Review: The BFG

Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Melissa Mathison
Starring: Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Rebecca Hall, Penelope Wilton, Rafe Spall, Bill Hader
Released: June 30, 2016
Grade: B

The BFG
Mark Rylance is one of the best actors working today.  His name will be unfamiliar to many however as he has spent much of his career performing on stage in London and New York.  On his mantelpiece at home are 3 Tony Awards and 2 Olivier Awards.  He also spent a decade as the artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe in London where he helped create numerous productions.

Steven Spielberg had been keen to work with Rylance for a long time.  He first offered him a role in Empire of the Sun (released in 1987) but Rylance turned it down and accepted a part with the Royal Shakespeare Company in Warwickshire.  It took almost 30 years but finally the stars aligned for these two craftsmen.  Rylance took on the part as a tight-lipped Russian spy in last year’s Bridge of Spies and won the Academy Award for best supporting actor.

During his acceptance speech, Rylance praised Spielberg as “one of the greatest storytellers of our time.”  As someone who grew up during the 1980s, I can think of another individual who would fit that same description – Roald Dahl.  A quick look at his bibliography brings back numerous memories of my childhood.  I spent hours sitting up in bed reading the likes of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Twits, and The Witches.

A low-budget animated feature was produced in 1989 but this marks the first attempt at a live-action cinematic adaptation of The BFG.  On paper, it sounds like a perfect threesome – the writing of Roald Dahl, the direction of Steven Spielberg, and the acting of Mark Rylance.  Cool your heels though.  The finished product isn’t as magical as you might expect.

The story begins in London and we’re introduced to a feisty, confident young girl named Sophie (Barnhill) who has spent her entire life in an orphanage.  She suffers from insomnia and so while her friends sleep soundly in the dormitory, Sophie passes the time by sorting mail and reading classic books.  Late one night, she hears an odd noise outside her balcony window and upon stepping outside, finds herself face-to-face with a 7-metre tall giant.

Before shock has a chance to set in, Sophie is snatched by the creature and taken to Giant Country.  His sneaky escape through the streets on London is one of the film’s coolest sequences.  It may sound scary but the giant has a soft side and isn’t to be feared.  These two characters quickly become pals with Sophie referring to him as The Big Friendly Giant.

The majority of the film is spent watching them go on an assortment of adventures.  The BFG has to stand up for himself against a group of bigger giants looking to assert their authority.  We also learn why The BFG spends time in the human world.  He cooks up dreams, both good and bad, and places them in the heads of those fast asleep.  The dream creating scenes showcase the talent of the special effects crew.  The visuals are outstanding.

There’s no disputing that Spielberg has created a fascinating world.  It’s just a shame that the story and characters aren’t quite as fascinating.  There are a few signature moments such a scene where Sophie hides in a Snozzcumber (an awful vegetable) and another where The BFG offers frobscottle (a fizzy drink) to a new group of friends.  Unfortunately, there a lengthy gaps in between that don’t offer much in the way of laughs or excitement.

Great books don’t always translate into great movies and perhaps The BFG is a good example.  It’s likeable but it’s hard to describe it as memorable.