Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Mark Rylance, Rebecca Hall, Bill Hader, Ruby Barnhill, Jemaine Clement, Rafe Spall, Penelope Wilton
There’s something nostalgic about seeing a Steven Spielberg film with the Amblin Entertainment studio logo playing before it starts. Spielberg and his crew composing of producers Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall, trusty DP Janusz Kaminski and composer John Williams are back together again. This time the team takes on one of Roald Dahl’s beloved creations, The BFG. For a little girl named Sophie (Barnhill), the witching hour is that time in the middle of the night when the boogeyman comes out and people go missing. She believes that falls around 3:00 am when others predict it happens earlier in the night. She is the only child wide awake at her orphanage to experience this magical time. This also means that she is the only one to see the large figure (Rylance) lurking in the shadows. Despite his giant size, he has a very sneaky way of not getting noticed. Her eyes widen and she runs back into her room to hide under the covers. While she may get passed her caretaker, the giant’s big hands poke through the window and scoop her up. He takes Sophie back to Giant Country where she can live in his cavern. She’s a fairly strong and confident little girl and isn’t completely afraid of the giant. A trust between them starts to grow when she realizes he’s pretty harmless. Unlike the other giants, he is not a murderous monster that likes to eat children. Instead, he likes to catch dreams and keep them in jars distributing them to children throughout the night. She calls them the BFG, the Big Friendly Giant, and a unique friendship between them starts to form as he opens her eyes to a whole new world.
This marks the reunion of Spielberg with his E.T. screenwriter Melissa Mathison. It’s the last film for her as she unfortunately passed away last year from neuroendocrine cancer. The story has that wildly imaginative aspect to it that Spielberg is known for. Personally, it feels more in line with Hook than E.T. with the central child being whisked away to a far off land full of enchanting wonders. I haven’t read the Dahl book since I was a child, but Mathison and Spielberg have fleshed it out to full-length feature size. She stays true to the wildly imaginative language that the BFG speaks in with his mixed up version of words and phrases. The kids in the audience will get a kick out of his vernacular like: radio squeaker, hippodumplings, strawbunkers and cream, and a variety of others that drive Sophie crazy as she tries to figure out what he’s referring to. The material is catered toward a young audience. Spielberg’s no stranger to family pictures, but even here he’s really targeting the entire movie toward that demographic versus opening it wider. A prime example of this is the fact that Spielberg has now officially directed his first farting scene in a movie. It’s probably in the original source material, but it was still a surprise for this die-hard Spielberg fan. I will cop to being a bit childish and laughing at it while fully acknowledging that I shouldn’t be.
Spielberg uses a mix of animation and motion capture to bring Dahl’s world to life. Much like The Peanuts Movie, the classic 2D illustrations that we grew up looking at in the book are updated to a three-dimensional world. They’ve done a remarkable job of staying true to those ideas as it looks like the world Dahl created. It’s being presented in 3D, but I would shy away from it as it really does a disservice to the quality of picture. At times it fits well, but whenever little Sophie is added in and interacting with the BFG, it looks painfully layered as if we are back in the days of Mary Poppins or Bedknobs and Broomsticks. It doesn’t look like one cohesive picture like it can with other motion capture creatures. I would imagine seeing it in 2D helps this factor.
Mark Rylance, who won an Oscar for Spielberg’s last film Bridge of Spies, is absolutely wonderful as our title character. He’s truly one of the best character actors working today when you think about the subtleties he brought to Bridge where now he plays the polar opposite. He has that grizzly grandpa sensibility but is completely lovable, innocent, and endearing. He’s a classically trained stage actor, and if you have the opportunity to see him on the stage, I cannot recommend it enough. He has a really sweet chemistry with newcomer Ruby Barnhill as Sophie. Spielberg has a knack for finding young talent who can hold their own in a big movie. In smaller roles, Bill Hader (Saturday Night Live) and Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Concords) voice giants Bloodbottler and Fleshlumpeater, respectively. Rounding out the human cast is Rafe Spall (Life of Pi), Rebecca Hall (The Town), and Penelope Wilton. Anyone who watched Wilton on Downton Abbey will get a kick out of her take on the Queen of England. There are even a couple of corgis that accompany her.
I go into every Spielberg moving wanting to absolutely love it. I have grand expectations as this is Spielberg we’re talking about. There is a wonder and emotional core to Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Jurassic Park, and E.T. that still resonate no matter how old you are. The same can’t be said for The BFG. That’s not to say that adults won’t enjoy it, but it doesn’t have that soul touching aspect that you can find in animated or motion capture movies of today. It’s nearly two hours long, which feels a bit too long for this kind of movie. It definitely drags a bit in the middle, but picks up when Sophie and the BFG finally meet the Queen. There’s a bit of fresh air once they finally leave Giant Country. Spielberg and Dahl are a natural fit for each other. It’s a tale about being brave and accepting those who may be a little bit different, and it’s all wrapped up in a feel good Spielberg bow.
Is It Worth Your Trip to the Movies? Not one of Spielberg’s best, but still a delight.
RATING: 3.5 out of 5 TICKET STUBS