It’s pretty much impossible for me to get particularly excited about any adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic 1982 children’s book The BFG, not that I disliked the book, it’s just so over-familiar to me. Case in point; here it is being adapted by none other than Steven Spielberg and his E.T. screenwriter Melissa Mathison (who tragically died during production) and I still wasn’t that desperate to see it.
Unlike most of his most famous adventure movies, Spielberg gears The BFG far more towards a children’s’ audience than a general one – a choice which is fine in principle but unfortunately has the effect of watering down the film’s villainous group of man-eating giants. They never come across as the frightening threat they should and when their leader ‘Fleshlumpeater’ (Jermaine Clement) is introduced he comes across as more of a comedy character.
Despite this, the film’s first 2 thirds are pretty strong. The adventure aspect as inquisitive orphan Sophie (a more-than competent and never-irritating child performance from newcomer Ruby Barnhill) is taken away by the titular Big Friendly Giant are quite fun. As the giant, Mark Rylance (fresh off winning an Oscar for his last Spielberg collaboration) does some wonderful work in motion capture, bringing in all the odd mannerisms and mixed-up words the character uses in a most entertaining fashion.
However it all comes crashing to a screeching halt in the third act with a lengthy sequence – albeit one taken straight from the book – involving the Queen that now feels outdated, out-of-place and a bit stereotypical. This effectively delays the movie’s supposedly important main mission narrative for what amounts to a big comedy sketch before it then rushes to an overly abrupt anti-climax.
Even with this poor third act, the Spielberg magic is undoubtedly there in all the scenes involving the BFG capturing, preparing and delivering dreams which are undoubtedly the film’s highlights. Still, I’m fairly confident that this will ultimately be remembered as a lesser Spielberg effort.