By HEATHER TURK
Front Row Features
A Roald Dahl classic gets the Steven Spielberg treatment with Disney’s “The BFG,” now available to own on DVD and Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack with Digital HD.
The story of an unlikely friendship that develops between a young orphan girl named Sophie (played by the spunky Ruby Barnhill, “4 O’Clock Club”) and the big friendly giant (Mark Rylance, “Bridge of Spies”) who essentially kidnaps her for fear that she’ll tell other humans he exists, “The BFG” is proof that not every beloved children’s story transcends well onto screen.
Though the visuals are stunning and Rylance once again turns in a wonderful performance as a benevolent giant who is belittled and bullied by the other inhabitants of Giant Country, “The BFG” doesn’t quite captivate audiences—especially older viewers—the way the it does in book form until its final act. Even then, the conclusion of the film happens all too abruptly, making the build up to when Sophie and the BFG set off to capture the man-eating giants of Giant Country seem even more drawn out and unnecessary. Characters are underdeveloped, emotions run thin and plot points are touched upon and then never really brought up again, making it hard for audiences to sympathize with either leading character or care much about their plight.
This is a shame not only because the book the film is based on is so cherished, but also because the team behind the movie was an “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” reunion of sorts, with Spielberg behind the camera, Melissa Mathison penning the screenplay and Kathleen Kennedy producing. Expectations were high for “The BFG” to be another instant family classic, but “E.T.” “The BFG” is not.
The magic that’s sadly missing from the film, however, can surprisingly be found in several of the extras included on the Blu-ray release (MSRP: $39.99), particularly the entertaining documentary “Bringing ‘The BFG’ to Life.” Although young Barnhill tells viewers that they’re about to watch her video diaries from the set, the extra is primarily comprised of what viewers typically associate with these types of featurettes—in other words, interviews with the cast and crew and behind-the-scenes footage. The extra goes over everything from casting to costumes, giving viewers a peek behind the scenes of what went into the making of the movie. It’s interesting to hear how Spielberg knew he found his big friendly giant the first day of shooting “Bridge of Spies” (which Rylance won an Academy Award for his performance), but that it took six daunting months to find the right actress to play Sophie. It’s also interesting to see how real giant-sized mannequins were used to help costume the giants even though they were motion-capture characters and what everyday items made up the giants’ clothing and household props.
Undoubtedly the best thing about the making-of extra is listening to Roald Dahl’s daughter, Lucy, talk about her father and his “very playful spirit,” which included letting his kids eat ice cream at midnight. Viewers will learn that Lucy always slept with her window open a crack no matter how cold it was outside because her father told her that she had to keep it open so that a big friendly giant could blow dreams into her bedroom. Viewers will also hear Lucy talk about the relationship her father had with Walt Disney himself, who called Roald “Stalky” because he was so tall and Walt couldn’t pronounce his name properly.
Other highlights from the near 30-minute extra include hearing how Spielberg transformed his garage into a studio one summer to help pre-visualize the film before shooting began; how Barnhill and Rylance were inseparable on the set, often playing basketball and table tennis together (there’s also some fun footage of a dog on the table tennis table trying to catch the ball while Rylance and Spielberg are playing a game); and how Barnhill got to fly to the set of “Bridge of Spies” to meet with Rylance and see if they were a good fit together (Barnhill enthusiastically recalls how she got to meet Tom Hanks on set and then had to keep the fact that she got cast in “The BFG” a secret from her family and friends for two months).
Also included on the Blu-ray release is the all-new animated short “The Big Friendly Giant and Me,” which covers the friendship the BFG had with the little boy who lived with him in Giant Country before Sophie’s arrival. Told through the drawings and point of view of the young boy, the extra touches upon a plot point that’s briefly mentioned in the film but never thoroughly developed. Unfortunately, the short is so short it doesn’t really answer all of the questions older viewers will likely have after watching the movie, so audiences will still be left with the same unanswered questions after viewing the two-minute extra.
“Giants 101” focuses on creating the nine man-eating giants who inhabit Giant Country and shows the actors, which include “Flight of the Conchords’” Jemaine Clement as Fleshlumpeater and “Saturday Night Live” alumnus Bill Hader as Bloodbottler, rehearsing their movements in their motion-capture suits. Viewers will also get to see each giant’s personality really come to life during “Giant Confessions,” which allowed the actors—particularly Clement and Hader—more time to develop their characters through in-character improvisations.
“Gobblefunk: The Wonderful Words of the BFG,” also included on the DVD release (MSRP: $29.99), is a quick extra that defines some of the unique lexicon developed for the BFG and even quizzes viewers on how well they think they can understand what he’s saying.
Wrapping up the bonus features on both releases is “Melissa Mathison: A Tribute,” a touching look at “The BFG” screenwriter who sadly passed away before the film was finished. The extra not only reflects on Mathison’s career and how the dedicated screenwriter was often on set, but also shows footage of her during the making of the movie and celebrating what would be her final birthday with the cast and crew. There won’t be a dry eye in the house when Spielberg, who knew Mathison for years, comments during the final stages of production how he hasn’t been able to mourn her yet because her “subconscious presence” is still everywhere on set, and how when he’s done with the film, he won’t just be letting go of “The BFG” but Mathison as well.
While fans of the book will obviously be curious to see Disney’s big-screen adaptation, audiences will quickly discover while watching the film that this is one tall tale that falls a little short in feature form. The Blu-ray extras are by far more entertaining than the movie itself, though youngsters might be a bit more forgiving of the film’s faults. “The BFG” may be worth watching with the family once, but only the biggest Disney enthusiast needs to add it to their holiday wish list.