Spiel­berg weaves magic out of Dahl’s

China Daily (Canada) - - LIFE - By AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS in New York

There’s a se­cret about chil­dren that Steven Spiel­berg, Melis­saMathi­son and Roald Dahl have al­ways known — that no mat­ter how in­no­cent, kids are as ca­pa­ble of un­der­stand­ing dark­ness as adults, and some­times even more so. It’s not that it’s some com­pletely un­ac­knowl­edged truth, but it is one that rarely seems to per­me­ate what we con­sider “chil­dren’s en­ter­tain­ment” in any real way. It just makes adults too un­com­fort­able. It’s also the rea­son why the un­der-10 set flocks to Dahl.

Amea­sure­dem­brace of the deep men­ace in Dahl’s words is why this long-time-com­ing adap­ta­tion of his 1982 book The BFG not only suc­ceeds, but shines. It’s not just some pleas­ant romp into the world of giants. It’s an hon­est-to­good­ness, gut punch of a jour­ney, crack­ling with heart, un­cer­tainty, and over­flow­ing with all-out won­der.

There’s re­ally no other way to tell a story about an or­phan who is cap­tured by a gi­ant and taken to a land crawl­ing with much larger giants who like the taste of hu­man be­ings, or “beens” as they’re called.

The or­phan, So­phie, is played by the new­comer Ruby Barn­hill. Sport­ing a Dorothy Hamill hair­cut and rounded glasses, this lit­tle brunet­te­mop­pet is a de­light­ful rev­e­la­tion who is at turns feisty, lov­able and even a lit­tle an­noy­ing. In other words, she’s a be­liev­able kid — a re­sult that Spiel­berg has been coax­ing out of child ac­tors since E.T. the Ex­traTer­res­trial.

Thank­fully, So­phie has been taken not by man-eaters, but the BigFriendly Gi­ant (Mark Ry­lance), who prefers to create dreams for the chil­drenofEng­land, not­snackon them. But So­phie, who lays awake night af­ter night, saw him glid­ing through the streets of Lon­don and she can’t be trusted with the knowl­edge that giants re­ally do ex­ist, no mat­ter how pure her in­ten­tions.

Back in Gi­ant Coun­try, things don’t get off to a great start be­tweenSo­phie­andthe BFG ei­ther. It takes some tri­als, some scary dreams, some dan­ger, and some skep­ti­cism be­fore their friend­ship be­comes real — but it’s worth the build.

Whether you’ve read The BFG a thou­sand times, or haven’t in 30 years, or even at all, So­phie and The BFG’s im­pos­si­ble bond is bound to break your heart.

Ry­lance’s BFG is an as­ton­ish­ing meld of real life and CG an­i­ma­tion. It’s jar­ring at first but kids won’t mind, and adults will grow ac­cus­tomed to it. Thank­fully, it some­how stays clear of the un­canny val­ley. Most im­por­tantly, it fits in the con­text and look of this sto­ry­book world, which truly does feel like the page come to life.

There are cer­tain lim­i­ta­tions to the form that hin­der the full range of a Ry­lance per­for­mance, but what’s here is suf­fi­cient, even when he’s flat­u­lent — sorry, whiz­zpop­ping — or work­ing his way through Dahl’s twisty lan­guage.

The only real mis­step is when the hu­mans are in­tro­duced. So­phie has had enough with the bul­ly­ing of the other giants and de­cides, as in the book, to go con­vince the Queen of Eng­land and her as­sis­tants to help save the chil­dren of Eng­land from cer­tain death by gi­ant.

The pac­ing of this seg­ment goes hay­wire and feels like too long and me­an­der­ing a diver­sion in what is al­ready a long movie. Not to men­tion the fact that a sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of this se­quence is de­voted to whiz­zpop­pers. It just makes you long to re­turn to Gi­ant Coun­try, the BFG’s gad­get-filled home and the land of dreams.

There’s a melan­choly hang­ing over the film, too — that it’s Mathi­son’s fi­nal screen­writ­ing credit. It’s also a lovely exit for a woman who al­ways knew to never write down to her au­di­ence, chil­dren or not. Mathi­son died in Novem­berof can­cer at age 65.

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