Spielberg's 'The BFG' meanders its way through Dahl's magical and macabre world of giants
Posted July 2, 2016
“THE BFG” — 3 stars — Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Penelope Wilton, Jemaine Clement, Bill Hader; PG (action/peril, some scary moments and brief rude humor); in general release
“The BFG” is the latest effort to bring one of celebrated author Roald Dahl’s novels to the big screen. Films such as 2005’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and 2009’s “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” matched Dahl’s style to the unique voices of directors such as Tim Burton and Wes Anderson, respectively (and Dahl himself wrote the screenplay for 1971’s “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”). But with Steven Spielberg at the helm, “The BFG” may be the deceased author’s highest-profile film yet.
We start things off with an orphan named Sophie (Ruby Barnhill). Cooped up in a dank orphanage deep in an English city, Sophie stays up long after the other children, wandering the halls and reading books. But her natural curiosity backfires when she spots a mysterious creature lurking in the shadows beyond the orphanage gates.
The creature (voiced by Mark Rylance) is a gangly, lanky giant, and when he realizes Sophie has spotted him, he snatches her from the orphanage and whisks her off to his cave far outside the city in the land of giants. Sophie expects him to gobble her up, but instead finds that her captor — who she dubs BFG, for Big Friendly Giant — is actually a sweet-tempered fellow. We also learn that the BFG is actually the runt of a much nastier breed of giants who will eat Sophie if they get the chance.
When he isn’t surviving on a nasty, cucumber-like vegetable or slaughtering the English language with charming expressions like “vegiterribles” or “strawbunkles and cream,” the BFG is out capturing dreams and adding them to a vast collection in his cave.
His collection — which features regulars such as showing up to school without any clothes on — is painstakingly stored in a colorful stack of glass jars, and like the rest of the cave, is protected by a diverted waterfall (giants hate water).
Unfortunately, the other giants, led by an unsightly mug named Fleshlumpeater (Jemaine Clement), get a whiff of Sophie’s presence, so the BFG has to take her back to the orphanage. But even there he suspects she isn’t safe, and eventually the two unlikely friends hatch a plan to get the Queen to launch an offensive on the land of the giants.
There’s plenty of goofiness and evidence of Dahl’s quirky, macabre world-building, and audiences will love a running gag about a special drink called Frobscottle, which fizzes down instead of up (with dubious results).
The highlight of the film is the BFG himself, a CGI creation designed to closely echo the facial features of its voice talent. His introduction to the Queen is lots of fun, and Rylance is a perfect match for the character, lending it the same kind of wistful contemplation that won him last year’s Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Spielberg’s spy feature “Bridge of Spies.”
Under Spielberg’s hand, “The BFG” is heavy on charm and atmosphere, immersing the audience in a timeless world that blends the reality we know with a fantasy world we might imagine. The blend shows sincere attention to detail, and the film’s flow seems to match the sweeping arc of the title character’s elongated limbs. But often, “The BFG” lingers a bit too long on itself at the sacrifice of pace and story. At 117 minutes long, the film will probably strain younger attention spans.
Sadly, it should also be mentioned that “The BFG” will be the final credit for screenwriter Melissa Mathison (who also penned “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial” for Spielberg), who died in 2015.
“The BFG” is rated PG for action/peril, some scary moments and brief rude humor; running time: 117 minutes.
Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photojournalist who appears weekly on "The KJZZ Movie Show" and also teaches English composition for Salt Lake Community College. Find him online at facebook.com/joshterryreviews.