NOBODY CHANNELS THE inner child as brilliantly as Steven Spielberg, in this slow moving but stunningly well-realized piece of magic. His adaptation of Roald Dahl’s touching tale of Sophie, a little lonely orphan girl who one night is kidnapped/rescued by a gentle giant, is a treat.
The giant (the eponymous BFG or big friendly giant), who can very cleverly ‘disappear’ in plain sight to avoid being seen by humans, has the magical ability to hear all the whispers in the world. Perhaps, her whispers of loneliness were ones he’d heard. It’s his job to bottle up dreams – both the pleasant kinds and the not so pleasant kinds. In a sense therefore, to this lonely little girl, lost in her world of books, the BFG is the man/brother/ father/protector of her dreams.
He takes her, in a moment of Spielbergian terror, his large hand like a tentacled monster reaching into her room. Then, leaping over highways, mountains and oceans, like a sprite, he gently sets her down in the cave where he lives – nestled in a valley of giants. But unlike the BFG, there’s no F to these giants (with wonderful names such as Gizzardgulper, Childchewer, Bonecruncher and Butcher Boy). They delight in eating little children…or, for fun, bullying the BFG – a tiny runt compared with them. Clearly he himself is as much in need of protection as she is.
The BFG and Sophie: they’re an odd pair, whose pairing must defeat the ogres and protect the defenceless children.
The timing of this movie seems particularly astute: as the world continues to spin out of control, here’s a story told without a shred of irony, cynicism or moral ambiguity. It’s a little oasis of purity and light in a dark, dark world. Spielberg’s movies have never stooped to the kind of defensive self-referential glibness… the longing to be hip, the worldly ennui… that plagues so many movies (like the barely watchable Deadpool). In The BFG, the world he creates (with his long-time cinematographer, Janusz Kaminski) is absorbingly charming…from the cluttered, childish, cave-like dwelling of the giant, aglow with his jars of dreams, to the fantasy, story-book rooms of an imagined Buckingham Palace (where an activist HRH (Penelope Wilson), with her retinue of corgis, commands an army of nineteenth century looking generals to take on the giants).
This is a Spielberg opening up his imagination (via some extraordinary special-effects wizardry) , and ours, to his own magic kingdom.
And if he delivers, with style, his storytelling genius, it’s the brilliance of Mark Rylance as the BFG that’s the icing on the cake. In a recent interview on BBC, Spielberg told the interviewer that he considered Rylance to be by far the greatest actor he’s worked with (first on Bridge of Spies and slated for the next two Spielberg movies). And you can see why: in what could easily have been either an over the top fe-fi-fo-fum giant or pure schmaltz, Rylance’s sly, understated performance, even in the face of occasional slapstick, is as genuine and affectlessly honest as the movie itself. Speaking in an invented Cornish sounding accent (which I guess is how giants speak) Rylance delivers Melissa Mathison’s elaborately inventive Dhal-ian malapropisms with musical beauty. And there’s a real chemistry with his tiny co-star, Ruby Barnhill, whose confident first-time outing delivers a sense of open eyed wonder that mirrors ours.
If there was one disappointment: John Williams’ score did its job, but without the punchy memorableness we’ve come to expect from him.
A small matter. One word of warning. If you go to this, leave your adult reserve at the door; and better yet, go with a child or two
The BFG. Dir: Steven Spielberg. With Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Penelope Wilson (Downtown Abbey), Rebecca Hall (Iron Man 3). Screenplay: Melissa Mathison. Cinematography: Janusz Kaminski. Production Designers: Rick Carter (most of Spielberg + Avatar) & Robert Stromberg (Alice in Wonderland). Composer: John Williams