Thursday, 7 July 2016


Steven Spielberg has a solid filmography of family films, from E.T to Hook, Jurassic Park to Tintin, all of which found commercial success. But Spielberg’s latest release, an adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic The BFG, seems to be turning into the flop of the summer. But is it deserved?

Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) is a young orphaned insomniac living in a London orphanage that she doesn’t particularly like. One early morning when all else is quiet, she sees a giant lurking about, who snatches her from her bed and takes her off to Giant Country. He introduces himself as the Big Friendly Giant or BFG (Mark Rylance), the runt of the litter and a lot smaller than the other giants. Sophie empathises with him and she helps the BFG devise a plan to get rid of the bullying bigger giants.

The BFG is one of the closer adaptations of Dahl’s work, although Spielberg does much to conceal darker themes in favour of a family friendly PG-release, surprisingly without much detriment to the end result. There’s almost never a dull moment, and whilst a lot of the humour may edge more on the childish side there’s certainly a lot for parents to like. The first two acts in particular carry the story through and explore mystery in such a uniquely Spielbergian way, and the dream catching sequence is probably the most well executed of these moments.

However after the first two acts comes a third chapter that’s more difficult to judge, on the one hand it’s totally true to the book and so should be there, but on the other it just seems so out of place that it takes away from the rest of the film. Perhaps this is an example of Dahl’s bizarre frivolities and Spielberg’s broad-audience mindset clashing. On its own it has merit but it just doesn’t sit well with the rest of the feature.

It’s difficult to fault the acting overall, Mark Rylance (who earned an Oscar for teaming up with Spielberg in last year’s Bridge of Spies) shows his breadth as the BFG and his unique take on language. Ruby Barnhill is enjoyably bossy as Sophie, and Penelope Wilton finds a comic way to play the Queen that doesn’t lean too heavily on caricature. The other giants are also very good and I was surprised to find out that the leader of the group Fleshlumpeater was played by Jemaine Clement. The motion-capture has been meticulously done, and whilst there’s still a noticeable gap between the CGI giants and the rest of the world, it’s never really distracting enough to take you out of the film.

It seems unlikely that The BFG will find the audience that most Spielberg summer blockbusters do, which is sad because whilst it’s far from his best work, it stands above most of the other films that are taking the share in this release period. The BFG is well-acted, often funny and always fun, and whilst it may not be as dark or complex as the novel, it stays true to the intentions and tone of Roald Dahl’s work.

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