The BFG: Film Review
Cast: Mark Rylance, Jemaine Clement, Ruby Barnhill, Bill Hader, Penelope Wilton, Rebecca Hall, Rafe Spall
Director: Steven Spielberg
Back in 1982, Roald Dahl changed the landscape of kids' books with the release of The BFG.
Along with Quentin Blake's distinctive drawings, the 208 page book went on to sell 37 million copies and seal itself into the world's collective psyche.
The film version doesn't deviate too far from the original storyline, telling of 10 year old orphan Sophie (newcomer Barnhill) and her chance encounter with the Big Friendly Giant (Mark Rylance) after she sees him one night.
Scooping her up and taking her to Giant Country to avoid being revealed, the pair form a friendship - but Sophie's in danger with other Giants of the land sniffing her out and threatening to snuff her out. Because it turns out that a series of abductions in London are all at the hands of the Giants....
The BFG is a refreshingly wondrous and lovely piece of old school film.
Which is both its strength and bizarrely, its weakness.
Spielberg's eye for visuals is indulged in this Harry Potter-esque human beans flick, that keeps the original nonsense Jar Jar Binks style language that so perpetuated the book as it dawdles on its way to its final destination. The sequence where The BFG takes Sophie out to grab dreams is truly magical, and reminiscent of the flying lights in Close Encounters. Spielberg still has an eye for the mysterious, and shrouds part of this sequence in a mist and executes it in shadows, giving it a dream-like quality that's hard to ignore.
Equally, the execution of Rylance as Quentin Blake's BFG is nothing short of eye-popping CGI wizardry, thanks to Joe Letteri and his WETA cohorts.
A mix of Rylance's features and Blake's distinctive strokes gives the character the warmth, sadness and geniality that's so inherent within, and the expressive features and subtle touches from a heartfelt Rylance convey plenty of emotion and give life to a character which has so enraptured so many.
Perhaps a slightly weaker link though is first time actor Ruby Barnhill, who comes off as a mix of both precocious and and ever so slightly irritating. She's a few directions short of pantomime at the best of times but eventually settles down into the role - even if Spielberg's determined in the final stretch to purvey a parody of a monarchy England with pomp and ceremony that was so prevalent in the 1980s. (Though admittedly there are long swathes of just talking and bonding between the BFG and Sophie in Giant Country that the story could be accused of dawdling in its slightly overlong run-time).
It's true to the book (aside from the giant invasion) so is in keeping with Dahl's original take on it all, but in the final third of the film, the intrusions of the real world prove to be more of a distraction than anything.
The evil giants, led by Jemaine Clement's Fleshlumpeater, are a mixed bag.
While the digital execution of Fleshlumpeater looks like a cross between Austin Powers' Fat Bastard and a Warcraft Orc, Clement's Ali G style London intonations give it a comically threatening edge that feel like a gangster's taken on Dungeons and Dragons. The rest of the clan aren't so well fleshed out and ultimately never feel like a threat at all (particularly given that they're deemed to be so dangerous).
There's no real danger in The BFG; it's a genuinely lovely family film that feels very much of yesteryear and its failings as a story are predominantly led by the source material.
There's something nostalgic and familiar about The BFG and something comforting about Spielberg's execution of it - whether it proves to be box office gold though in a changed landscape remains to be seen.