Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Penelope Wilton, Jermaine Clement, Bill Hader, Rebecca Hall, Rafe Spall
Running Time: 117 minutes
Release Date: July 22nd
In some ways, the lives of Steven Spielberg and British children’s author Roald Dahl seem as if they were fated to intertwine. Dahl released his first book during World War II, where he fought as a soldier, three years before Spielberg was even born. The book, The Gremlins, would later serve as the first overlap of their work as Spielberg produced the 1984 film for which it served as inspiration. The decades following Dahl’s first ventures into writing — the seventies and eighties in particular — repeatedly saw Dahl releasing what would become benchmarks of children’s literature, while Spielberg, on the other side of the pond, began to capture imaginations in his own way. In two separate continents, and in arguably entirely ways, the two began to enchant both children and adults with their fantasy, some spacey, some magic.
In 1975 we got both Jaws and Danny the Champion of the World. Then one by one, we saw Close Encounters of the Third Kind, followed by The Twits, then George’s Marvelous Medicine and Raiders of the Lost Ark. It was in 1982 that the pair independently created what would become perhaps their most iconic creatures, creatures who came to lonely children in the dead of night, both of whom shared acronymic titles, and talked a bit funny, and who were lonely themselves. These came in the forms of Spielberg’s ET: The Extra Terrestrial, and Dahl’s Big Friendly Giant.
It seems strange then, that it has taken so long for Spielberg, expert of capturing the imagination, to helm a Dahl venture, particularly as some adaptations of his work have so successfully made their way to cinema. After all this time, the adaptation we get is definitely worth the wait, as Spielberg’s interpretation of Sophie the orphan, stolen from her bed in the middle of the night by a kindhearted giant is filled with all the things that made Dahl so beloved.
In fact, it is perhaps buoyed up by the day and age in which it finds itself, because the world of the BFG is one of the most gripping things to be found on screen. A mix of CGI and practical effects, it’s a colourfully rendered world somewhere between a cartoon and real life, with a supremely satisfying scale and fascinating attention to detail. The BFG picks up buses that feel like buses but look tiny to him, and smaller again when snatched away by bigger giants. He sleeps in a ship with Sophie above in the crow’s nest, a giant union flag sewn into a pillow. The vegetables are otherworldly but real and disgusting, and the dreams the BFG catches shine and zip around with pleasing energy.
The only thing here that perhaps outshines the world is the BFG himself. Mark Rylance as the titular giant captivates with every action. After he steals Sophie from her orphanage bed we meet a kindhearted creature who talks like a muddled farmer, loves the fizzy drink Frobscottle and is known as Runt to the bigger, meaner giants. Despite the world and its characters, however, the plot is somewhat boring, particularly towards the middle. The film continues to introduce new elements of its world, which are intriguing and often beautiful, but it takes a while before we get moving anywhere. There’s no individual boring scene, it’s a succession of interesting interactions and revelations about giant country and its inhabitants, but as it feels as if it takes a while before the destination becomes clear it might be tough for older children to watch it all the way through again.
Part of this is due to the run time, but also because it lacks any feeling of pressing conflict. While the bigger, meaner giants are certainly bullies, they aren’t threatening so much as funny, and with the likes of Jemaine Clement and Bill Hader in their midst they could so easily have been both. It’s almost as if Spielberg has moved past scaring kids. All in all, if you’ve ever wondered what Spielberg’s Harry Potter film would have been like, this is it. It’s magical and true to the original, but not overly exciting. It’s no Close Encounters, or Charlie and the Chocolate factory, nor is it even Gremlins, but The BFG is probably the most affable movie of the year so far, and fans of Spielberg and Dahl alike should be pleased.