spielberg is scrambling to tie everything together. And it doesn't really help that the abduction and subsequent consumption of children by giants is honestly disturbing enough that it creates a major tonal rift when juxtaposed against a bunch of fart jokes. 

rsz_bfg_bd.jpg Probably because it was a very expensive box office disappointment (only $55 million domestic gross, $178 worldwide; the budget was reportedly $140 million), there isn't an abundance of supplements accompanying Disney's Blu-ray—but what is here is pretty darn good. The main one is the 27-minute "Bringing The BFG To Life," hosted by Ruby Barnhill, which is a too-brief look at the making of the film. The best featurette is the tribute to Melissa Mathison (six minutes). "Gobblefunk: The Wonderful Words of The BFG" spends a few minutes on the unusual mangled English spoken by the giants. There's a short look at the casting of the giants ("Giants 101") and a charming animated short, "The Big Friendly Giant and Me," which serves as a brief "prequel" of sorts to The BFG.

Disney's Blu-ray is beyond reproach from an audio/visual standpoint. Academy Award-winning cinematographer (and frequent Spielberg collaborator) Janusz KamiƄski is done proud with a sterling high def presentation. And the DTS-HD MA 7.1 balances John Williams' music perfectly with the thundering thuds and bellows in Giant Country and the subtleties heard in Dream Country.

All told, fans of Steven Spielberg and/or Roald Dahl won't want to miss The BFG. The movie has heart to spare, it's just unfortunately lean in terms of storytelling.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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