Director Steven Spielberg has offered a loving and well-crafted look at the big, scary world in films from “E.T.” to “A.I.” His latest journey into that genre, “The BFG,” shows his same passionate approach and deft touch in creating visual wonders. But it lacks that touch of magic that has made his other films so memorable.
“The BFG” brings together one of the most applauded writers of children’s books, Roald Dahl, with the award-winning director. Dahl’s story looks at a spunky young girl, Sophie (Ruby Barnhill), who lives in a British orphanage and prowls the halls at night acting as if she were in command.
One night she spots a stranger in the street. He’s not a typical stranger, standing more than two stories tall. The stranger, whom she would later dub BFG (Big Friendly Giant), grabs her and takes her back to the land of the giants.
Instead of being afraid of the towering giant, Sophie shows a deep curiosity about the BFG (Mark Rylance). She learns that in his world he’s a runt. While most of the giants spend their days sleeping and eating small children, the BFG harvests dreams and releases them into the minds of both children and adults. This becomes important when Sophie hatches a plan to stop the giants from kidnapping and eating children.
Dahl’s book has a not-so-subtle message about perception and living up to your full potential. Sophie appears the smallest person, but in many ways she towers over all others. The story delivers a sweet message about love, loss and the need for friendship. All of these elements are constants when it comes to Spielberg films.
“The BFG” is such a giant story that only Spielberg could direct it.
The performances by newcomer Barnhill and Oscar-winner Mark Rylance sell the story. Barnhill has an innocent spunk that gives Sophie youthful energy. And despite a lot of his face being hidden by special effects, Rylance manages to make the giant both silly and sweet.
None of the other performances ever reach that level.
“The BFG” is a beautifully filmed movie that is dazzling in scope and design. There are so many visual textures, from the smallest details in BFG’s shop to the rolling landscapes of the giant world. Spielberg handles the multiple perspectives with ease, and without taking away from the story.
Melissa Mathison’s screenplay hits all of the high notes of the Dahl book. The problem is that there aren’t enough high points to make this a completely coherent script. There’s no real explanation of where the BFG’s dreams originate and why only a handful of people get the dreams.
The final introduction of BFG into the real world turns into a sophomoric event, accented by numerous rounds of flatulence. The movie is at its best when it is just Sophie and the giant. All else just clutters up their sweet story.
“The BFG” is entertaining and delivers the kind of messages Spielberg tends to like, where young people are the protagonists. The problem is that the movie doesn’t have the kind of magic that made other Spielberg movies so memorable. There’s more of a sense of paint-by-numbers than creating a completely original production.
Even without that added magical touch, “The BFG” has a strong entertainment edge, especially for younger moviegoers. It, like BFG, stands tall on its own but comes up short when compared to other giants in the Spielberg catalog.