Film review by Jason Day of the Steven Spielberg directed adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic children’s book about a giant befriending a little girl. Featuring Mark Rylance as the BFG.
Director: Steven Spielberg. Walt Disney/Amblin/Walden Media/DreamWorks et al. (PG).
Synopsis, from IMDb.com
A girl named Sophie (Barnhill) encounters the Big Friendly Giant (Rylance) who, despite his intimidating appearance, turns out to be a kindhearted soul who is considered an outcast by the other giants because, unlike them, he refuses to eat children.
Review, by Jason Day
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As a pre-teen ‘human bean’ of the eighties, there were a number of prerequisites to growing up during that decade.
Firstly, you watched Blue Peter, but never spoke about it. Wanting to be seen as grown up, you watched Top Of the Pops, just like the cool ‘kiddles’.
Secondly, you were only ever allowed to play outside between two predetermined points. For me, this was the lamppost at the bottom of the road and the bus stop at the top of road, a territory extended to the recreation park down the road in the summertime, when the sheer volume of children asking for ice lollies drove my mother to relax the house distance rules.
Thirdly, you read (or better still, devoured) every single Roald Dahl book published. And eagerly awaited the next one to come out.
His The BFG never really appealed to me as it seemed to whimsical when what I really desired was something darker and more menacing.
The Twits were hits but my absolute favourite was the bonkers, child-abuse-presented-as-laughs-per-page entertainment Matilda that appealed to my growing sense of the wildly unacceptable and perverse.
I loved the book so much, a film version was always going to be a let-down and when Danny De Vito’s hit the screen, I almost cried into my popcorn.
I had no such issues approaching this film, Spielberg’s stunningly visual version, as I was not bothered about being overly impressed with it.
How prescient those thoughts proved to be, yawning through the too slow first third, which is deliberately lacking in dialogue. The film is so stilted I shifted constantly in my seat in a passive aggressive show of annoyance.
That it picks up when the talking starts is testament to the consummate writing skills of the recently deceased Melissa Mathison. Mathison was Spielberg’s scribe on ET: The Extra Terrestrial (1982) and Harrison Ford’s ex-wife, who died of cancer in November 2015.
As with ET, Mathison is able to sensitively and humorously write dialogue from a child’s perspective and simultaneously do justice to Dahl’s unique, half-nonsense language called ‘gobblefunk’. (One thing we should praise Dahl for at this juncture is his adjective for TV, the ‘telly telly bunkum box’, as accurate a description for it as ever I’ve heard. And this was coined in the days before reality TV).
Correspondingly, Spielberg’s camera is set to Barnhill’s eye level when focused on her, pointed down when BFG talks to her and angled up when she talks to him. Interestingly, he and Kaminski do the same when the BFG is communicating with the bigger giants.
Child and giant are thus cinematically connected in terms of their isolation and subservience. Sophie chastises the noisy drunks outside her orphanage, who not only lope around in the same way the bigger giants do, but also bear an uncanny resemblance to them. As Sophie stands up to the ‘bladdered’, so she must help her big friend summon up the courage to do the same.
This is brought so warmly to life by the fact that recent Oscar-winner Mark Rylance and newcomer Ruby Barnhill sound like they get along so famously, with his winning West Country accent and her polite correction of his wildly exaggerated adjectives.
This is a half decent film and there’s more than enough here to keep the kid’s happy, but I felt I was missing something. A special zing from this master director, that which is more than just the sum of its mighty special effect parts (or even the wonderful little ones, like the gravel on the Queen’s driveway the BFG disturbs as he walks on it. Such minute attention to detail is carried throughout the film).
Dahl had the magical, god-given ability to pick a child up from the dull confines of everyday Earthly life and hurtle them forward until he plopped them in a cushioned, hyper-real world of fantasy and make believe by the time it took them to read the first sentence. And he could keep you there long after you closed the book.
Despite Spielberg’s immense cinematic talent and power within the business, The BFG is an eye-pleasing spectacle, but lacks turn-paging thump.
See the official trailer on Youtube.
Cast & credits
Producers: Frank Marshall, Sam Mercer, Steven Spielberg.
Writer: Melissa Mathison.
Camera: Janusz Kaminski.
Music: John Williams.
Sets: Rick Carter, Robert Stromberg.
Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Penelope Wilton, Jermaine Clement, Rebecca Hall, Rafe Spall, Bill Hader, Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, Adam Godley.