Starring: Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Penelope Wilton, Jermaine Clement
Director: Steven Spielberg
The BFG is one of Roald Dahl’s most loved stories, which is odd given it makes very little sense and has the worst narrative transition in any of his work. Luckily for us, Dahl’s inexplicable ability to whisk his readers off into a terrifying dreamscape with words well within the vocabulary range of a six-year-old will remain his utter genius legacy. Throw Steven Spielberg (surprisingly directing a Disney movie for the first time) and recently Oscar-crowned Mark Rylance into the snozzcumber stew and Disney’s latest dabble into the world of motion capture suddenly becomes a rather tempting outing for us daft little human beans.
It’s fair to say that the original David Jason voiced animated version of The BFG hasn’t aged particularly well. The slow nature of its narrative roll-out is laborious, and its animation is reminiscent of She-Ra. Yet kids in the 80s were generally a more patient bunch than the current generation who expect petabytes of fur algorithms to be available at the swipe of an iPad. Yet they had to be; they had four channels, no live pause and watching a film usually meant trekking down town with your old man’s video store card. The stakes are now much higher and kids are expecting a barrage of attention capturing scenes and moments, and whether Spielberg would be able to convert the slow moving narrative into something today’s kids could even tolerate would be crucial to whether this movie worked.
From the moment it begins, The BFG has Spielberg all over it. There’s no wasting time developing plot or establishing characters or any of that malarkey; within the first few minutes Sophie (a perfect performance from unknown Ruby Barnhill) is whisked off to giant land wrapped in the enormous gnarled fingers of our unexpected hero. With limited plot, Spielberg has clearly decided to concentrate on environment, and his depiction of The BFGs house is wonderful from the first sighting. A lot of time is spent in the dream catching fields, and rightly so, it’s the defining moment of the tale, yet Spielberg makes it look enchantingly wonderful. For any children experiencing the story for the first time, it will be a truly magical set of scenes. The shift to Buckingham Palace was always going to be awkward as it makes very little sense. Spielberg desperately attempts to keep young, wandering attentions on screen during these moments with a steady supply of green-gassed whizzpoppers from giants, corgis and royalty alike.
It’s difficult to truly establish whether Mark Rylance is an acting genius or just naturally a bit scatty, but either way he is the perfect choice for the friendly giant and weaves the awkward giant-speak into the dialogue excellently. Barnhill’s Sophie is effortlessly good and Jemaine Clement’s terrifyingly thick Fleshlumpeater is a wonderfully clever piece of casting too.
Coming from the same man who gave us Schindler’s List, it’s sometimes easy to forget the genius of Spielberg and just how well he understands the child mind. It’s impossible to ignore the BFG’s lack of plot and coherence, yet Spielberg has taken all the great parts and managed to create a beautiful looking film with a perfectly fitting cast.
7 / 10