Spiel­berg, Dahl cast spell of child­ish won­der in ‘BFG’

The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - MOVIES - By Katie Walsh Tri­bune News Ser­vice

It makes sense that the sen­si­bil­i­ties of Steven Spiel­berg and Roald Dahl would some­day col­lide, as they do in Spiel­berg’s adaptation of Dahl’s “The BFG.” Both artists of­ten tell sto­ries about mis­un­der­stood chil­dren find­ing con­nec­tions with mis­un­der­stood, fan­tas­ti­cal, alien crea­tures. They have a knack for draw­ing out the dark and maudlin aspects of child­hood, the lone­li­ness and iso­la­tion, as well as the ca­pac­ity for won­der and amazement, the sheer pos­si­bil­ity of any­thing and ev­ery­thing. That dreamy won­der­ment is the best part of the filmed “The BFG,” a slow haze that creeps over you un­sus­pected.

The film is a faith­ful trans­la­tion of Dahl’s book, with screen­writer Melissa Mathi­son ably bring­ing Dahl’s non­sen­si­cal lan­guage of the Big Friendly Gi­ant to cin­e­matic life. Mark Ry­lance, who won an Os­car for his por­trayal of a Soviet spy in Spiel­berg’s 2015 film “Bridge of Spies,” won­der­fully in­hab­its the CGI char­ac­ter of the BFG, a gen­tle gi­ant, the runt of his pack, who spends his time catch­ing dreams and blow­ing them into bed­rooms at night. His hill­billy Bri­tish ac­cent and cre­ative, “squig­gled” word com­bi­na­tions spin you up into Dahl’s inim­itable style, honed by Mathi­son.

Op­po­site Ry­lance is the pre­co­cious Ruby Barn­hill as So­phie, the or­phan who spies him from her win­dow at night, and whom he spir­its away to Gi­ant Coun­try to keep his se­cret. The lonely, imag­i­na­tive and smart So­phie finds an ad­ven­ture in the BFG, a friend, a pro­tec­tor, and in So­phie, the BFG has some­thing out­side of his own cu­ri­ous ex­is­tence to live for. Theirs is a specific kind of friend­ship, fi­nite, con­tained from the out­set. One does wish that it wasn’t shot so much with the af­fec­tion­ate gaze of a tra­di­tional ro­mance story though.

So­phie sparks a great “rum­ple­dum­pus” in Gi­ant Coun­try. Her pres­ence is quickly sniffed out by a rugby team of mas­sive giants, with names like Flesh­lum­peater and Blood­bot­tler, slum­ber­ing un­der sod blankets out­side the BFG’S stone door, hun­gry for hu­man be­ings. Un­der at­tack, she urges her new friend to stand up to the bul­lies, and even es­corts him right to The Queen’s palace for a chat about gi­ant-hu­man diplo­macy.

There’s a sweet magic in the film’s style, par­tic­u­larly in the twin­kling aurora bo­re­alis fire­fly light of BFG’S dream work­shop, where he col­lects and la­bels the dreams that he dis­perses. But there’s also a soft­ness to the dra­matic arc of the film, which doesn’t so much march for­ward as it wafts along, with rather low stakes and all-too-easy res­o­lu­tions.

There are a few phys­i­cal com­edy bits that go on too long, and ex­plo­sive green fart hu­mor that does hap­pen to be na­tive to the orig­i­nal text. The third act that departs Gi­ant Coun­try for Buck­ing­ham Palace is prob­a­bly the fun­ni­est, but the fish-out-of-wa­ter rou­tine goes for broad, easy laughs, and abruptly sev­ers the sense of ethe­real in­credulity within the world of the giants. Barn­hill’s per­for­mance starts to feel af­fected. While Pene­lope Wil­ton, Re­becca Hall and Rafe Spall are nev­er­the­less charm­ing as The Queen and her en­tourage, it doesn’t feel of a piece with the rest of the film.

The most ef­fec­tive mo­ments of “The BFG” are the ones that hit home with wist­ful emo­tion, but sur­prise with the pos­si­bil­i­ties of magic in con­nec­tions — those mo­ments that Spiel­berg and Dahl have de­fined for a gen­er­a­tion.


“The BFG” cap­tures the sadness and won­der­ment of child­hood, with Mark Ry­lance as the Big Friendly Gi­ant and Ruby Barn­hill play­ing the or­phan So­phie.

Cour­tesy Dis­ney/tns

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