Genre: Adventure, Family, Fantasy
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Penelope Wilton, Jemaine Clement
Roald Dahl, possibly the greatest children’s author in literature, has had his films adapted to varied success over the years. Wes Anderson turned Fantastic Mr Fox into a New York socialite, Tim Burton gave Willy Wonka daddy issues and Mathilda just makes 90’s kids nostalgic. Now it’s the turn of the Big Friendly Giant, again. With Steven Spielberg imagining Dahl’s world, what could possibly go wrong? Everything, apparently.
Spielberg’s latest centres on a young orphan, Sophie (Ruby Barnhill), whose insomnia keeps her up all night but after she spots a giant creeping around the streets, she is snatched up by the BFG and whisked away to giant country, a mystical land covered in stunning scenery and black cabs. While the BFG – the runt of the litter who spends his time farting and capturing dreams – promises not to eat her, the same can’t be said for the other giants like Bloodbottler and Fleshlumpeater who enjoy eating up humans “beans”. Sophie has to come up with a plan to free the BFG from his tormenting bullies and avoid becoming their lunch.The film plays out as a two hander between the BFG and Sophie but the two never truly share a friendship. Sophie isn’t so much a friend of the BFG but instead a victim of Stockholm syndrome. The friendly giant emotionally blackmails Sophie into staying after planting a nightmare while she slept. Not particularly friendly. The worst thing is that she’s not the first. Scriptwriter Melissa Mathinson adds in a back-story featuring another kid the BFG snatched, which is meant to elicit some emotion in us towards the giant but instead it just paints him as a serial kidnapper.
The performances are just as thankless. Rylance, in mo-cap, plays the BFG like your drunk uncle in a Mumford and Sons costume doing a Bristolian accent. While the young Burnhill does her best but struggles to give her interactions with the mo-cap creation any heft. Rafe Spall and Rebecca Hall add two more pointless side character roles to their CVs and Bill Hader does a great impression of Vinnie Jones as leader of the giants, Bloodbottler.
What makes Dahl’s books so interesting and vivid to children are the darker, creepier elements but here all rougher edges are smoothed out and it’s the worst for it. Without this subversive undercurrent of horror, it all feels incredibly dull. The second act gets bogged down in sentiment and conversation, which halts any momentum the film attempts to build up. And thanks to the slow paced second act, the finale feels like a rushed job, causing it all to end up feeling like a neutered version of the film it should have been.While Spielberg dreams up a handful of stunning shots here and there, it never lives up to the promise of a Dahl adaptation shot by the guy who did Jurassic Park. Trees glow, dreams float about and giants fight each other but it’s all just kind of there, never truly engaging you or sucking you into the world Spielberg is trying so hard to manufacture. The mo-cap work is as impressive as you would expect it to be but it’s all too clean and precise. Take one look at the Norwegian horror-comedy, Troll Hunter, and that’s what these giants should have looked like; slightly grotesque rather than comical.
The BFG will leave you in awe, not because of the special effects, but because you will leave contemplating just how this adaptation ended up be so surprisingly wearisome. If you want to experience some real magic, revisit the 80s animated film.