IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 117 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Sophie, an orphaned young girl, lives in a London orphanage. One late evening, she awakes and looks out the window, where she sees an elderly giant. The giant captures her and takes her into Giant Country where he says that Sophie must stay with him for the rest of her life because she saw him and must not be allowed to reveal the existence of giants. Sophie and the giant soon form a bond though, and the giant, who is actually called the BFG [Big Friendly Giant], explains that it would not be safe for her if she tries to escape, as the other giants eat humans. However, Sophie convinces the BFG to go with him to Dream Country, the BFG’s job being to capture dreams….
I haven’t read Roald Dahl’s book The BFG, so I can’t tell you if Steven Spielberg’s film adaptation is close to it, but the darkness present in some other Dahl stuff and also the 1989 animated version, which showed things like a boy being eaten and truly horrid looking giants, appears to be rather muted here. Spielberg seems to be playing it a bit too safe. That’s my only major criticism of this film though, which seems to have flopped but is charming and quirky in a very pleasant manner. In fact you don’t get many movies aimed at kids like this much at all these days, its often gentle pace and lack of big action scenes making it stand apart. Like much of Spielberg, it is a little overlong, though this one has a somewhat rushed finale instead of a dragged out one, and the kids in the auditorium I saw the film in seemed to be glued to the screen, something very pleasing to me who also isn’t sure if the frenetic nature of so much of children’s entertainment nowadays is a positive thing. The BFG takes its time building up its central relationship but does so with considerable cuteness, before the delightfully absurd plot properly kicks in, and even then it’ll sometimes stop for passages of sheer delight, like a hilarious scene in the Queen Of England’s palace where the BFG has his first ever decent meal.
Stylishly photographed by Spielberg’s usual cinematographer Janusz Kaminski who really does do some of his best work here, The BFG is often quite lovely to look at with terrific use of colour, especially in a section when our odd couple go to a magic tree to capture dreams, while the special effects, aside from a few bits where the BFG’s facial expressions don’t quite match his speech, easily put the rubbish we’ve seen in fare like Ghostbusters and Star Trek Beyond to shame, though amazingly, despite the fantastical nature of the story, the film makes much use of real sets, which of course pays dividends. Of course I would have still preferred it if the film had used at least some old-style special effects to go with the sets but we live in sad times. The BFG is a terrific character with Mark Rylance’s performance really coming through and the actor speaking the mixed-up word play Dahl gave him very well, though Ruby Barnhill as Sophie, while trying her hardest, has to play a person who’s rather irritating at times yet still sympathetic and struggles a little with this difficult part, though it doesn’t really hamper matters. John Williams’ evocative, intricate score is probably his best in some time. In the end The BFG is basically a modest, even simple piece of whimsy stretched out, but it’s immensely likeable with a nice childlike sense of wonder, and something every child ought to see.