*** out of ****
It’s been too long since the childhood experience of my sister and I on each side of my mom as she read The BFG to remember its story. Seeing the new film version directed by Steven Spielberg working from a screenplay adapted by the late Melissa Mathison brought back the captivating atmosphere and the characters I remembered, but the story felt as fresh and strange as anything to be expected from the great children’s novelist Roald Dahl, when revisiting his work as an adult.
It is the story of a child taken from her unhappy orphanage existence to a mystical hidden land where giants live, who are mean and stupid man-eaters - aside from her captor, the bullied runt giant who prefers treating everyone and everything with kindness when he isn’t tending to his work in concocting dreams in the form of vaporous potions that he spreads to humans at nighttime. The girl decides to call him "Big Friendly Giant."
As the movie went along, I felt surprised that it was one of Spielberg’s. This is the kind of children’s material full of such bizarre fantasy, that it seems more suited to the likes of Terry Gilliam, Guillermo Del Toro or even Wes Anderson (when considering his work on Fantastic Mr. Fox). Compared to other family films Spielberg has done in the past, this exists somewhere different than the relatable emotion of E.T. or the pandering melodrama of Hook (or worse: his segment in Twilight Zone: The Movie). This movie is about dreams and the whole experience feels like a big weird dream unburdened by reality.
I’ve often made the case that Spielberg isn’t as stylistically redundant as he seems and likes to try new approaches. This movie seems to be picking up where he left off when he and Peter Jackson collaborated on the underappreciated comic-book-come-to-life, Tintin, by utilizing the surreal potential of motion-capture animation again - only this time merging it with live-action filmmaking. Disney’s been doing this in a lot of their so-called live-action films lately, but Spielberg has a better grasp in keeping the simulated content and filmed content on the same page.
His amazing find in the young actress Ruby Barnhill works with imaginative chemistry against Mark Rylance’s digitized magnificence in the title role. The various esteemed actors who lend their talents to small roles also add richness to a story that isn’t very investing by itself. It’s the attention to Dahl’s details, which allows this movie to work.
I see a big risk in Disney and Walden Media releasing a slow-paced quirky family film in the middle of the heat of the summer. Don’t these two parties remember what happened in 2008 when they tanked the Narnia franchise by releasing its second entry in late spring? There’s something about warm magical fantasy films and cold weather that go together like black coffee and a sweet doughnut.