November 20, 2017

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Get Squiggly with It: “The BFG” Movie Review

 

Mark Rylance as the BFG and Ruby Barnhill as Sophie in The BFG (Photos: The Cannes Film Festival)

Mark Rylance as the BFG and Ruby Barnhill as Sophie in The BFG (Photos: The Cannes Film Festival)

Get ready for some Gobblefunk, the lexicon created by Roald Dahl for his well-meaning but grammatically incorrect titular Big Friendly Giant (BFG). Humbag translates as humble, scrumdiddlyumptious means scrumptious, and a whizzpopper sounds like what it means, flatulence.

Director Steven Spielberg and his screenwriter, the late Melissa Mathison, have turned Dahl’s 1982 novel into a movie aimed mainly at Dahl’s fans. It well captures the essence of the bond between the 24-foot-tall giant and a no-nonsense 10-year-old orphaned girl, Sophie. Though older viewers will find the tale too elongated, elementary-age audiences will find it glummy (yummy) rather than a bunch of rummytot.

It begins in a timeless England of cobblestone streets and terrace houses (there’s only one direct 1980s reference), where insomniac Sophie keeps watch and wanders the orphanage halls in the middle of the night. Hearing noises outside, she looks out her open window, where a tall shadow has been lurking among the buildings and cats have sprinted away, hissing at what is approaching around the corner. She espies the bushy-browed and long, lean face of a grandfatherly man towering over her, and he’s as surprised and bewildered to see her as she him. Sophie darts away from the window to hide under the bedcovers, but the giant’s hand reaches into the dormitory and snatches the girl, using her own bedspread as a net.

Afraid she’ll reveal to the world that giants do exist, he absconds with her to Giant Country, which looks a lot like the Scottish Highlands. But really, he only wants a friend. An outcast, he’s a runt compared to his kindred, nine multi-storied giants, and the only vegetarian among them. Unlike the others, he refuses to eat humans and instead consumes a slimy vegetable, the Snozzcumber. The movie tones down a bit the novel’s sinister elements of the giants going on a rampage, kidnapping and eating children from England’s finest boarding schools. But the names of the giants, such as Fleshlumpeater and Bloodbottler, more than get their personalities across.

However, after a fast-paced beginning, the rhythm flags. Nearly half of the book is comprised of getting-to-know-you exposition as Sophie becomes acquainted with her new friend. She’s a prisoner in his cave, but as she finds out more about him, her complaints become less strident. Sophie accompanies him on his mission, to catch dreams floating in the air, which appear like multicolored fireflies, and blow them through a horn onto sleeping children during his nighttime jaunts. However, starting at this point, the movie’s pacing feels like that of other films made by the Walt Disney Studios: those starring Hayley Mills in the 1960s.

The main plot kicks in late: Sophie and the BFG hatch a plan to enlist the aid of Queen Elizabeth in curtailing the nine giants from munching on children. The film picks up steam in the finale, when Sophie and the BFG break into Buckingham Palace and encounter a queen and staff who go out of their way to accommodate the towering fish-out-of-water.

Ruby Barnhill as Sophie

Ruby Barnhill as Sophie

As the BFG, Mark Rylance has been transformed by the computer-enhanced effects, and though his facial features have been distorted, the actor is nevertheless recognizable. Most noticeably, nine-year-old actress Ruby Barnhill keeps the story grounded in the here and now. Only once does Spielberg offer a shot of Sophie staring slackjawed in wonder, à la Jurassic Park, but the reaction feels one of a piece in a breezy, naturalistic performance.

Still, newcomers to the story may get a little restless. A sequence where the mean giants come smashing into the BFG’s cave searching for something to eat (Sophie) is excessively padded with near misses and mayhem. The script also adds a backstory of a friendship the giant had with a boy a century earlier that came to a tragic end for the youth. It doesn’t add much motivation for the BFG to protect Sophie from his marauding brethren; the threat has already been well established.

Though the story’s outline is essentially the same as the book’s, the film version lacks bite. It neuters some of Dahl’s more pointed barbs between giant and child, namely Sophie’s derision of the hulks for consuming human beings (or beans, in the BFG vernacular). At least, as he reminds her, giants don’t kill other giants.

The movie may inadvertently be Hollywood’s tribute to the queen’s 90th birthday celebrations this year. Kind, in command, and with a droll sense of humor, the monarch (played by Downton Abbey’s Penelope Wilton) becomes a coconspirator against the man-eaters. She even whizzpops along with the BFG, though not as strongly as her Welsh corgis. (The BFG values whizzpopping as a “sign of true happiness.” Parents, be warned.)

The BFG premiered on May 14, 2016, at the Cannes Film Festival and will open nationwide on July 1.

Directed by Steven Spielberg

115 min.

Rated PG

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Kent Turner About Kent Turner

Kent Turner (kturner@mediasourceinc.com) edits SLJ's DVD reviews and is the editor of Film-Forward.com

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Comments

  1. hariison says:

    this is the movie i waited for so long. The bfg can be a classic. Spielberg can create magic again.

    The BFG full movie

  2. wow