UK Release Date: 22nd July 2016
Runtime: 117 minutes
Director: Steven Spielberg
Writer: Melissa Mathison
Starring: Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Penelope Wilton, Jemaine Clement, Bill Hader, Rebecca Hall, Rafe Spall
Synopsis: When a girl is taken from an orphanage and adopted by the eponymous giant, she is thrust into the dangerous world of Giant Country, where man-eating creatures try to capture her for a meal.
Roald Dahl’s stories haven’t always had the smoothest passage to the big screen and many of them have been box office bombs, despite their relatively positive reception from critics. The latest creative team to attempt to transfer Dahl’s unique vision to the big screen is none other than Steven Spielberg, reteaming with E.T. scribe Melissa Mathison, in the latter’s final screenplay before her death last year. Their story of choice is The BFG, which was previously adapted in animated form in 1989 and was famously one of the few adaptations of his work Dahl actually enjoyed. This new take on The BFG is a typical slice of Spielbergian gloss, with one of the world’s greatest actors at its performance-captured centre.
Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) is a precocious youngster in a British orphanage, prone to wandering the corridors late at night. One night, she glimpses the eponymous giant (Mark Rylance) through her window and he captures her. He takes her to Giant Country to prevent her revealing the secret of giants. The next morning, Sophie awakens giant leader Fleshlumpeater (Jemaine Clement), who has a taste for humans. Outraged, Sophie hatches a plan to use Queen Elizabeth II (Penelope Wilton) to put an end to the evil giants’ reign.
Few filmmakers have the ability to weaponise sentimentality like Steven Spielberg does. His films are tightly written, elegantly directed showcases designed to elicit powerful emotional responses from the audience. The BFG is no exception, with its sumptuous visuals and defiantly gentle tone. It doesn’t have the rough edges of Tim Burton‘s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or Danny DeVito‘s memorable take on Matilda, but this is a uniquely Spielbergian take on Dahl and it’s one that skews towards broad family appeal.
At the centre of everything that works in The BFG is Mark Rylance’s exquisite motion capture performance as the eponymous character. Rylance’s partnership with Spielberg continues to bear fruit, after the actor’s Oscar-winning work in Bridge of Spies, with a performance that is very different, but has equal class and gravitas. He gets his tongue around the character’s difficult dialect with ease and brings a real avuncular comedy, aided by the effects work, which is utterly flawless. Ruby Barnhill is the perfect mixture of sweetness and feistiness as his know-it-all buddy and their chemistry really makes the film sing.
This relationship is the best aspect of the film and The BFG works best when it simply allows these characters to interact. It’s a movie, however, that clocks in at nearly two hours and does not have enough plot to justify that length. The story plods along at a pedestrian pace, which works well in the early stages, but leaves it lacking in energy by the time it reaches the final third. This isn’t helped by the fact that, with the exception of The BFG himself, some of the animation feels a little clunky, particularly in integrating Barnhill into the fantasy world. Given how well Disney managed a similar feat in The Jungle Book, this is a disappointment.
Despite its rather odd finale, featuring an entire scene of rather bizarre lavatorial humour, The BFG has a real emotional punch in its last few scenes as the relationship between Sophie and BFG is allowed to take centre stage once again. This is a film that was entertaining and sophisticated family fare, but needed to embrace its strengths just a little bit more. Whatever its flaws, Spielberg’s take on The BFG has an undeniable magic to it and it will doubtless become a family favourite.
Pop or Poop?
It has a plot that meanders rather than marauds and characters that are gently enjoyable rather than instantly unforgettable, but The BFG showcases Spielberg’s true mastery of sentimental cinema. It’s a tale that leaves a true imprint on the heart and is a fitting send-off for screenwriter Melissa Mathison.
Mark Rylance is utterly charming in the title role and the British supporting cast provide plenty of colour. It could’ve done with a bit more thrust in the plot department, but when a movie has this much heart, it seems wrong to put it down.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.