The language of the film harks to the marvellous-ness of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory author and his charming writing but apart from that, the visuals and a few fun moments this big screen adaptation lags and is too vanilla.
Based on the book from Roald Dahl, this fantasy flick follows young Sophie (Ruby Barnhill), an orphan who glimpses a giant on the streets of London. She’s swiftly grabbed and taken to the wonky home of the lumbering man, known as the BFG – Big Friendly Giant (Mark Rylance). He collects and gives out dreams but has a tough time due to the meaner giants who can smell Sophie’s presence and make things difficult.
I remember quite fondly, the times I watched the David Jason cartoon adaptation of this story. It’s a 1989 feature and it looks like a Quentin Blake sketch come to life, it’s also fun, dark and a joyous watch. Skip forward 27 years later and we get this take on the story of being brave. This isn’t as enjoyable as the animated offering, perhaps that’s my nostalgia speaking but more likely that it’s this movie attempting a huge amount of motion capture, CGI of the worlds and keeping a British sweetness yet murkiness to the plot…it succeeds in the first two.
Steven Spielberg can certainly make great films and he has a knack for presenting dramas revolving children and the lack of parental figures in their lives. This narrative then should be perfect for his directorial style? Well yes, in a way it suits him greatly and he ensures Sophie is a confident lass even in the cold abandoned state of orphanage upbringing. What stunned me is that Spielberg seems to loosen his grip on the drama of storytelling, as this movie feels sorely missing of tension and engagement.
From start to nearly finish, this film seems catered for the little ones watching. It’s a shame because Dahl was an exquisite master of creating characters, language and worlds with a twisted dark take, which isn’t felt in this release at all. The introduction of the beastly Bloodbottler or Fleshlumpeater should have been way more frightening than it was. It all comes across rather tame, this safe presentation of a giant filled Earth never picking up motivation.
I only sat up and woke up from the sleep I actually nearly nodded off into, once Sophie and her new friend mention that they need to visit the Queen. From that moment onward the movie shifts a gear and becomes driven and amusing, thanks to the scaling of seeing the BFG in a palace tackling tables, hallways and food. The dream ideas just paled in comparison which is a real travesty because it could have been a fun colourful ride into the madness of what happens when we sleep.
The motion capture is fantastic though, I was worried upon seeing the second trailer as more of the giant was shown. I thought it looked naff but the eyes were stunning and creases in the skin, fingernails, quivers of the face all add up to a further convincing demonstration that mo-cap is a way forward in movie-making.
Barnhill plays Sophie confidently and gets a couple of smart, funny lines. There are times when this newcomer feels a little stagey and you can imagine Spielberg feeding her tips before calling action, as the enunciation becomes pronounced quite a lot. Rylance has his face well transferred to the giant, it’s like he has shot up to 24 feet high and learnt how to blow dreams into peoples rooms. It’s a bit of a slow take on the giant at times but he’s fine. Penelope Wilton lands in the more energetic part of the film by playing Queen Elizabeth II and seems to have a good time discovering the truth of what Sophie has known for a while.
At almost 2 hours, this film feels less of a jolly escapade and more like a long trek you wish you hadn’t started, but once you get near the end and you see the finish line, things pick up and a positive feeling washes through you. The BFG – a Bearable Fine Gait.