The BFG works better as setting and setpieces than it does as a story.
The first half of the film is largely episodic in nature, allowing director Steven Spielberg the opportunity to craft a delightful fantasia built upon the work of Roald Dahl. The world that The BFG builds through motion capture and computer-generated imagery combined with models and sets is quite striking. As befits an adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic children’s novel, the film is rich in imagination. The first half of the film often feels like a child in a candy store, wandering with its protagonist from one magical set piece to the next.
It is enchanting in a way that evokes the best of Spielberg’s output, the wonder and imagination that has inspired a whole generation of filmmakers. More than that, Spielberg controls the camera with a deft ease that helps viewers to get a sense of why he is so often copied and so rarely equalled. For its first half, The BFG is pure and whimsical Steven Spielberg. Indeed, the film has a somewhat understated eighties setting, which serves to underscore the sense that Spielberg is consciously reconnecting with his crowd-pleasing blockbuster phase. He does not miss a step.
However, The BFG struggles in its second half once the script tries to impose a story upon these meandering and wandering adventures. Although this second half is very much carried over from the source material, it sacrifices a lot of the whimsy and charm that made the first half so endearing. In fact, although the ending is adapted quite faithfully from the novel, it also feels like a concession to modern big-budget film aesthetics. The BFG is a film that works quite well, up until the point that it chooses to emphasise “big” over “friendly.”