THE BFG. Starring: Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Penelope Wilton, and Jemaine Clement. Directed by Steven Spielberg. Rated G. 126 min.
This American fantasy film is based on the novel of the same name written by Roald Dahl in 1982, and tells the story of a kindly giant (Mark Rylance) who kidnaps a young orphan girl, called Sophie (Ruby Barnhill). They offer each other friendship and comfort in their loneliness.
"The Big Friendly Giant" (BFG) is one of Roald Dahl's best loved characters. He is a 24-foot tall man who has exceptional hearing ability, made possible by huge ears, and he moves along the ground with enormous speed. His huge ears allow him to hear "all the secret whisperings of the world". His special mission in life is to collect and distribute good dreams for young children, and he blows the dreams into the children while they are asleep at night in their beds. Unlike the other "being-eating" Giants in Giant Country where he lives, he refuses to eat people. The BFG is the smallest giant by far in Giant Country, but he is the kindest, and he is also a vegetarian which greatly upsets his fellow Giants.
The BFG detects Sophie's loneliness, while distributing his bag of bottled dreams in London, and he takes Sophie off to his cave in Giant Country. The other Giants suspect the BFG of harbouring a small child, and the BFG is harassed by a huge, fearsome Giant, (Jemaine Clement), who with the other Giants, look on Sophie as another meal. The BFG confronts his fellow Giants, and he and Sophie manage to escape.
Together, Sophie and the BFG form an enduring friendship. Sophie convinces the BFG that he should talk to the Queen of England (Penelope Wilton) in Buckingham Palace about imprisoning the other Giants. Convinced by a bad dream that the BFG sends her, the Queen talks to her generals, who agree to cooperate. The other Giants are tied up and taken back to England where they are helicoptered to a craggy island well out to sea. The BFG settles into a huge house next to Sophie, where he lives happily ever after, and the BFG writes a book which becomes Dahl's novel.
The film tells an adventure story in fantasy format that will delight parents and children alike. It is filled with classical Dahl touches that imbue children's fantasy in a very special way, mixing bitter-sweet fear and excitement appealing. The animation in the movie fuses fantasy and reality seamlessly. This is also a movie that has very worthy messages. It encourages children to look for friendship in unexpected places, and to imbue the friendships that they form with loyalty and affection. It engages youth by capturing their emotional world in an imaginative and inventive way.
The performance of the BFG is made possible through a special photographic process called "motion capture" that allows live figures to interact with fantasy figures in a totally realistic way. Spielberg's use of the technology is amazing, and there are glorious scenes of the Queen serving breakfast to the BFG in her Palace, which are gently and charmingly satirical of British royal rule.
Stephen Spielberg's film version captures very effectively and imaginatively Dahl's characteristic tone of whimsy and mischievous playfulness. He is softer than Dahl in the darkness of some the imagery, which makes the movie more suitable for family viewing. With the help of motion capture technology, the film becomes a magical tale of a small child befriending a fantasy being - which Spielberg did so well in his 1982 award-winning movie, "E.T. the Extra Terrestrial". The technology also allows Spielberg to take Rylance's human performance to giant-sized proportions realistically, and Ruby Barnhill is a terrific child heroine - smart, cheeky, determined, and very likeable.
This is a creative and very enjoyable film version of the work of a great story teller that charms and beguiles.
Peter W. Sheehan is associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting
Released June 30th., 2016