The team-up of Dahl, Spielberg and Rylance sounds like a dream time, right? Here’s Yosra Osman with more.
Around the time that Roald Dahl’s The BFG was first published in 1982, director Stephen Spielberg released his extraordinary classic ET. More than 30 years later, Spielberg reunited with ET screenwriter Melissa Mathison (who died in November 2015) to adapt Dahl’s much-loved novel for Disney.
The thematic similarities between both films are evident: in particular an understanding of childhood and the value of friendship. Spielberg relies heavily on some masterful craftsmanship and impressive performances to bring these themes to life. It isn’t quite as captivating as Dahl’s tale, nor as timeless as ET, but there’s just enough magic to make this film an enjoyable whizzpopper.
To simplify the plot in the most straightforward way, The BFG is like a tale of child-friendly Stockholm Syndrome. Orphan and self-confessed insomniac Sophie (a scruffy, splendid Ruby Barnhill), peers out her window one night to see a large giant outside her window. Before she can say ‘gobblefunk’ she’s whisked away in the palm of his hand to Giant Country.
Luckily for Sophie, her captor is a big friendly giant, voiced remarkably by Mark Rylance, and he won’t eat her – unlike the other, larger, flesh-eating giants, who are searching to munch on ‘human beans’.
There are two fantastic aspects to Spielberg’s BFG: first of which is the big friendly giant himself. The combination of motion capture technology and Oscar winner Mark Rylance’s vocal performance as the titular giant is a magnificent effort that brings the film to life. Some of the most effective moments come from a look in the giant’s eye, or a soft change in Rylance’s tone, portraying some gentle benevolence. This dream-catching, snozzcumber-munching giant is a joy to watch, particularly when teamed up with his lively young co-star.
The second work of wonder comes from the vibrancy and vividness of the visuals. The sense of scale is very well done, especially in relation to Sophie and objects of the real world, which are dotted around the BFG’s home to remind us just how small we all would be if found in such a place. Sequences surrounding dream-catching are also beautiful, with myriad colours dancing around the screen to keep us under their spell.
These features are what really save the film from slipping too much into a sluggish pace. The first half, in particular, takes a while to properly get going. For the book’s lovers, there’s also a feel that Spielberg is rubbing the source novel a bit too squeaky clean, ditching some of the treacherous bone-crunching for more swizzfiggling, and softening the more melancholic themes of loneliness and grief.
Of course, a children’s film shouldn’t be too mopey, but you can’t help but feel that something like Matilda (arguably the best of all Dahl’s cinematic adaptations), managed to get the balance just right.
What Dahl would have thought of Spielberg’s The BFG is anyone’s guess. After some script issues he famously described Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory as ‘crummy’, and Gene Wilder’s Wonka as ‘pretentious’, so may have been hard to please. Hopefully he would have, at the very least, appreciated Rylance, as well as Spielberg’s craftsmanship. Though overall it may not be quite the stuff of dreams, this BFG is a visual delight with some mighty good performances.
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Yosra Osman is a mid-twenties film fan and self-confessed daydreamer of dangerous proportions