July 29, 2016 5:57:11 pm
The BFG movie cast: Starring Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Penelope Wilton, Jemaine Clement
The BFG movie director: Steven Spielberg
A girl with no parents gets a giant for a guardian, and the Queen of England for a benefactor. The BFG is a winsome tale from Roald Dahl, a writer who hardly went in for easy, simple pleasures, even in his children’s tales. Spielberg, on the other hand, is a director whose heart lies in such delights. The two meet here to bring us a film that is true to Dahl’s story, but Spielberg’s spirit. The Big Friendly Giant never seemed friendlier.
At the same time, Spielberg gets where the giant comes from. At the witching hour, “around 3 am”, when shadows lengthen around lamp-posts, clouds float over the moon, curtains flutter at the window, should a girl peep out, who is to stay what she will see? What skulks there in the alleys? What stands out behind that wall? Is that shape what it appears? Is that size just a play of light — or more?
A beautifully structured opening sequence where BFG (Rylance) makes away with Sophie (Barnhill), after reaching for her through the window of her orphanage, is just this artful dance of shadow and light. As a sleepy England wakes up around him, BFG manages to slink around unnoticed, and you have to see the scene to marvel at how Spielberg and his long-time cinematographer Janusz Kaminski establish this.
Spielberg approaches this scene and most of The BFG with similar child-like wonder and enthusiasm. And even dawdles a bit over what, one suspects, was one of his other favourite parts of the film — when the giant and Sophie go collecting dreams together. The message is hammered home and you can almost watch a line being drawn between a girl who says she never dreams to one who is now floating on mist chasing shimmering lights that stand in for dreams.
Rylance is delightful as the other lonely creature of this story, who has “lived on and on”, “perhaps since time began”, without ever having a mom or dad either. The talented actor who is seeing rare fame after having won an Oscar with Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies speaks with his eyes again, and here they stand out amidst the motion-capture technology (recording actions of actors, and using them to animate digital characters) used to render the giant. The friendship that BFG and Sophie establish is quick, easy and reciprocal. He is gentle with her, gentlest when she emerges covered in slimy liquid from a snozzcumber, the vegetable BFG most enjoys — a sequence that immediately evokes a baby covered in amniotic fluid. Sophie hides there to escape the other giants, who eat “human beans” like her, unlike BFG.
The scene where the giants clash with BFG, especially Fleshlumpeater (Clement), is the other time the film comes alive with possibilities.
However, in what is the film’s failing, rather than give us more of those, Spielberg is content to let The BFG gently float along to its known end. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but when one first looked out that window, the world seemed not just darker, but also greyer.
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