Directed by Steven Spielberg | Written by Melissa Mathison, adapting a book by Roald Dahl | 117 min | ▲▲▲▲△
It amazes me that Roald Dahl books remain as popular as they do, and the film adaptations even more so. They’re so dark and twisted. The BFG, which stands for Big Friendly Giant, has all these complicated themes, but in Spielberg’s hands the film feels like a gentle throwback, an antidote to much of what we get for kids entertainment these days. In some ways it feels like an apology for the last film he made especially for kids, Hook. There’s a sense of wonder here that’s genuine.
It’s also extraordinarily British. We open on an orphanage in London at some indeterminate time in the past. (I thought maybe the 1960s, but later it’s established as the ’80s.) Sophie (the adorable Ruby Barnhill) wanders around in the middle of the night, locking doors, berating street drunks through an open window upstairs. Spielberg establishes the pace from the get-go. Everything is very deliberate. This is the Anti-Lego Movie.
Sophie spots the titular giant (Mark Rylance behind layers of effective CGI) out in the street and is promptly abducted. The BFG takes her to Giant Country up in the clouds. That’s where he catches sprite-like dreams in the reflecting pool beneath a giant tree (a beautiful and emotional high point of the film) and then delivers them to sleeping kids in town, all while trying not to annoy the other giants he lives amongst. They’re a nasty sort, and he’s ridiculed by them because, unlike his brethren, he isn’t interested in eating children. Instead he feasts on foul-smelling “snozzcumbers” and drinks a strange green fluid that causes colourful flatulence aka “whizpopping.”
Rylance brings the right combination of crustiness and charm delivering his odd linguistic turns. “Vegeterribles” will definitely be finding its way into my vocabulary in the days to come.
The BFG is a real old-school charmer, full of spectacular visuals and a care to the characters. It’s episodic, and it takes awhile getting where it’s going. There will be those who won’t have the patience for it, but the rewards, both the technical and emotional, are very much worth the time.