Adaptation Comparison: The BFG

The BFG is a 1982 young adult fantasy novel published by Roald Dahl about a young girl, Sophie, who gets taken away in the night by the titular Big Friendly Giant. The story is very simple and takes place all in one day: the Giant takes Sophie back to his cave, they learn about each other’s lives, and then Sophie gets the BFG to help save the day. However, the story has much more to it than just that and is much deeper and full of more meaning that I would have ever expected. On top of that, this was the most delightful page-turner that I’ve picked up in quite some time; this was such a quick and easy read, not just because of how simple it was, but because the story warranted continuation through each chapter that led into the next seamlessly. Even in a small story that takes place all in one night, Dahl was able to cram in an endless amount of thought-provoking social commentary about humanity and the many errors of judgment and ignorance that they (we) make.

As mentioned, the story is about a young girl that gets taken in the night by a giant. Instead of eating her as most giants would do, he takes her so that he knows she won’t tell anybody of the secret existence of Giants. This means that she is the first person to ever witness Giants on the earth, and this Big Friendly Giant is the first one to ever try to converse and befriend a human. Between them, a comedy of manners ensues as they learn about each other’s worlds, habits, joys, etc. throughout the novel. The BFG has a hard time getting across the words he is trying to say because he is uneducated, as all Giants are. However, he means only good and sometimes, goodness is lost in translation because people have a hard time understanding one another. He, even though he is 24 feet tall, is the runt of the Giants and is often made fun of and attacked by them because of it. The other giants are 50-feet-tall and full of rage; they eat people every night, mostly children because that’s all they like to eat. The BFG, however, doesn’t eat people because he doesn’t think it’s right, even though he sacrifices the savory taste that they offer. To me, this means that being “mean” (as the other giants are) is an easy thing to do and can appease you briefly but being “nice” (even if it means sacrificing something) is better for everybody and will get you rewarded in the end.

One thing the BFG mentions in the story is that if people found out that Giants exist, they would attack the giants and kill them. Sophie thinks this is preposterous, yet is persuaded by the BFG after he mentions that humans enslave and kill all other creatures besides themselves, and even do the same to themselves which no other creature does. This, I thought, was quite a sophisticated notion in a children’s novel, yet fit the tone and message of the novel very well. If humans were more like the BGF (which, in a way, we are the Giants compared to many other species) the world would be a much happier place. Instead, these “laws of man” hinder or prevent the possibility of this happier world from existing. Furthermore, one of the greatest and most magical parts of being a human is having the psychological capacity for dreams to occur (which we still don’t understand) and this novel tells us that the BFG is the one responsible for such things. In this way, Dahl teaches kids not to fear that they don’t understand because what they don’t understand may just be the greatest thing of all.

In the end of the story, Sophie has a plan to save the world: get the BFG to make a dream which tells the true story of how Giants take and eat people, make the Queen of England have that dream, and then dream that Sophie will be sitting on her ledge before waking up. Upon waking up, she will see Sophie sitting on her ledge, and then believe the rest of the dream must be true as well. If it wasn’t for the BFG in this plan, Sophie never would have been able to persuade the Queen against her ignorant human ways, and people would continue to be taken and eaten until the end of time. Dahl also speaks a lot about imagination since humans often don’t believe what they don’t see, and disregard what they don’t understand. However, the existence of Giants in this story says enough about that as they are enormous creatures that humans didn’t believe existed just because they never say them, and they are too big to miss. I’ll say it again, there is a lot to love about this book.

I suppose the only thing that I didn’t love was the ending because the “plan” and the capturing of the giants seemed to all go so smoothly and there were never really any parts that made things difficult for our characters. The novel lacked tension and conflict and everything was pretty convenient, all in all. However, this is a children’s novel, so I can’t expect too many terrible things to occur but I would have liked to see more tests for our heroes to pass. This novel has a lot of great things in it such as a fascinating story that had me glued from start to finish, some wonderful social commentary that all kids should read, and an excessive amount of imaginative world-building that made this a lot of fun to read. I’m going to give The BFG 9/10 and a green recommendation! I’m interested in seeing if the film will add or take away anything that was in the novel. Surely, as a Spielberg film, there will still be the magical environment, but maybe he’ll add some more tension for our characters.

The Film

The BFG is a 2016 family film directed by Steven Spielberg based off of the classic novel by Roald Dahl. This movie follows the exact story that the novel had, about a young girl who is taken in the night by a Big Friendly Giant, finds out about the other Giants who take people away in the night, and then gets the BFG’s help in doing something that will save all future people from being eaten. That all being said, the movie felt a lot different than the book did; it was a lot less fun even though on paper it would look the exact same. I suppose that my biggest problem with this movie is that it seemed to be aimed at kids instead of at families as a whole. As I mentioned in the book review, there were a lot of sophisticated and insightful conversations held between the BFG and Sophie, but this movie cut all of those out and substituted them with very bland dialogue exchanges or set pieces that felt hollow.

Unfortunately, one of the most prominent aspects of the film that took me out of it the most was the actress or character of Sophie. I’m not sure whether my issue is with how the character was written or performed, but she seemed like a snobby know-it-all and made a lot of the film very unpleasant to watch. Since this was not the case in the book, one big issue that adaptations can run into is casting, and this film sure seemed to have that problem. Additionally, the actress that played the Queen did not seem very Queenly to me and also sort of made those scenes a little awkward to watch as well. I guess those two things and more can be summed up by expanding on something I touched on earlier: it seemed to be aimed at a very young audience. One of the big problems with that was that it felt like a cartoon, not necessarily in the visual aesthetic but definitely in the content. By leaving out the great intuitive conversations and throwing in silly things instead of making me believe that the adult audience was completely forgotten when making this film, and that’s something that did not end up working for the overall product.

However, one problem that the book had was very much solved in the movie and that was the lack of tension. I’ll throw a disclaimer on at the end of this point, but there were quite a few scenes meant to add more excitement and story, which all worked for the most part. In the novel, the other Giants are shown a few times but mentioned more throughout, and didn’t have as big of a role as they had in this case. There are maybe four to five scenes in which the other nine Giants crash into the BFG’s home, try to kidnap Sophie, bully the BFG or cause trouble for both of them. They really became the prime antagonists in the film even though their role was much more compact in the novel. Finally, at the end, the BFG and Sophie have a very endearing conversation before they go to capture the other Giants, which was missing completely from the novel and added depth to both characters. Now, the disclaimer. Although there were a few scenes added to bring more tension to the story, they were so lighthearted and cartoony that they never really added excitement, let alone tension. These scenes did add some impressive visuals all in all but didn’t do much for the whole of the story.

There’s not too much else to say about this adaptation because it really stays as close to the book as possible. Some scenes are rearranged to take place at a different part of the story, but everything is still there; my one big problem with this adaptation is that it felt flat, even though it looked amazing as a whole. The CGI on the Giants looked quite cartoony, but as a family film, I would sort of expect that to be the case. When reading the novel, I had a lot more fun with the story and projected Sophie to be different (more innocent and likable, for instance), and the story to be more insightful, sweeter, and magical. Some aspect of films do not work, and an audience can see past great visuals to a bland story, and a bland story is what this film had even though there was absolutely incredible source material to gather from. I was quite disappointed with this movie and I’m going to give it a low 4/10 and a yellow recommendation. If you’re going to experience either of these, go for the book and forget the movie. One of the great lessons that the novel offers is that imagination and believing is the key to life, so just imagine that there’s a great movie about this book instead of seeing this one! As always, thanks for reading and I’ll see you soon!

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