Starring Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Penelope Wilton, Jemaine Clememt, Rebecca Hall, Rage Spall, Bill Hader
Screenplay by Melissa Mathison
Based on the book by Roald Dahl
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Out of Four
It's expecting too much that the new collaboration between the director and screenwriter of E.T. - The Extra-Terrestrial would equal that film, a genuine masterpiece that ranks among the greatest films ever made. That said, The BFG manages to be a worthy reunion for Steven Spielberg and the late Melissa Mathison which offers a delightful and sweet story, breathtaking effects and production design, and a soulful performance by recent Oscar-winner and celebrated stage actor Mark Rylance in the title role. Okay, admittedly this is a review by two lifelong Spielberg devotees writing for a site devoted largely to Spielberg films. Of course we liked it. But The BFG is so charming and so joyous that you don't have to be a fan to be caught up in its spell.
Spielberg has remarked that if he made Hook today modern animation technology would allow him to much better realize the wonder of Neverland, and in more than one sequence, the spectacular design work by Rick Cafter and Robert Stromberg, coupled with amazing effects by Joe Letteri and WETA digital, gives us a taste of what he might have done. Giant Country is a visual marvel, offering a look and atmosphere that is equal parts James Cameron's Pandora and classic Disney animation. Much has been made of Spielberg directing his first film under the Disney label, and the result is a near perfect marriage of the two most iconic names in family films.
The motion capture characters are as smoothly rendered as in Spielberg's The Adventures of Tintin, and again the stylized look avoids the "Uncanny Valley" problem that sometimes plagues motion capture films.
But the effects wouldn't mean anything without the humanity (or whatever the giant equivalent is) that Rylance brings to role of the BFG. Endearing and expressive, Rylance is at once larger than life and beautifully understated, speaking Roald Dahl's "Gobblefunk" so effortlessly you'd think it was his native tongue. This is a role that could have easily gone to a big name comedian, and someone like that might have over-milked it and settled for mugging and shtick, but Rylance treats the BFG as a complex, well-rounded character. It's easy to understand why he's so quickly become a Spielberg favorite. And Barnhill is thoroughly and utterly charming as Sophie, and the gentle relationship that develops between the two lonely souls is made considerably more poignant by their chemistry (a chemistry made possible by the fact that the actors were on set together, acting off of each other in the moment,thanks to motion capture.). The man-eating giants who act as the film's villains are also highly entertaining, particularly Jemaine Clement of Flight of the Conchords as the vicious but not very bright leader, Fleshlumpeater. And Penelope Wilton nearly steals the film's third act in her turn as the Queen of England (apparently Elizabeth II, as the film is vaguely set in the early 1980's, when the book was released.).
There's too much top notch work on display here to single out everything, but we'd be remiss if we didn't mention Janusz Kaminiski's storybook cinematography and of course, the whimsical and wondrous score by the legendary John Willliams.
If you're looking for something refreshingly different than the norm in theaters this summer, The BFG is the ticket, whether you're going as a family or by yourself.
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