Steven Spielberg has returned to his cinematic world of imagination and Amblin roots to adapt Roald Dahl's 1982 children's book, The BFG. The film adaptation is a surreal mix of sensibilities from Spielberg's own trademark sense of wonder and magic to Dahl's vividly dark but childlike world while juggling the task of his first Disney collaboration set in 1980s Britain.
Mark Rylance, Spielberg's new favourite collaborator, as the Big Friendly Giant is delightful and wondrous with his exaggerated, CGI-enhanced look, but it's newcomer Ruby Barnhill as Sophie who really anchors the film. Her precocious performance and curious demeanour is absolutely charming. She embodies all the trouble and wonder of a lonely orphan first afraid then excited. Jemaine Clement and Bill Hader through motion-capture as two of the many giants, Fleshlumpeater and Bloodbottler, are suitably grotesque and garish while it's not until late in the third act when we meet the Queen of England (Penelope Wilton) where the fun and sophisticated.fart jokes really kick into high gear.
Written by E.T. scribe Melissa Mathison, the loose but long story feels rather shaggy yet oddly uncomplicated. The film is firmly focused on the pair's unusual but pleasant relationship while alluding to the horror of the children eating giant antagonists. Spielberg's visuals and mix of interior sets, performance capture animation, and CGI effects are fairly cohesive in making Dahl's world as vibrant as a child's imagination but still firmly set in a real-life environment. However, the thin story is unflatteringly stretched and all the winning elements never quite mesh fully together the way we expect.
The BFG is fine and lovely but almost sensibly inert. Spielberg is overly faithful to the source material while muting elements of his own cinematic trademarks. The mixture of grim horror and childlike warmth never quite gels amidst the land of giants and dream catching. The adaptation is pleasant and appealing enough yet somewhat cold as it never quite balances Spielberg and Dahl's respective styles.
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