THE BFG (UK | Canada | USA/TBC/115mins)
Directed by Steven Speilberg. Starring Mark Rylance, Bill Hader, Jemaine Clement, Ruby Barnhill, Rafe Spall, Rebecca Hall.
THE PLOT: “Don’t get out of bed. Don’t go to the window. Don’t look behind the curtains” Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) reminds herself every night during Witching Hour – which she alone knows comes at 3am – but the night she can’t help herself is the night she sees something that changes her life forever; a giant. The BFG (Mark Rylance) snatches Sophie from her home at the orphanage and takes her to Giant Country, where he shows her all manner of marvellous things, but there are more giants than the big friendly one, and the two new friends must come up with a plan to stop them from eating human beings.
THE VERDICT: ‘The BFG’ is based on the children’s book of the same name by Roald Dahl, and transports the audience back to the time that is was published in 1982. Of course, this is a world created by Roald Dahl, so while we may remember the time, director Steven Spielberg has been sure to make The BFG look like a world created by Dahl; magical, strange and just a little bit scary.
Ruby Barnhill leads the cast as Sophie, and does incredibly well with the role. Sophie is precocious, demanding and curious, and while she makes The BFG’s life better, it is she who learns a multitude from him. Barnhill makes Sophie a strong central character and ones who fans of the film will find themselves wishing they could trade places with, so they too can go on their own adventure. Mark Rylance towers over the rest of the film – both literally and figuratively – as the big friendly giant. Rylance has fun with the BFG’s idiosyncratic and charming way of speaking, his emotion and warm heart, making him the heart and soul of this film as well. The rest of the cast features Rebecca Hall, Rafe Spall, Jemaine Clement, Bill Hader, Adam Godley, Daniel Bacon and Penelope Wilton who gets a promotion from her role as Harriet Jones, Prime Minister in ‘Doctor Who’, to Queen of England in ‘The BFG’.
The screenplay, written by Melissa Mathison, is incredibly faithful to Roald Dahl’s book, keeping in all the wonderful turns of phrase from the BFG himself, the resolution and crucially, keeps it set in England. There are times where the film feels a little trite, but this could be the fault of an audience jaded by big stories playing out in a big way. Director Steven Speilberg not only coaxes great performances from his actors, but keeps the tone light and charming, as well as pacing the almost 2 hour running time well that the lags in energy feel like mere dips, as opposed to crashes. As well as this Speilberg puts his trademark sense of wonder and nostalgia onto the film that will skim over kids heads, but will certainly make adults nostalgic for the time they first read Dahl’s book.
Elsewhere, the design of the film is smart, with ‘The BFG’ using ordinary objects in extraordinary ways, and although we may have seen better CG in other projects, ‘The BFG’ is realised well and any imperfections can be ignored since the character is so endearing, and he is supposed to look a little otherworldly after all.
In all, ‘The BFG’ is a fun film for the whole family. Adult fans of Roald Dahl will be swept away in a wave of nostalgia and fun, and younger fans and newcomers will be delighted at the detail used in bringing this story to the screen. The cast are strong, with Mark Rylance standing head and shoulders above the rest as the warm, gentle and thoroughly human BFG. There are issues with pacing from time to time, however, and at 115 minutes, the running time does feel a little long.
RATING: 4/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

The BFG - Review
Review by Brogen Hayes
4.0Magical and nostalgic
  • filmbuff2011

    The late, great children’s author Roald Dahl was notoriously critical and picky about adaptations of his work – he hated Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory. Another of his most popular stories, The BFG, has reached the big screen courtesy of Steven Spielberg. Previously adapted as an animated TV movie in 1989, Spielberg has given it a live action makeover.

    Wide-eyed orphan Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) is awake in her London orphanage late at night when she spies something out of the ordinary. A giant is stalking the streets at 3am and spots her. Hiding under her sheets, she’s gently snatched away to the giant’s home. There, he introduces himself as the Big Friendly Giant, or BFG as Sophie calls him. He may appear as tall as a house, but he’s not in the least bit intimidating. He’s a gentle soul, an outcast vegetarian who chows down on snozzcumbers and refuses to eat little children. Unlike the group of much taller and more belligerent giants who live nearby and constantly slag him, including one Fleshlumpeater (Jemaine Clement). The BFG stalks the streets at night to send good dreams to the good people of London. This gives Sophie the idea of sending a dream to The Queen (Penelope Wilton), warning her of the impending dangers of more missing children being snatched away by Fleshlumpeater and his grunts…

    The BFG is mostly a gentle and delightful adaptation. It’s nimble on its feet, with that distinctive Spielbergian sense of childlike wonder and innocence about the magical world that only children can believe in. That’s not to say it’s just for kids – Spielberg has always had that uncanny ability to put you in touch with your inner 10-year-old. As the great man himself has said, ‘I always like to think of the audience when I am directing. Because I am the audience.’ Working from a script by the late Melissa Mathison (who also wrote E.T.), Spielberg has filled the film with some great humour (a breakfast with The Queen is a highlight) and some magical scenes involving the luminous nature of dreams. The voicework by Rylance is great too, warm and full of Dahl’s colourful language. In her film debut, Barnhill is good too.

    Despite all the good things about the film, there are a number of notable issues. The performance capture and CGI giants seem like an odd way to tell the story. Less so in the case of The BFG, but it’s definitely noticeable for the other giants – who look a little too much like the rubbery ones from recent dud Warcraft: The Beginning and can barely lipsync to their dialogue (still a problem with performance capture). Was there a particular reason for not shooting the actors via live action? It would have been more convincing with forced perspective and some digital trickery.

    There are also some pacing issues, with a slump in the midsection when not much happens. Also, Spielberg has jettisoned the darker, more subversive elements of Dahl’s story involving cannibalism – but that’s not really surprising coming from Spielberg. Imagine what Tim Burton might have done with this though… The BFG is still fairly solid entertainment though and is sure to delight children and adults alike. One would hope that Dahl himself would approve. ***

  • emerb

    Steven Spielberg has teamed up with Mark Rylance and the late screenwriter Melissa Mathison (“E.T.”) to give us a wonderful, heart-warming and magical adaptation of Roald Dahl’s beloved children’s classic, “The BFG”. This is a faithful and utterly charming version that mixes live action with superb motion-capture technology. As millions of readers already know, “The BFG” is shorthand for “the Big Friendly Giant” and here, it is Rylance plays the twinkling, benevolent giant. This is a role he was clearly destined to play and his performance is magnificent. “The BFG”, for me, is outstanding, a gently spellbinding drama which perfectly captures the old-fashioned enchantment of the novel. I was whisked back to the days of my childhood and adored reliving Dahl’s wordy wizardry combined with the remarkable genius of Spielberg. If, like me, you’re a big kid at heart, you’re in for a real treat!

    The girl in “BFG” is Sophie, an orphan who’s a real bright spark – plucky, stubborn, resourceful and blunt. She is played by newcomer Ruby Barnhill, a 12-year-old British actress making an impressive feature debut. She is a deeply lonely little girl who one night looks out and sees a great big giant prowling down the street. The giant, (Mark Rylance), reaches into the room through the open window, grabs her and whisks her away to his enchanted land – Giant Country. He is a big-hearted, befuddled 29-foot tall creature who speaks in a strange mixed up, gobbledygook language but the pair soon make friends. He tells her
    about his vocation of dream-catching and spreading them into the heads of children across Britain while bottling the nightmares away in his lab. Sophie soon learns that he is a kind, generous and thoughtful soul, nothing like his scary exterior suggests. He is a vegetarian who eats snozzcumbers (the only putrid vegetable that grows in Giant Country) even though he finds them disgusting and he shows her what frobscottle is, a green drink made from the snozzcumber that’s actually quite tasty and, due to its inverted fizziness, produces whizz-popping (something you have to see!). However, he lives as an outsider next to all his bigger and meaner and meat-eating giant brothers who dwell in the hills nearby. With aptly descriptive names (concocted by Dahl) such as Fleshlumpeater, Childchewer, Bloodbottler, Meatdripper etc, they all snack on “human beans” with pleasure and pose an immediate danger to Sophie. They force the poor BFG to take part in a nasty ritual where they push him downhill in the wrecks of old cars. Sophie finally decides she must save the BFG, and devises a plan that requires the assistance of the Queen (a well-cast Penelope Wilton). At this point, the movie really comes to life with several amusing scenes and excellent camera work.

    The movie is more about watching Sophie and the giant interact than a detailed plot. Casting is crucial here and there is an undeniable chemistry between Rylance and Barnhill. Last year Rylance won an Oscar as a Soviet agent of few words in “Bridge of Spies,” here makes a dramatic change as the verbose, eccentric, sweet-natured BFG but he is absolutely the star here and he is what makes the film work so well. His transformation is magnificent – scraggly grey hair, daft oversized ears and a gentle wispy voice. The other notably impressive performance comes from Barnhill – smart, stubborn, plucky and brave. You fully believe her friendship with the BFG and she is a delight throughout.

    “The BFG” reminds us what it’s like to see the world through the eyes of a child. Spielberg has taken a break from his more serious work (“Bridge of Spies”, “Lincoln”) to return to the world of childhood fantasy where he has always excelled. There are numerous delightful images, such as the way the Giant sneaks out of London at night with Sophie hidden in his satchel and uses his long coat to camouflage himself, sometimes taking on the appearance of a tree, or a building or a streetlight – it’s pure magic. My favourite sequence of the movie was the extraordinary final act involving the encounter between the Queen herself (Penelope Wilton) at Buckingham Palace and the BFG. Hilarious fart jokes are here in abundance, but never crudely done. We were all in hysterics
    at the sight of three delightful royal corgis passing wind in unison after a swig of the BFG’s Frobscottle. This is a film about dreaming, storytelling, childhood but most of all it’s a film about friendship, loyalty and the necessity of standing up for those you care for. It also shows us that Spielberg has a clear understanding of the loneliness of childhood and of the happiness that friendship and imagination can offer. This film is clearly aimed for children but I challenge any adult not to fall in love with it for helping them remember what it’s like to be an innocent, care-free child. I have no doubt that it will do extremely well at the box office
    this summer and will be a clear favourite with younger audiences in particular.
    “The BFG” is not only a technical accomplishment but together with a superb central performance from Rylance and the skill of one of the most iconic children’s film directors that ever existed, it is one of my favourite films this year so far. A superior, inventive, imaginative film that I have every intention of watching again (and again!).