Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Penelope Wilton, Jemaine Clement, Rebecca Hall, Ralf Spall, Bill Hader
Written by: Melissa Matheson and (based on the book) Roald Dahl
Running Time: 117 mins
Release date: 22nd July 2016
Steven Spielberg’s return to a more family friendly film is perfect for his talents. A live-action (of sorts) version of Roald Dahl’s classic 1982 adventure, The BFG. Those expecting the usual quick-cut, nonsensical family fare that normally graces our cinemas will be in for a surprise, for this, is a leisurely-paced affair, a bit like sipping a fine wine compared to the normal sugar-filled fizzy drinks that most parents have to be dragged to by their young cherubs.
Sophie is an orphan who cannot sleep. As she reads in bed, she ignores her warnings when a noise is heard outside. Suddenly she is grabbed by a giant hand and whisked off to Giantland by a big friendly giant, who collects dreams as his job and is bullied by the other giants in the land for his love of children and vegetables. With Sophie on hand, they decide to take on the giants, with the help of an unexpected alliance.
Spielberg and screenwriter, the late Melissa Matheson, who wrote the script for Spielberg’s E.T, have captured Dahl’s fantastical world brilliantly. Brimming with detail and colour, this is a land that can only exist in books and rarely do they ever come to life on film. The various household objects, surroundings and food stuff that the BFG enjoys are wonderful to behold. You find yourself occasionally focusing on these than the action. The pair hasn’t tampered with the plot much either, so if you are a fan of the book then you won’t be disappointed. Even down to keeping it in the time period of the original release, 1982 (mentions of Boris, Ronald, and Nancy add a nice touch of nostalgia).
The film also allows us time to really appreciate the relationship of the giant and Sophie. Predominantly a two-hander, there are long scenes in which the pair, well, just talk. Something you wouldn’t normally expect to find in a family film. This allows us to form emotional bonds with the pair. Having said that, this is one of the film’s downfall as well. It does linger too long on the pair’s conversations and so slowing the pace down a little, particularly in the middle section. Yet the final act is an absolute hoot.
As this is mainly a two-hander, the two leads have to be in tip-top form. Newcomer Ruby Barnhill as Sophie is a delight. With her Midlands twang, she is a strong female lead that every child can relate to. She is feisty without being obnoxious, charming without being annoying. She is a perfect Sophie. Yet it is Mark Rylance’s BFG that is the outstanding feature. His is a magical human performance that you genuinely stop thinking of as a CGI creation and watch in wonder as a small, simple smile melts your heart. As he stole the show in Spielberg’s previous outing, Bridge of Spies, here he owns the screen. It wouldn’t surprise me if his performance doesn’t win him some form of award, it is that good.
The effects are stunning, the journey is magical and the whole thing has an air of old-fashioned charm. If you are old enough to remember the family films of the 70’s, then you will get the feeling you’ve been transported back in time, for this doesn’t feel the need to rush and yet oozes charm from every pore. Flawed, yes, but a winner made by a man who still has the child in his eyes.