Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Penelope Wilton, Jemaine Clement, Rebecca Hall, Rafe Spall
Running Time: 1 hour 57 mins
Release Date: 22nd July 2016
The witching hour comes at 3:00am and so do the giants. If you’re unlucky, you’ll find yourselves cowering under the covers, bones rattling as their steps vibrate through the street. Their looming hands plunge through your open window and snatch you up before you have the chance to scream. If you’re lucky though, and we hope you are, you might just meet the BFG.
Thanks to Steven Spielberg, we can all meet the big, friendly giant this summer with the adaptation of the classic Roald Dahl children’s book THE BFG. Starring Mark Rylance and relative newcomer Ruby Barnhill, THE BFG tells the story of orphan Sophie, whose insomnia has her roaming the corridors of her dingy orphanage in the dead of night.
When the witching hour comes for Sophie, so does the BFG, the friendliest giant you could ever meet. A vegetarian, thank goodness. Hearing Sophie’s sadness, BFG takes her from her lonely life and carries her across oceans to Giant Country where the two begin an unlikely friendship that leads to an even more unlikely adventure.
Mark Rylance slips into this role like it’s the most natural thing in the world. He essentially is our Big Friendly Giant and his effortless performance feels entirely like the warm embrace of an old friend. The motion capture used to transform him into the giant that we know and love is outstanding. Rylance’s recognisable features are placed upon BFG with masterful technique so that we’re comforted with his grin inducing facial expressions and amazed by his swinging limbs, long curved neck and ears that could give Dumbo a run for his money.
Rylance plays our BFG with enough gruff nature to keep us giggling, but really excels at tugging on our heartstrings with his pure love and affection for Sophie. His gentle way of handling her, his cautious voice when she needs protecting and the absolute joy in his eyes when they are together is enough to have adults in the audience sniveling, while children stare at the screen, open mouthed and open hearted.
The relationship between Sophie and her BFG is totally lovely; their friendship blossoms really quickly and helps to settle the audience into the narrative. Little Sophie is played by Ruby Barnhill, who gives a glorious performance. When she first appeared on screen there was a risk of her overacting but instead of giving a hammy performance of your token orphan girl, Barnhill plays Sophie with real strength. Barnhill’s Sophie is precocious, sweet, head strong and truly lovely; a fitting portrayal of Roald Dahl’s classic character.
With Rylance and Barnhill’s performances setting the tone for excellence early on, Spielberg does a great job at weaving the narrative through enough conflict and resolution to keep older audiences engaged, despite the narrative perhaps losing a little steam towards the final act. He stays absolutely faithful to Dahl’s original story, which is essential with such a classic, while adding a few shining moments of originality.
The sheer spectacle of it all is truly outstanding, the film is literally glowing with magic. Giant Country is lush and so wonderfully green, a place of beauty despite the hideous giant that lurk under the soft turf of the rolling hills. BFG’s home is entirely perfect and reflects his personality so brilliantly, the high wooden beams and work rooms hidden by cascading water. Piles of disgusting snozzcumbers are so like the ones we imagined as children that you can practically taste their bitter juice and fleshy innards.
The film’s real highlight though is Sophie and BFG’s trip to Dream Country. A hazy blue echoes off of the screen as BFG takes Sophie to work with him, catching dreams both good and bad, carrying her to a land of wonder and amazement. Tufts of grass grown from a floor of rolling mist where a huge tree stands strong, a glowing body of water surrounding it.
Jumping into the water, Sophie and BFG find themselves on the other side of the tree, the dream side. Balls of glowing, fizzing light flutter all around them as BFG attempts to catch the orb like dreams. Lights of gold, blue, green, purple and pink glide through the air to enchant us, with burning red lights threatening us, menacing the screen and us as we watch with wonder.
It is these visuals, these colours and magical elements that really bring this classic adaptation to life. It’s stunning, truly magical but harbored by Spielberg’s classic style of film making to ensure we don’t float away too far, remembering the classic narrative that is so enjoyable.
The child-munching, kid-crunching, bone-crushing giants are an all together other story. Here we’re really able to admire the skill that goes into creating these frightful creatures. Their billowing chests, bulging muscles, drooling overbites and sheer size are amazing and dreadful all at the same time. These giants give children enough laughs to keep them entertained but certainly add a necessary aspect of fear!
Do not mistake this film for something it is not. This is, without question, a children’s film. It is not made for adults, don’t go in expecting undercurrents of pop culture references that are thrown in to make the grown up giggle. Instead, Spielberg delivers a truly magical story that enchants children and taps into the hazy memories us grownups have of reading Roald Dahl’s beloved classic.
With the brilliant performances, stunning visuals, captivating language and a genuine dose of magic, THE BFG delivers all one would expect from the perfect children’s film.