Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Penelope Wilton, Jemaine Clement, Rebecca Hall, Rafe Spall, Bill Hader
Run Time: 117 mins
After doing well at the box office and landing six Academy Award nominations (of which it ultimately won one) with ‘Bridge of Spies’, Steven Spielberg returns in the director’s chair with an adaptation of Roald Dahl’s beloved novel, ‘The BFG’. This is not the first time that Dahl’s novel has been translated onto the big screen – in 1989, Cosgrove Hall Animations (their only film) produced an animated version of this book which managed to capture the energy of the book and was delightful. Spielberg has enlisted the help of Mark Rylance to play the titular character, who won an Oscar for his brilliant performance in last year’s ‘Bridge of Spies’ and this is the second of what appears to be many collaborations between the two talented individuals. This is also the final script to be written by Melissa Mathison, who most famously penned Spielberg’s ‘E.T. The Extra Terrestrial’, who died late last year from cancer. This novel also has a particularly special place in my childhood as it was one of my favourite books that Roald Dahl wrote. So Spielberg has a lot of pressure here but if done right, this rendition of ‘The BFG’ could not only improve on the animated film but with live-action and the scope for some fantastic visual effects, audiences could be in for a treat.
‘The BFG’ is at times, utterly spellbinding and there are many outstanding sequences within the film that are truly spectacular to behold. It is also visually stunning and there are many visual moments in the film which had me in awe. Mark Rylance is also a perfect match as the titular character and is very faithful to Roald Dahl’s description. However, a highly problematic middle section of the film almost ruins this affair as does an equally problematic script by Melissa Mathieson which both unfortunately really knock the film down. That’s not to say the film is a failure but I am a little disappointed that the film is not a triumph as it should have been on paper.
The casting here is rather hit-and-miss. On the one hand, Mark Rylance’s performance as the titular character is, as mentioned, perfect and both Jemaine Clement and Bill Hader are very entertaining as the antagonistic giants, Fleshlumpeater and Bloodbottler. Newcomer Ruby Barnhill plays the main protagonist, a young orphan named Sophie and although she is generally sound, Barnhill does struggle a little where the film warrants a little more emotion. It’s always good to see Penelope Wilton in a film and here as the Queen, she provides a lot of comic relief in her small role. However, Rebecca Hall, a normally very talented actress who has had some great roles in the past is completely miscast here as the Queen’s maid – Hall comes across as awkward and devoid of any emotion in her role.
Although the film is very true to Roald Dahl’s novel in many places, the story does change a little towards the end of the film which is rather disappointing as it’s not needed. The late Melissa Mathison’s script proves to be a detrimental issue for the overall film and I suspect that the finished product from what Spielberg has directed here is merely a draft. The script is really poor in parts, in particular in the middle act of the film with an overlong dream sequence that should have been stunning but is instead almost completely botched. Mathison is very faithful to Dahl’s dialogue but a lot of the script feels forced and disjointed and the film really suffers for it. There is also a lot of attempts at forced humour which completely backfires and at times, the film is aggressively unfunny. It would have been extremely beneficial if Spielberg had arranged a rewrite or editing of the script to iron out these problems but unfortunately this has not happened, almost certainly due to Spielberg’s faith in the late writer.
The visual effects are where the film really wow’s and the lands that have been created are simply stunning, especially inside The BFG’s cave. The attention to detail is outstanding not just in the world-building but with the giants. The appearance of Mark Rylance’s BFG is very faithful to Dahl’s novel as are the other giants – there is a sequence mid-way through the film where the other giants bully the BFG by throwing him around on a truck and visually, it’s a treat to behold. John William’s score is excellent here too – there are many memorable themes, in particular when The BFG whisks Sophie from the orphanage into Giant Country is a stunning sequence in terms of William’s score.
Overall, ‘The BFG’ has plenty of promise and there are many sequences that are utterly spellbinding in their execution and Mark Rylance owns the role as the titular character. However, Mathison’s highly problematic script and the film’s middle section, which is a real slog, really do weigh the film down which hinder the quality of the overall film. Spielberg’s vision improves on the 1989 animated film visually and there are some individual sequences that really work but in my opinion, the 1989 animated film is ultimately the better film as it is able to better encapsulate the magic of Roald Dahl’s flawless novel and is much better paced. But if you want to be wowed with top-class visual effects and a strong first and third act, Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of ‘The BFG’ is a good one.