Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Roald Dahl's classic children's book "The BFG" comes to life in Steven Spielberg's latest film, The BFG (opening today). It's a fairly faithful adaptation ("BFG" stands for "Big Friendly Giant"), but on film, there is very little magic that translates to the big screen. If The BFG were a vegetable, it would be a giant snozzcumber.
You won't recognize him, but the title character is portrayed by Mark Rylance, fresh off of his Oscar win for Best Supporting Actor in Bridge of Spies, which was also directed by Spielberg. Ruby Barnhill plays Sophie, a young but spirited young girl who lives at an orphanage in England. Breaking the house rules one night, Sophie spots BFG creeping around town, so he snatches her up, lest she tell others of his existence. "Whiffling" her away to the realm of giants, she realizes that he is of the gentle variety of giants. In fact, amongst his own kind, he's actually quite small and is referred to as "Runt" by the other vicious giants, such as Fleshlumpeater (Jemaine Clement) and Bloodbottler (Bill Hader). These thugs do not treat BFG kindly, not to mention that their favorite snack is human "beans."
Beginning her relationship with BFG as his captive, Sophie soon warms to his kind soul and the two become friends. The BFG, with super-senses and a large horn at his disposal, has mastered the ability to capture dreams - good and bad - and he actually sneaks into town each night to fill the children's minds with happy dreams and joyful thoughts. Wanting to help her large companion, they concoct a plan to enlist the Queen of England (Penelope Wilton) to fight back against the bad giants and rid them from their lands, therefore allowing BFG to live in relative peace.
While the visuals are stunning, The BFG is a stark reminder that it is incredibly difficult to invoke a sense of wonder at the movies these days, in an age of relentless CG and special effects. Spielberg is the master of wowing an audience, of creating characters and films that children marvel at and that make adults feel like kids again. But The BFG is no E.T. Today, it just doesn't seem all that impressive to see a giant interact with a human girl, even with the added element of 3D. Remember E.T., or Close Encounters of the Third Kind? Jurassic Park even? Instead of being impressed by The BFG, I spent a good portion of the film wondering if movies would ever have the same affect as they once did, back when we were all asked to use our imaginations from time to time.
The limp story doesn't help either, nor does the unmemorable performance of child actor Ruby Barnhill. She does nothing wrong, but just isn't quite capable of carrying the film on her own.
There are a few cute scenes, like when BFG and Sophie are guests of the Queen inside her Palace, and the waitstaff does what it can to accommodate their 24-foot-tall guest. But there is little to grasp on here to, even for young kids, who may find themselves drifting off into dreamworlds of their own, especially in the overly-talky first half of the film.
Spielberg is in a class all of his own, but The BFG will fall closer to his failed The Adventures of Tin Tin than it will his parade of other classics that have defined movies for several generations. It's always a letdown when a director of his caliber fires off a dud. Or in this case, a giant one.
Genre: Family, Adventure, Fantasy
Run Time: 1 hours, 57 minutes, Rated PG
Starring: Ruby Barnhill, Bill Hader, Rebecca Hall, Mark Rylance, Jemaine Clement, Penelope Wilton
Based on the novel by Roald Dahl
Written by Melissa Mathison (Kundun, The Indian in the Cupboard, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, The Black Stallion)
Directed by Steven Spielberg (Bridge of Spies, Lincoln, War Horse, Munich, Minority Report, Saving Private Ryan, Schindler's List, Jurassic Park, Indiana Jones I II III IV, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial)
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