Some movies can’t be made until technology catches up to the concepts. I fully believe the “The BFG” is a prime example. Certainly attempts could have been made. CGI and motion-capture have been around long enough to bring some wobbly form of Roald Dahl’s children’s book to the big screen. But Steven Spielberg’s latest fantasy endeavor proved that now was the right time.
I won’t say “The BFG” is without a stumble here or there, but it is far more charming and delightful than I anticipated. That’s because Spielberg and screenwriter Melissa Mathison (who sadly passed away last November) have a very clear idea of how they want to tell this story. The two first collaborated on “E.T.” which released in 1982, the same year “The BFG” book was published. Here they’ve pruned certain elements of Dahl’s story and made a lighter, relationship-focused fantasy adventure.
The key ingredient to the film’s success is Mark Rylance. Spielberg has called Rylance “transformational”. Last year they made “Bridge of Spies” which netted the stage veteran the Supporting Actor Oscar. They have two more films together coming soon. The two clearly have a creative chemistry which “The BFG” uses to its fullest advantage.
Rylance’s performance is sublime. You simply can’t turn away from what he is doing. And this is more than just motion-capture. Yes Rylance went through the process of wearing a black bodysuit covered with sensors that captured his every movement. But much like the very best Andy Serkis work, this truly visualizes a full performance. The amazing representation of this 24 foot tall gentle giant is equally due to the sensational visual artistry and the impeccable performance delivered by Rylance.
We also get a fine performance from young Ruby Barnhill who plays a orphan girl named Sophie. Late one night Sophie looks out her window and sees Rylance’s Big Friendly Giant sneaking around her street. Fearing she will tell others of his existence, BFG plucks Sophie from the orphanage and takes her to his home in Giant Country.
Despite their glaringly obvious differences, the two develop an unlikely friendship and find they have much in common. Both are lonely and have no friends. Both struggle with a sense of belonging. Each fill a significant void in the other’s life. But things are complicated by the nine child-eating giants who also live in Giant Country. The nine, who feature such names as Childchewer and Gizzardgulper, constantly bully BFG. But things get even worse when their leader Fleshlumpeater (Jemaine Clement) gets a whiff of young Sophie (if you know what I mean).
The film occasionally flirts with the conventional, but it never fully falls into that trap. It doesn’t drown its story with silly slapstick. It doesn’t dumb itself down. It doesn’t numb your senses with hyperactive pacing. For the most part it steers clear of common clichés found in kids/family movies. I liked the slow build and the attention to character. I also thought it was very funny at times (although why do you find fart jokes in 99% of these things).
There are a handful of meandering moments and a few obvious gaps in narrative logic. But as a whole “The BFG” is a delightfully heartwarming movie that may push away those looking to have their senses set ablaze by nonstop action and rampant silliness. But for those looking for an intelligent and engaging experience, “The BFG” more than delivers. And if nothing else it’s worth seeing for Mark Rylance’s nomination-worthy performance.
VERDICT – 4 STARS