PRO: When stepping out of Spielberg’s latest, one can’t help but draw an obvious parallel between Roald Dahl’s Big Friendly Giant and the director: both The BFG and The Beard pour their dreamlike visions into your brain. One does it with a massive trumpet, the other with celluloid. Granted, neither is known for being particularly subtle about it, but when the results are this charming, who cares?
Spielberg and the late screenwriter Melissa Mathison have crafted a broadly faithful adaptation that unashamedly tugs at the heartstrings. Like the book, not a great deal happens, but you’ll find it hard not to be hooked by this whimsical tale of a vegetarian giant who, unlike his carnivorous brethren, would rather make humans dream than eat them. The awe-inspiring special effects conjure a sense of childlike wonder, and Mark Rylance’s motion-capture performance is completely enchanting; never before has CGI been this precise, capturing the character’s giant heart in every facial tic. So yes, The BFG is a shameless, occasionally schmaltzy crowd pleaser, but what a wondrous crowd pleaser it is.DM
CON: There’s a film in there somewhere, and a fine comedic cast. If you squint you might even make out Mark Rylance’s disarming eyes in there too. But alas, the motion-captured world of Steven Spielberg’s The BFG has been built with such clinical CGI precision, much of the humour and humanity of Dahl’s cherished children’s book has been airbrushed out.
As precocious young orphan Sophie, Ruby Barnhill is tasked with providing our link to the real world. But while she’s an enthusiastic presence throughout, she’s also a mildly irritating one. Rylance remains a delight, devouring Dahl’s text with great vocal dexterity, looking all the while like a guy you’d find running an organic beet stall at Glastonbury. Regrettably, not even this great thesp can save The BFG from mediocrity. Sophisticated humour is desperately scarce, despite the presence of comedic giants like Bill Hadar and Jermaine Clement. Given such gilded resources, it’s this sense of squandered opportunity that really rankles. Approach with caution. That is, of course, unless fart-propelled corgis are your sort of thing. ROC
The BFG | Directed by Steven Spielberg (USA, 2016) with Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill. Opens in NYC July 21.