Spielberg’s latest adventure is heavy on technical wizardry but a tad light on adventure.
by Adam Hlava
Steven Spielberg and children’s fantasy go together like peanut butter and jelly. So it made perfect sense for the greatest director in Hollywood history to tackle Roald Dahl’s classic The BFG, in many ways his E.T. for a new generation. I couldn't help get a similar feeling seeing the giant as I did when I first met E.T. so many years ago as a child.
Within the first few minutes of the story we meet the Big Friendly Giant (no the “F” doesn’t stand for what you think it does, sinner.) Played mostly through motion-capture by Oscar-winner Mark Rylance, the Big Friendly Giant (or BFG) is a beautifully crafted mix of computer generated imagery and Rylance’s actual facial features, making for one of the most realistic looking CGI creatures put on film. There’s no doubting the careful technical mastery that went into achieving Spielberg's vision. A lot of the film’s humor involves the BFG’s quirky dialect (clouds are “Puffers,” fingers are “wrigglers”, etc). A lot of the dialogue was lifted straight from Dahl’s book, and really lends a hand to the charm and wit. Simply put, the BFG is a fun character. The film falters however with a thin plotline and character development.
The story opens in an orphanage where 10 year old Sophie (newcomer Ruby Barnhill) encounters a giant milling about the streets of London, who proceeds to kidnap her and take her back to his home in Giant Country. In almost no time at all the two become unlikely friends (we learn the BFG is a vegetarian, to Sophie’s relief. Unfortunately there’s not really much of an adventure for The BFG and Sophie. The bulk of the film’s conflict involves a group of even larger giants living in Giant Country led by Fleshlumpeater (Jemaine Clement, also excellent here). This other giants are in fact meat-eaters, which makes keeping Sophie hidden a priority for the BFG. That’s really the main plot point here, and without much character development it’s difficult to connect with the main characters.
The cinematography, led by Spielberg veteran Janusz Kaminsky, is rather breathtaking whether we’re zipping around the BFG’s lair, through the streets of London or the hills of Giant Country. This is a beautiful film and it’s apparent that Spielberg and Kaminski had a great deal of fun making it. The sense of scale makes for a thrilling ride, as we see everything mostly from Sophie’s perspective throughout this world of giants. Keep an eye out for potential nominations for cinematography and visual effects come Oscars season.
Spielberg and company have developed a creative concept, especially with the friendly giant befriending a little girl. But without much in the way of a clear goal for the characters, and a pretty anticlimactic ending, the film sort of dissolves in the last half. It would have made a great short film, it felt like a lot of stuffing with very little pay off. Overall The BFG is a fun family film in the vein of E.T. Kids will certainly enjoy the creatures. Rylance has a lot of fun with the role, and the CGI is among some of the best we’ve seen on screen, but the screenwriters needed to spend some more time crafting a reason for us to connect with the characters.
The BFG opens nationwide July 1st.
Verdict: 3 out of 5 Seats