The talents of three of the world’s greatest storytellers—Roald Dahl, Walt Disney and Steven Spielberg—finally unite to bring Dahl’s beloved classic “The BFG” to life. Directed by Spielberg, Disney’s “The BFG” tells the imaginative story of a young girl and the Giant who introduces her to the wonders and perils of Giant Country.
Imagine yourself alone in the middle of the night. You live in an orphanage at the end of a dark alley behind a London pub. Most of the city's gone to bed, but it's the witching hour, and you can't sleep. You never sleep. You never dream. You spend your lonely nights sneaking through drafty old halls, keeping tabs on the headmistress and reading books by flashlight to pass the hours.
Then one night you break your rules.
You hear a noise outside. You go to the window. You pull back the drapes. And you catch a glimpse of a monstrous giant lurking in the alley. You try to hide, but his titanic hand scoops you up and snatches you away, sprinting away with you into the night, out of the city, and out of this very world...
So begins Sophie's journey to Giant Country. She tries to escape her captor's cave, terrified she will be chopped up into tonight's supper, but ultimately realizes she has not been snatched by a monster, but by the gentle-souled Big Friendly Giant. The BFG, as Sophie calls him, is actually the Runt of the family, which includes eight far more brutish giants who roam the night eating children. Fortunately for Sophie, the BFG is a vegetarian whose life work is harvesting dreams and delivering them to families in the human world.
However, the more Sophie becomes enchanted with the BFG and his dream whispering work, the more the BFG's man-eating brothers are likely to get a whiff of her human bean'ly scent, after which they'll most certainly hunt her down and gobble her up.
Steven Spielberg is, I would humbly argue, the single most gifted visual storyteller in the history of cinema. His influences are many, of course, but there is a lot of Walt Disney in him. Look how Spielberg uses 'Pinnochio' in 'Close Encounters', or how he made an unofficial sequel to 'Peter Pan' in 'Hook'. These two filmmakers share modest upbringings, a knack for popular tastes, and an innate ability to shape worlds with their imaginations or by collaborating with other wondrous imaginations. In a sense, Spielberg has been making Disney movies for years, particularly through his Amblin production company. What a shame, then, that as Spielberg steps into the director's chair for his first official Disney movie, it feels less personal and less emotional than his previous collaboration with screenwriter Melissa Matheson, 'E.T.'
In both stories, we meet lonely children who befriend other-worldly creatures and face serious and dangerous consequences. Along the way, as these friendships are forged, we experience a previously-unknown magic and are all changed by the experience. Yet, while these two productions are thematic distant cousins, they are also (obviously) vastly different. Setting aside the fact that one is about supernatural events in everyday places, while the other transports everyday characters to supernatural places, 'E.T.' is a much more methodically-paced story that clearly and dramatically develops its characters to the point where we are feeling exactly what they are feeling. Elliot and E.T.'s friendship is very much OUR friendship, so as that story soars to a beautiful, heartbreaking, John Williams-fueled conclusion, we're all bawling our eyes out, having grown and learned. 'E.T.' is nothing short of a masterpiece.
It's unfair to watch 'The BFG' in that context -- masterpieces are rare and unquantifiable, even with our best critic hats on -- but for everything I love about 'E.T.', 'The BFG' is ultimately less emotional and thrilling.
Sure, 'The BFG' is magnificently rendered and lyrical at times, particularly in the BFG's cave or during a visit to the Dream Tree, but much of the film's pacing feels off. Rushed. We don't get to settle into Sophie's world before hurtling off to Giant Country, and from there it feels more like the story is driving the characters more than the characters driving the story. I have to admit, the film's climax is exciting and funny, but everything happens quickly and without any sense that it could all go horribly wrong. In other words, the stakes don't feel weighted. These are all just general descriptors, mind you, I don't mean to imply that 'The BFG' must have been more like 'E.T.' or that movies need to follow rules to work; I'm simply trying to describe why I found it hard to connect with this story. The uncanny valley of human-esque characters doesn't help either.
On the other hand, I'm going to leave the door open to watch this one a few more times, and hopefully through much younger eyes. Because there are some wonderful things to enjoy here too. The BFG himself remains quite enchanting after all these years; there is a joy to his jumbled words and phrases that should delight children who are in their own formative linguistic years. I suspect in another year or two my little one will cackle with delight at the BFG's bungled phrases, watch in awe as he delivers dreams, and tuck into my shoulder when the mean Giants nearly catch Sophie. I also surmise she and lots of other children will enjoy the Queen of England's well-trained Corgis and marvel at the spectacle of giggly, propulsive flatulence over high tea. Sophie too, as played by Ruby Barnhill, is also quite good -- I very much admire her strong will, quick wit, toughness under pressure, and honest vulnerability.
So perhaps watching 'The BFG' requires a certain state of mind, or perhaps it's a movie that should have taken more time to earn our relationship with its characters. Perhaps it's a little bit of both. Either way, I'm glad to have finally seen 'The BFG', but at this point remain slightly disconnected on a visceral level, which is an odd experience for me to have with a Steven Spielberg film.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
'The BFG' stomps onto Blu-ray disc courtesy of Walt Disney Home Entertainment. While there was a 3D theatrical release, the only version currently available in North America is a two-disc Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD combo pack. The Digital HD version works with Disney Movies Anywhere and can be linked to a variety of serves, including VUDU, iTunes, and Amazon. The only pre-menu trailer on the Blu-ray is the teaser for the new live-action 'Beauty and the Beast.'
'The BFG' absolutely marvels in high definition with a sharp and colorful AVC MPEG-4 encode framed in the film's original 2.39:1 aspect ratio.
I know an HDR presentation could be even more dynamic, but outside of a few instances where black levels are a tad gray and shadow details disappearing into a touch of crush, I love everything about this HD/SDR transfer. Spielberg's iconic use of backlighting paints nighttime sequences with wonderful depth. Fine details are filmmic, with razor sharp focal points rolling off into softer backgrounds. Colors are resplendent and bold, especially any sequences that involve various multi-colored dreams. In terms of encoding error, I didn't see any. Yeah, I'm not always a fan of the CGI characters, but this is a gorgeously rendered presentation -- I'm wrapping up a review of the incredible LG E6 OLED UHD TV and there are times I'd swear 'The BFG' Blu-ray IS in HDR/WCG. It's that good.
'The BFG' ambles onto Blu-ray with a sumptuous English 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack that builds a wonderfully immersive soundscape.
While the HD video is more traditionally and overtly beautiful, this soundtrack is an audiophile's delight. It is dynamic and whimsical at times, and even quiet moments are filled with subtle nuances in the side and rear channels; it sounds like we're living in a realized world. But even as the more aggressive moments become more complex -- as the track swirls up towards fuller immersion -- you can still pick out the individual effects in all eight channels. John Williams' score, while not as iconic as his earlier Spielberg collaborations, swells and envelopes, filling your listening environment with warm mid-tones. Then there are the giants, which get extra volume and a heaping dosage of LFE power to evoke their natural largess. All in all, this is a highly technical sound mix that will transport you out of your home theatres and into the Giant Country. I loved every minute of it.
Lastly, if you're set up for Dolby Atmos or DTS:X, 'The BFG' up-mixes perfectly, adding a convincing layer of overhead immersion that makes it feel like the Giants are about to step on your head. It's so awesome you can't help but cringe at Disney's decision to ignore these next generation sound formats (which they support theatrically).
Other soundtrack options include English 2.0 Descriptive Audio as well as Spanish and French 5.1 Dolby Digital. Subtitle options include English SDH, Spanish, and French.
Like many Spielberg home entertainment releases before it, there's no audio commentary, but the featurettes are top notch. The overall package is good, but a little light. Here's what you'll find on the DVD and the Blu-ray.
Gobblefunk: The Wonderful Words of The BFG (HD, 0:03:16). A breakdown of the BFG's linguistical uniqueness.
Melissa Mathison: A Tribute (HD, 0:05:54). A tribute to a wonderful writer who left our world far too soon. We're fortunate enough to see and hear her talk about the project in this piece (and the first featurette listed below), as well as hear from her filmmaking friends and family.
While my initial journey to Giant Country wasn't as emotionally rewarding to me as Spielberg's earlier works, 'The BFG' may prove more delightful to children. I found the pacing a little rushed, which undercut the characters and the stakes, but I'm open to revisiting this one a few more times.
As a Blu-ray, the only disappointment comes from what isn't available -- I suspect the 3D or 4K-HDR versions would be pure demo material and the soundtrack begs for object-based audio -- in other words you're getting a gorgeously rendered video and audio presentations that will wow on HD and Ultra HD displays alike. The Bonus Materials are good, but there aren't many of them.
If you're a fan of this film or book already, this Blu-ray comes easily Recommended as its technical aspects are excellent. For everyone else, I'd probably rent it first to see if you enjoy the story more than me. Overall: Worth a Look.