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The BFG: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD Review

Roald Dahl's The BFG (2016) movie poster The BFG

Theatrical Release: July 1, 2016 / Running Time: 118 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Steven Spielberg / Writers: Roald Dahl (book), Melissa Mathison (screenplay)

Cast: Mark Rylance (The BFG), Ruby Barnhill (Sophie), Penelope Wilton (The Queen), Jemaine Clement (Fleshlumpeater), Rebecca Hall (Mary), Rafe Spall (Mr. Tibbs), Bill Hader (Bloodbottler), Σlafur Darri Σlafsson (Maidmasher, Cook), Adam Godley (Manhugger, Lout #1), Michael David Adamthwaite (Butcher Boy, Danish Driver), Daniel Bacon (Bonecruncher, Lout #2), Jonathan Holmes (Childchewer, Pub Landlord), Chris Gibbs (Gizzardgulper, Late Night Walker), Paul Moniz de Sa (Meatdripper, Lout #3)

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After several years of making austere dramas for adults, Steven Spielberg lightens up with The BFG, all-ages entertainment adapted from the 1982 children's book by Roald Dahl. This big-budget fantasy represents the final movie of E.T. screenwriter Melissa Mathison,
who passed away last year, and the first movie that Spielberg has made for Walt Disney Pictures. Despite the studio and PG rating, BFG might be, like the last Dahl adaptation (Wes Anderson's stop-motion Fantastic Mr. Fox), better appreciated by grown-ups than children.

Subtly set in the 1980s, the film opens with insomniac young protagonist Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) occupying herself during the wee morning hours at the London orphanage she calls home. While looking out the window, she discovers a large figure lurking in the shadows. The figure approaches, reaches his hand in through the window, grabs Sophie and the blanket in which she's hiding, and brings them back to Giant Land. Her captor is a giant, although where he comes from he is called Runt by the others who all tower over him. This large-eared, pointy-nosed, long-necked giant (a recognizably motion-captured and excellent Mark Rylance, fresh off his Bridge of Spies Oscar win) is a gentle one, whom Sophie will come to dub Big Friendly Giant, or BFG for short (aha!).

Speaking with a charming vocabulary that could only have come from the mind of Dahl, the BFG explains his world to Sophie, why he's taken her, and why she must hide from his fellow giants, who love the taste of "human bean." The BFG lets Sophie tag along on his work run, catching and jarring dreams that he will then supply to sleeping children.

In "The BFG", human "bean" orphan Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) befriends a big friendly giant (Mark Rylance).

The two outsiders form a special, unconventional friendship, but they find themselves in danger when the boorish other giants, led by Fleshlumpeater (Jemaine Clement), discover Sophie's blanket left behind in their home and come looking for her.

In a bizarre turn that again could only have come from Dahl's imagination, Sophie and the BFG take the extreme measure of enlisting the Queen of England (Penelope Wilton) to help them avoid doom at the hands of Fleshlumpeater and his nine or so brethren.

The BFG is quite bigger in scope than other Dahl adaptations. It is loaded with visual effects, necessarily so. You know those will be state of the art in a Steven Spielberg movie and, indeed, they are. While digital characters are not the novelty they were some years ago, they still represent a challenge and, if done properly, an achievement. The BFG and his less friendly counterparts need to look real and believable, but not so real to approach the uncanny valley as some accused Robert Zemeckis' mo cap works of the 2000s. Spielberg and a visual effects team from Weta Digital pull that off with ease. You never doubt the giants, which exist comfortably in what feels like some state between live action and animation.

In a seemingly random turn, the BFG (Mark Rylance) drops by Buckingham Palace and gets to dine with the Queen.

No one can dispute Spielberg's technical prowess, which has been on clear display in even his lesser films. The bigger feat here is that the director captures the emotional elements of the story.
You'd have to go back quite some time to find a Spielberg movie as touching and full of heart as this one. His latest efforts, the last three of which have all been nominated for Best Picture Oscars, have been tough to warm to due to their schmaltz (War Horse) or deliberate monochromatic coldness (Bridge of Spies, Lincoln). BFG represents a welcome change of pace for the accomplished filmmaker. Within the Spielberg canon, it most resembles in tone and spirit Hook, the Peter Pan retelling many millennials swear by. This is only his second PG-rated movie since that was released a quarter-century ago.

Though it was kind of marketed like a Harry Potter movie, The BFG is hardly like that fantasy film franchise. It is faithful to Dahl's book, which probably hurt its chances with those wanting a 2016 family film, not a 1982 children's novel. Young viewers in attendance at my theatrical screening seemed restless, only really responding to a broad yet very funny scene of "whizzpopping", by which all other flatulence sequences must henceforth be judged. Older viewers should appreciate the rampant artistry (which, of course, includes a John Williams score and some lovely Janusz Kaminski cinematography) as well as Spielberg and Mathison's willingness to uphold Dahl's vision instead of pandering. I'm confident my fellow critics will admire the film, but skeptical that young moviegoers will endorse it enough to inspire repeat trips and word-of-mouth business.

No studio has ever been better equipped to withstand an underperformer than Disney in 2016, with this opening shortly after Finding Dory, Zootopia, The Jungle Book, and Captain America: Civil War each grossed around a billion dollars or more worldwide. Alice Through the Looking Glass was one of the biggest flops of all time domestically and who even cared in the midst of the studio's banner year of unprecedented success? The BFG did indeed stumble as expected, grossing a paltry $55 M domestically (Spielberg's lowest total since 2005's Munich). While it performed better elsewhere, its $178 M worldwide gross isn't nearly enough to lift this $140 M production into the green.

I'm less concerned with BFG's commercial disappointment than I am relieved to find Spielberg again making something genuinely fun and enjoyable on more than an academic level. It's not perfect and that visit to Buckingham Palace is a tad perplexing as far as tone-altering detours go. But overall, it's a pleasant union of the talents of both Spielberg and Dahl.

While box office underperformance sometimes speeds up a home video release, Disney took their time here, debuting the film this week on DVD and Blu-ray combo pack five months after it opened in theaters.

The BFG (2016): Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD combo pack cover art - click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

2.40:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: 7.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish), Dolby Surround 2.0 (Descriptive Video Service)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French, Spanish), Dolby Surround 2.0 (Descriptive Video Service)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish
DVD Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: November 29, 2016
Suggested Retail Price: $39.99
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (BD-50 & DVD-9)
Blue Keepcase with Side Snap in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Also available as standalone DVD ($29.99 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

The BFG is a nice looking film and it looks extra nice on Blu-ray. Not dulled by 3D (which Disney hasn't bothered to release the film in for Blu-ray), the 2.40:1 visuals are extremely vibrant, as well as clean and sharp too. The fine picture is complemented, of course, by a top-notch soundtrack, delivering thrilling giant sounds and yet another pleasing John Williams score.

The video diaries of young actress Ruby Barnhill are but one component of the making-of documentary "Bringing 'The BFG' to Life." The friendship of The BFG and the human bean he knew before Sophie is the subject of the illustration-animating short "The Big Friendly Giant and Me."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

In true Spielberg fashion, The BFG is not joined by deleted scenes or audio commentary, but it is joined by a substantial making-of featurette produced by Laurent Bouzereau.

"Bringing The BFG to Life" (27:09) is an all-purpose
making-of featurette, which is informally hosted by child actress Ruby Barnhill in video diary form. It's thorough enough to detail this book's long journey to screen, Roald Dahl's experiences with Walt Disney (whose legacy is celebrated by Spielberg), and to provide looks at the cast's downtime recreation and the mocap production. It's a satisfying companion to the film.

"The Big Friendly Giant and Me" (1:55) is a brief animated short about the BFG's friendship with the human bean he knew before Sophie.

Snozzcumber is among the wacky terms defined in "Gobblefunk: The Wonderful Words of The BFG." Bill Hader and Jemaine Clement walk in motion capture suits and watch their computer-animated counterparts do the same in "Giants 101."

"Gobblefunk: The Wonderful Words of The BFG" (3:16) goes into greater detail on a topic covered in the main documentary, defining some of the fantastical Dahl terms from the book that make their way into the film.

"Giants 101" (4:57) considers the giants in terms of characterization and performance, with more mocap footage and remarks from the actors playing them.

Screenwriter Melissa Mathison is celebrated for her final film in "A Tribute." The BFG and Sophie hang around the dream forest in the tasteful, subtly animated main menu.

Finally, "Melissa Mathison: A Tribute" (5:54) celebrates the screenwriter of E.T., The Black Stallion, The Indian in the Cupboard who received her final credit here, having passed away in November 2015.
We here from Mathison, the longtime wife of Harrison Ford, and see her at work and celebrating her birthday on the set.

The latest in a long line of DVDs treated like a second-class product, the second disc here only includes "Gobblefunk" and the Melissa Mathison tribute for a total of just over 9 minutes of extras.

The discs open with a teaser for 2017's Beauty and the Beast, which is also all that plays from the menu's unnecessarily plural "Sneak Peeks" listing.

The main menu tastefully animates the colorful scene of the BFG in the dream forest. The Blu-ray doesn't resume playback or support bookmarks, but it does remember where you left off in the movie if you didn't finish it.

The plainly labeled discs (a white DVD and a blue Blu-ray) share a side-snapped keepcase with the Disney Movies Anywhere/Disney Movie Rewards code and an ad for Disney Movie Club. The case is topped by an embossed cardboard slipcover which expands the keepcase art's gold banner into a gold border. Interestingly, both covers translate the titular abbreviation as a kind of subtitle, suggesting people may have been scared off by the title.

Fresh off his Academy Award win, Mark Rylance reunites with Steven Spielberg to play -- via motion capture and animation -- the titular character of "The BFG."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The BFG marks a welcome return of Steven Spielberg to the wide-eyed, kid-friendly fantasy films he used to make. As the poor box office returns indicate, the movie might not be interesting to those unfamiliar with the book or other Roald Dahl stories. But it's a warm and winning work that many should appreciate discovering after ignoring it in theaters.

Disney's Blu-ray combo pack meets expectations for a Spielberg film, complementing a fine feature presentation with a solid 40 minutes of featurettes. If you enjoyed the movie as much as I did, then it deserves a spot in your collection. At the very least, you should give it a viewing.

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Related Reviews:
New to Disc: The Jungle Book (2016) (Collector's Edition) • Finding Dory • Space Jam (20th Anniversary Edition) • Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Collector's Edition)
Steven Spielberg: Bridge of Spies • The Adventures of Tintin • Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures • Catch Me If You Can • Lincoln • Jaws
Roald Dahl: Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory • Fantastic Mr. Fox • James and the Giant Peach • Matilda
Written by Melissa Mathison: The Black Stallion | Walden Media: Bridge to Terabithia • Ramona and Beezus • City of Ember
Pan • Gulliver's Travels • Jack the Giant Slayer

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Reviewed November 30, 2016.



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