If you were to pick out the definitive fiction version of where dreams come from, what would it be? The list would have to include Neil Gaiman’s landmark Sandman series, where the author takes us into The Dreaming, the fantastical universe that serves as the source of the world’s dreams, a land governed by Morpheus himself, one of the Endless. Dream’s absence from his kingdom has impacted the world and the dreaming nature of the human race. The whole series is a must-read and contemplates not only the nature of the world around us but also, at its core, shows us how dreams originate, what they mean for us and what their role in the world is.
That’s also the basic premise of The BFG, the Roald Dahl book that’s now been adapted for the big screen by director Steven Spielberg. The Big Friendly Giant (motion capture and voice by Mark Rylance) is a dream collector who harvests dreams and sends them into the heads of sleeping children. One night he encounters Sophie (Ruby Barnhill), who he takes back to his mystical land and where he explains that while he’s quite peaceful and friendly, he’s the exception to the rule as most giants like to eat children. So he has to keep her safe from the less altruistic of his kind and she has to help him not be constantly hunted by those other giants.
The teaser poster certainly sets of a magical, wonder-filled adventure. Sophie is seen standing on the toes of a giant she’s looking up at and who we don’t even see the knees of. The colors are big and bright and setup a colorful adventure. Copy at the top name drops the “human beans” that created E.T. and reference that it comes from the author of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “Matilda” to prove its fantastic bonafides.
The next poster puts the premise of the story front and center, showing Sophie being held in the hands of the The BFG, who’s looking kindly on her with a colorful collection of clouds and hills in the background. The same “human beans” copy is at the top while at the bottom we get copy telling us “The world is more giant than you can imagine. So Disney is *really* trying to setup the imagination and fantasy aspects of the story here as the main selling point.
The first teaser trailer is narrated by Sophie, who begins by telling us all about the “witching hour” at the orphanage she’s at and all the rules for staying safe with all the things that go bump in the night. She then proceeds to violate all three of those rules and sees something – the BFG – down the street. She scurries back to bed but the trailer ends with the giant’s hand reaching through and grabbing her while Sophie says, “…and that’s where my story begins.”
It’s an OK trailer but there are some issues I have. First, this plays almost exactly like the first trailers for Pan, and we all know how that turned out. Second, I feel like we’re getting Hook-era Spielberg here, which is disappointing after the solid outing in Bridge of Spies. I don’t know…it just doesn’t come together for me, though the overall reception was pretty positive as people were hopeful over Spielberg’s return to childhood fantasy stories.
The first full trailer starts in much the same way, as Sophie talks about when the boogeyman comes out. We see a giant hand reach through the window and grab her, followed by shots of the giant moving through the streets and running through the woods, until we finally see Sophie deposited on a massive worktable. She’s in “giant country” and we get a bunch of shots of the magical land. He took her, we find out, because he could sense her lonely heart. But he’s not the only giant and the trailer ends with even more gargantuan creatures confronting the kindly workman, creatures that look much more savage and presumably violent and who suspect he has a “little pet.”
It’s a much better trailer than the first, aided greatly by the longer runtime and more room for story points to be explained. I still get a not-great vibe off of it but it looks like Rylance’s performance as the giant will indeed be pulling on everyone’s emotions.
The second full trailer starts off in the land of giants, with Sophie begging not to be eaten, something The BFG dissuades her of, showing her that instead of being mean he’s a dream catcher. Soon the less nice giants show up and Sophie must hide. The rest of the trailer seems to be about the two of them evading the nastier giants as they increasingly bond.
It’s not bad and I kind of like that this one finally skipped all the setup and just got to the action. It works a little better in that regard, though I still worry that the tone is just a bit off.
Online and Social
The movie’s official website is kind of a disappointment in how sparse it is. The key art at the top of the page is just one big clickable link to take you to Fandango to buy tickets.
After that is the second trailer, but the first is nowhere to be found, which is an oversight I think. That’s followed by a story synopsis that really does go in-depth on the story itself and includes plenty of information on the rest of the cast outside of the two leads.
There’s are some “Videos” after that including featurettes on the cast, crew and story that have some interviews with Spielberg, Rylance and others involved.
A gallery of eight stills from the movie is next and the whole things finishes off with a cast and crew list section that neither offers more information on-site nor links elsewhere.
A lot of the same featurettes along with other videos, promotional and countdown images, links to press stories and more can be found on the movie’s Facebook and Twitter profiles, though they’re not linked to from the official site for some odd reason. The latter also features RTs of various celebrities and others who are talking about how excited they are for the movie.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
TV spots like this one make the strong case for the fantasy elements of the story, including critics quotes that are presented in the giant language of the movie. It’s quite and presents the movie as a dream sequence come to life, which is kind of the point. Cute, but not the strongest appeal that could have been made.
Outdoor and online ads were also run that used the posters and other key art in various manners.
Media and Publicity
Lots of people, including Rylance, producer Kathleen Kennedy and others talked here about the look of the movie, the creation of the giant’s language, the story and more. The movie debuted out of competition at Cannes, where Spielberg had the chance to talk about working with Barnhill, his personal and professional relationship with Rylance that’s resulted in now several collaborations and more.
Rylance also talked a bit about his sudden recognition factor, working with Spielberg and the challenges of shooting motion capture work. Some of the press realized this was the first time in a while Spielberg had gone all-in on world-creation, having opted for historical reenactment in many of his recent movies. Rebecca Hall got in on the press action, talking about the movie, what it was like working with Spielberg and more.
Spielberg, as part of a big Hollywood Reporter package on his career and the state of the industry, talked about his long project to bring this story to the big screen and what it was like to cast the movie. The iconic director, obviously, kept talking about the movie, his career, his directing style and lots more.
Earlier I mentioned that the first trailer gave off a vibe similar to that from the Pan campaign last year and I wish I could say that dissipates over the course of the marketing. But I can’t because it doesn’t. It all comes off as trying too hard to sell a movie that’s high on spectacle but might be missing a warm fuzzy heart, no matter how hard it plays up the kind nature of the title character or the cute, brave Sophie who helps him out. It just never really comes together in the way I think the studio is hoping for.
The campaign keeps the focus on Rylance’s BFG, which I think is the core mistake and one I’m not sure the movie as a whole makes or not. While I understand he’s the title character and that emphasizing him makes sense, his is not the emotional journey the audience is going to be invested in. That’s Sophie’s. She needs to be front and center since she’s the audience proxy in the story, discovering this big new world of giants and dreams and other amazing things at the same time we are. So relegating her to the character that gets caught up in *his* adventures rather than the other way around is, I think, the core misstep here.