Book to Movie Adaptation: Roald Dahl's The BFG

Monday, July 04, 2016

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?

Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer and editor who also works as a Blog Tour Manager for WOW! Women on Writing. Visit her blog at Renee's Pages.


Sioux Roslawski said...

Renee--I saw the movie "The Notebook" before I read the book (since it's the type of book I probably wouldn't read, I later realized), and since the tension was all focused on "Will they get back together?" and since the movie answered the question, the book was not quite as compelling.

I loved the Harry Potter books, but I only saw part of the first movie. One of my favorite characters was Hagrid, and the movie version didn't look the same as my vision of the giant, so I shunned the rest of the films.

I've heard that "The Last of the Mohicans" is one movie that's better than the book, due to James Fenimore Cooper's fondness for long, draggy passages. Plus the scenery is gorgeous in film, if you know what I mean. (The geographical area where the movie was shot was breathtaking, too.)

Dahl's "George's Marvelous Medicine" is one of my favorites, along with "Fantastic Mr. Fox." Your daughter has great taste in books. I wonder where she got that from? ;) I have not seen either movie, to preserve my love of the books.

Angela Mackintosh said...

I thought David Fincher did an excellent job with Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl. I've never seen a better adaptation. The mood, cinematography, and actors were just like the book. They had to make one character into two to save time and still have that character serve its purpose, but since Flynn actually wrote the screenplay as well, it totally made sense. I suggest reading the book before the movie because you'll feel like you're in on the inside joke.

On the other hand, one of my favorite memoirs, Wild, was a horrible adaptation. Sad, depressing, and totally missing the uplifting point of the story; Cheryl Strayed's character comes across as a victim, which didn't play out that way in the book. Cheryl didn't write the screenplay, so maybe that's why it sucked. Nick Hornby did, so I don't know what happened, since he's done successful adaptations before.

Thanks for the review of The BFG, Renee! I just saw the trailer the other day and had no idea what it was or that it came from a book. It's obvious I don't read children's books!

Deb Larson said...

This year for our summer reading program for 3rd-5th graders, we are reading The BFG. I'll be very interested in hearing what the kids think when we compare the movie to the book. Many of them planned to see the movie this weekend. I've read the book and loved it. I'll be seeing the movie soon, but your review saddens me that it might not turn into one of those movies kids love to see over and over.

Renee Roberson said...

Sioux, I also heard that about "Last of the Mohicans," which I've never read. Lucky for me, I guess! The ending of "The Notebook" in the film was completely different from the book, which probably annoyed a whole lot of people who had read the novel first. I haven't read the Roald Dahl books you mentioned, but know both of my kids have. They seemed to like the film adaptation of Matilda, too, so I guess it's all subjective!

Angela, I agree about "Gone Girl!" I took my husband to see the movie (he had never read the book) and he was completely fooled. It was awesome watching his face as he figured it all out. I never saw "Wild," because I had heard the adaptation was off. I also think the screenplay for "The Help," came out pretty well. There were a few differences here and there but the film still moved me as much as the book did.

Deb, I am curious to hear from other kids who see the movie, too, after they've read the book. I feel like for younger kids, there probably isn't enough action in the beginning to keep them entertained. Older kids will probably be fine. The humor of the novel really came out at the end of the film during the scenes with the Queen, but I wish more of it had been present earlier. There are so many quirky little exchanges between the BFG and Sophie all throughout the book that could have been played out a little more, in my opinion. Luckily, the strong bond between the two characters shines through.

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