Book to Movie Adaptation: Roald Dahl's The BFG
Although I knew of his work, I hadn’t read any of Roald Dahl’s books until this past year when my son studied him in school. He brought home several of Dahl’s books, including The BFG, to read as part of literature discussions.
When he brought home The BFG, my daughter (who is 13) was excited for him. “I LOVE The BFG!” she said, and then pointed to the spot on her bookcase reserved for the Roald Dahl books she’s been collecting for the past several years. As soon as we started reading the novel, I was hooked, too. The language in The BFG is unique, clever, and flat-out brilliant. The conversations between the title character (who is actually The Big FRIENDLY Giant, for those who don’t know) are, in my opinion, the best part of the story. Even my son, who spent many years stuck in a Diary of a Wimpy Kid/Big Nate graphic novel phase, was intrigued. So imagine our excitement when we saw the movie trailer for The BFG a few months ago. It was very moving and even brought me to tears.
We thought it would be perfect to see over this long, holiday weekend. So we headed out as a family on Saturday to see this fantastic book brought to life. I thought with Steven Spielberg directing, it would be a surefire winner. The movie began, and although I found most of the fun language and dialogue from the book to be there (The BFG’s use of worlds like “frobscottle,” “whizzpopper,” “trogglehumper,” “Her Majester” when referring to the Queen of England, etc.) I found my mind wandering during the first 45 minutes of the movie. It starts off slow when The BFG plucks the main character, a precocious little girl named Sophie, from an orphanage in the wee hours of the morning after she sees him lurking in the city streets outside of a window. I felt like the movie spent too much time with scenes focusing on him talking to Sophie about various things and Sophie hiding from the much larger, much more frightening giant siblings of the BFG.
Sure, these scenes provided some much-needed action in the film, but Hollywood can sometimes take the scenes and drag them out, which I felt was done in this case. The glossy special effects stood out most in the scenes where The BFG takes Sophie to the place where he collects dreams, and takes the swirling balls of many colors and bottles them with different labels in his beautifully-written calligraphy. In the middle of the movie I started thinking that maybe The BFG is just one of those stories that translates better in a novel, because while I had no problem sitting and reading the lively and colorful discussions between The BFG and Sophie, they weren’t as exciting on the big screen.
The story definitely picked up in the last half of the film, when the two develop a plan to stop the horrid giants (appropriately named Fleshlumpeater and Childchewer, to name just a few) and their child-eating ways, but I spent much of the film dissecting the differences between the book and the film (and there were many) and hoping my kids weren’t too disappointed. In the end we all agreed that we did enjoy the movie, but it started off pretty slow and we were worried it wouldn’t pick up. Although the trailer moved me to tears, the actual movie didn’t. It’s a good family film but the scenes with the giants could be scary for younger children.
What are your thoughts on book to movie adaptations? Do you think it's difficult to adapt a great novel into film? What are some of your favorites?