It can sometimes be forgotten that Steven Spielberg is one of the best blockbuster directors ever to step behind the camera.With films like ET, Jurassic Park, The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn and the Indiana Jones series under his belt, Spielberg has repeatedly shown himself as someone who can craft spectacle and awe in a way that no other director has even come close too. It was only a matter of time then before Spielberg delved into the works of Roald Dahl and The BFG was a perfect choice for Spielberg to direct, the tone of the book fitting with Spielberg’s directorial style, aided by the script for this version being written by Melissa Mathison, who was the writer for ET. The resulting film is filled with as much childlike awe that you would expect from that team. something that only Spielberg could have pulled off this effectively.The film concerns Sophie, a young girl living in an orphanage, who one night, not being able to sleep, sees a giant outside the window. The giant notices and takes Sophie with him to Giant Country where Sophie believes he is going to eat her. However, the giant who took her was friendly, known as the Big Friendly Giant by other creatures he hears, his life devoted to catching dreams and giving them to the children of the world, unlike the other giants who eat children and bully the BFG. The BFG and Sophie come up with a plan to stop the giants, but it requires the help of the Queen. The thing the film does well is nail the spirit of Dahl’s book. This isn’t really an action packed film, there are a few action moments but this takes a more leisurely pace, focusing on what matters for the story, that being the relationship between the BFG and Sophie, mainly the role Sophie plays in instilling bravery in the BFG so they can enact their plan to stop the other giants, with parts of this serving as a good allegory for bullying. There’s also this timeless feel to the film in how the real world is presented, a mix of classic Victorian architecture with more modern technology, the hints at a time period having some anachronisms, mainly calls the Queen makes which can be taken to refer to Boris Yeltsin and the Reagan’s who weren’t in office at the same time.
Performance wise, between Bridge of Spies and this it’s easy to see why Spielberg loves working with Mark Rylance. The way he delivers the signature dialogue of the BFG is brilliant, there being a lot of warmth and heart behind it. He nails the friendly aspect of the BFG, showing a quiet trusting nature filled with joy at what he does. There’s also a hint of loneliness to the character, mainly expressed through Rylance’s eyes, the motion capture work Rylance does highlighting his eyes at every opportunity. Ruby Barnhill meanwhile was an excellent discovery as Sophie. There’s a sense of bravery and maturity that Barnhill brings that fits the character and the wonder she shows at seeing everything the BFG shows her is infectious. The relationship between the BFG and Sophie, their shared loneliness especially is expertly conveyed by the performances from Rylance and Barnhill. In terms of the other performances, Jemaine Clement makes for an effective, intimidating villain, with the demeanor of a fussy child as the Fleshlumpeater, Penelope Wilton as the Queen is just as warm and regal as you expect when you hear that casting and, whilst they don’t get much to do, Rafe Spall and Rebecca Hall are charming and funny in their roles.
On a technical level, this film shows that there is still no-one better than Spielberg at creating spectacle. The motion capture work for the BFG, which, based on the trailers, I thought would find its way into the Uncanny Valley, is excellent, continuing the recent trend of motion capture performances (mainly Andy Serkis in the Planet of the Apes films) which emphasise the eyes. The designs of everything is excellent as well, mainly Dream Country and the BFG’s workshop, there being a sense of wonder when we’re in these places that few other directors could pull off whilst also staying true to the illustrations of Quentin Blake. Spielberg’s direction of the film meanwhile gives everything real weight, seamlessly blending the CG environments with Ruby Barnhill, aided by the fact that Spielberg had the sets built so that Barnhill would have a reference for her performance. The film also does a good job at showing Spielberg’s comedic timing, very few directors can make a fart joke one of the funniest scenes in a film but Spielberg pulls it off. The music by John Williams meanwhile has this great fairytale nature which fits the tone of the film perfectly, further helping to create wonder.
Overall, The BFG shows why Steven Spielberg is still one of the best blockbuster directors working today. His adaptation of the story contains enough elements to keep kids involved and makes welcome changes to the characters of the BFG and Sophie (aided by the performances from Mark Rylance and Ruby Barnhill), whilst retaining the spirit of Dahl’s book, which very few adaptations of Dahl’s works have managed to do, most of them being caught in doing their own thing. This is a fun, relaxing family film, one we don’t see too often nowadays.
My Rating: 4.5/5