By Adam Ray Palmer
Today’s review is of the live-action adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic The BFG. Steven Spielberg returns to the big screen with this 2016 fantasy.
I also complete a returning act to the Phoenix Leicester to catch this classic children’s tale. In recent weeks, the Phoenix have shown a great variety of children films and this is another addition to the back catalogue.
I was quietly excited for this supposedly epic piece of cinema…
The BFG centres on a young girl named Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) who encounters the Big Friendly Giant (Mark Rylance) who, despite his intimidating appearance, turns out to be a kind-hearted soul who is considered an outcast by the other giants because, unlike them, he refuses to eat children.
Fresh from his Oscar glory in February, Mark Rylance returns to cinema in a much different role. Remarkably, only his neck and ears are digitally enhanced on the visual side of things. On the flip side, this film is Ruby Barnhill’s debut on the big screen. It’s a decent outing for the first-timer.
Rylance is never a doubt when it comes to acting. He always brings an essence of class and a consistently measured performance. In regards to Barnhill, I was hoping for more of a Mara Wilson (Matilda) style of performance. Sophie in this adaptation is far older than her years suggest which becomes a bit annoying as the film progresses. She should be more frightened and confused with what is actually going on, but at no point does she show a bit of fear. To be fair, that’s not completely down to Ruby, the writing lets her down. As I said, for a first-time role on the whole; she assists the movie well.
My bigger problem with the film is the lacklustre approach from Spielberg. Cineroom readers may know I am not a huge fan of Steven. He has made so many films in his long career but I can count on one hand the amount of films that I am a fan of. As you may well tell, The BFG does not make the hand.
What serves Spielberg well, and what he normally delivers on, is action sequences and visual effects. Both of these elements seem passive here. When taking on a Roald Dahl book, Steven should already be assisted in the action and exciting sequences. I think Spielberg has missed this in The BFG and also not realised the streak of evil that runs through Dahl’s work. Roald’s children’s books like Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, Matilda and The Witches all an underlying theme of darkness. In The BFG, Spielberg could have used the unruly giants as his ‘evil’ but they just come across as bullies rather than fearing and calculating, human-eating monsters.
With giants like Fleshlumpeater (Jemaine Clement), Bloodbottler (Bill Hader), and Childchewer (Jonathan Holmes); they all seem pretty ghastly. Kids are fascinated with hints of horror nowadays and Spielberg misses this trick. We don’t ever see the ‘mean giants’ in full-on action a part from one scene where they bully The BFG by pushing him down a hill to crash into another giant - pretty tame.
The BFG feels quite neutered when it should be full of life and action. It should be whimsical when the starring duo are catching dreams but it never feels like a cinematic ride. The dream-catching scenes are underused and we spend more time in The BFG’s cave on a humanistic level – this will all be lost of six to twelve year olds.
There are certain components that will be enjoyed by all though. One being the language used by The BFG. He constantly missteps words and at times invents his own. He has only had a brief education through a young boy who taught him to read. The best bits of The BFG's language are farts being called whizpoppers; a satisfying dream is a phizzwizard and a powerful nightmare is a trogglehumper.
On the whole, it's an average showing. The best element that will be taken away from this movie though is the strong sense of friendship. It highlights throughout what being a good friend is about and having strong values as a person. It’s just a shame that the action is quite timid and the visual effects aren’t allowed to flourish. I imagine Spielberg had a dream of this move being a fascinating ‘whizpopper’ as the word sounds like something energetic and exciting, but in reality, it’s sadly more of the fart variety.
Cineroom’s Rating: 2.5 Stars
The BFG is currently showing at the Phoenix Leicester until the 4th August – certificate PG