British author Roald Dahl published his classic children's story "The BFG" in 1982, which, oddly enough, was the year Steven Spielberg's "E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial" was released. Dahl is known for other children's stalwarts, "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory", "James and the Giant Peach" and "Matilda" --- and we all know Spielberg's achievements.
So it only makes perfect sense that he should direct Dahl's personal favorite, a fantastical story about a 10-year-old orphan and her Big Friendly Giant.
Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) cannot sleep. While the other children in the London orphanage are enjoying their dreams, Sophie wanders the halls and spends much time looking out the window in the middle of the night. On one of her fateful meanderings, she catches a glimpse of a rather large shadow belonging to a giant (Mark Rylance), who snatches Sophie from her bed. Together they return to Giant Country, where Sophie comes to realize that her new captor is just a Big Friendly Giant --- or BFG for short.
"The BFG" is a beautiful relationship-driven tale. Sophie is a precocious child, full of questions and not one to take orders. BFG is a charming fellow who is constantly jumbling his words. He also catches dreams which he sends on to children everywhere, educating Sophie in the magical powers of these nighttime adventures.
Unfortunately Sophie and BFG are not alone in Giant Country. His brothers are much, much bigger than he, and have been known to eat humans. To protect Sophie, the two of them devise a plant to travel to London to convince the Queen (Penelope Wilton) to gather her armed forces to rid Giant Country of the bad giants.
Melilssa Mathison ("E.T.", "The Black Stallion" (1979) --- a huge favorite of mine), who passed away in November 2015, wrote the screenplay for "The BFG". She attempted to use Dahl's dialogue from his book as often as possible to retain his rhythm and tone. "The BFG" is essentially a love story about these two mismatched characters who form a bond neither has experienced before. And like Dahl's other works, and many Disney animated movies, "The BFG" has a few truly frightening moments.
I wanted so badly to love "The BFG" as much as "E.T." or other Disney films. Though I adore the beginning when Spielberg is establishing Sophie and the giant's friendship, which is incredibly endearing --- David found it too slow, of course --- when they arrive at Buckingham Palace, "The BFG" feels a little too contrived. First we are exposed to BFG's wonderfully inventive place of residence in Giant Country, then we are whisked off to London, and eventually surrounded by army personnel, helicopters and modern-day warfare. The dichotomy is jolting and unpleasant.
As with all films directed by Spielberg, everything about the production screams excellence. A new hybrid style of moviemaking utilizing both live action and performance-capture was employed to achieve the exact look for "The BFG". Barnhill and Rylance are awesome together, and they absolutely form a loving relationship that we trust and believe.
Barnhill is beyond loveable. Her face is full of expression, and there's not a whiff of snottiness about her. She's a young girl destined for stardom.
Despite my misgivings about certain parts of "The BFG", the movie is totally worthwhile as a family adventure. One of our fellow critics brought along his 10-year-old, and she loved it! It may be a tad scary for the wee ones, but rest assured, most kids, even boys, will appreciate and love "The BFG".
Opinion: See It Now!
As a young moviegoer, I remember being amazed and terrified while watching "The 7th Voyage of Sinbad" (1958) mainly because of the scary cyclops that picked up men and ate them. The late special effects guru Ray Harryhausen was instrumental in that creation, but if Ray were alive today to see what Steven Spielberg's crew has accomplished in "The BFG", he would be astonished.
We tend to take modern special effects for granted, but "The BFG" features a 24-foot friendly giant (Mark Rylance) and his nine giant brothers ranging in height from 39 to 52 feet. The largest and scariest is Fleshlumpeater (Jemaine Clement), who is so big that Lebron James, at 6'8", would only reach his ankles.
Other brothers include Bloodbottler (Bill Hader), plus Bonecruncher, Childchewer, Meatdripper and Butcher Boy. These lovely names are the work of the late author Roald Dahl ("Fantastic Mr. Fox", "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory"), whose fantastical giants feast on human "beans", especially children. They also bully their "little" brother BFG, until a 10-year-old orphan girl named Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) enters the picture.
Spielberg, of course, has had great success featuring children in films, and called on his "E.T." screenwriter, Melissa Mathison ("The Black Stallion") to adapt Dahl's book, first published in 1982, eight years before his death at age seventy-four. Mathison, herself, died of cancer last year, and Spielberg says he hadn't had time to mourn her until "The BFG" was completed.
Despite the premise of "The BFG", the film is suitable for young children, as we never actually see kids being eaten. We do experience, however, the heartwarming relationship between a little girl and the most charming, self-effacing, delightful 24-foot-man in cinema history. Tony and Oscar winner Rylance is perfect in the role, and the CG-created BFG exactly resembles the actor.
Barnhill was selected over thousands of girls who auditioned for Sophie, and she's quite good. My only complaint about "The BFG" is the time it takes to forge her friendship with the giant. But the movie picks up steam once the Queen of England (the wonderful Penelope Wilton of "Downton Abbey" fame) gets involved. Equally appealing are Rebecca Hall as Mary, the Queen's handmaiden, and Rafe Spall as her butler, Mr. Tibbs.
Once the Queen and her staff meet BFG and all skepticism about the existence of giants is quashed, the film moves into high gear, as plans are made to travel to Giant Country and vanquish the nasty ogres. But before that, the breakfast served by the palace staff to BFG is priceless --- typical Spielberg attention to detail.
"The BFG" is replete with Academy Award winners in virtually every category, and it shows, from the production and wardrobe design to John Williams' score, his 24th for a Spielberg-directed film. My favorite part of the film is BFG's unique use of English, called Gobblefunk. He throws around nonsense words like "chidlers" (children), "crickety crackety" (sound of cracking bones), "earbursting" (loud) and "trogglehumper" (a horrible nightmare).
Inevitably, like so many of Spielberg's films, "The BFG" is a sweet tale about love and friendship, and should be seen on the big screen.
Opinion: See It Now!