A girl named Sophie encounters the Big Friendly Giant who, despite his intimidating appearance, turns out to be a kind-hearted soul who is considered an outcast by the other giants because, unlike them, he refuses to eat children.
Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Ruby Barnhill, Mark Rylance, Rebecca Hall, Penelope Wilton, Rafe Spall, Bill Hader, Jemaine Clement
Rated: PG (action/peril, some scary moments and brief rude humor)
By Cole Schneider
Cinema’s largest figure has adapted Ronald Dahl’s beloved “The BFG”. Steven Spielberg’s Big Friendly Giant is probably not quite the imaginatively told story it could have been, but he certainly has given the film the sense of grandeur and kindness that its title hints toward. His unmatched ability to get the best out of child actors is also on proper display as eleven year-old Ruby Barnhill gives the lead character, Sophie, a great balance of childhood whimsy and childish annoyance. Meanwhile Mark Rylance (last year’s Oscar-winner for “Bridge of Spies”) gives the motion-capture animated giant such a graceful humanity that most of the film—which largely consists of these two characters alternating between hanging out and running from danger—is a smile-inducing affair. The pathos that Rylance earns is truly as remarkable as Spielberg’s sweeping camera, with which the master utilizes not only left and right dollies, but moves up and down and forward and backward to capture the scope of the giants’ size, changing speed and purpose along with each directional move.
While this combination of creative cinematography, emotional subtlety, and playful atmosphere teaming up with the story’s famous flair for the comic and fantastic is what makes most of “The BFG” so fun to watch, it’s also what makes its climax so flat, relatively speaking. This kind of unusual kid’s movie deserved to finish with a bang and the story deserved a different ending (it is altered from the source material and not for the better). Yet even with its relatively whimpering final notes, “The BFG” will offer kids a much more unique adventure than anything else in theaters and adults will enjoy the film’s soft comic underbelly.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
By Matt Greene
The BFG is Spielberg’s first foray into live-action family territory since 1991’s Hook, and much of BFG feels like him trying to call a mulligan on that notorious Peter Pan “sequel”. Sure, it’s better than Hook, yet it still can’t seem to cause more than only a few smiles and lots of clock-watching. This movie brings to mind Scorsese’s Hugo: an iconic director makes a (mostly) skillful and (mostly) pretty kids film full of brightness, wonder and whimsy yet can’t match his more adult offerings. Undeniable imaginativeness aside, BFG represents much lesser-Spielberg.
Based on Roald Dahl’s classic book, it’s the story of an orphan girl (Barnhill) and her friendship with a magical Big Friendly Giant (Rylance). The plot they walk through is thin, as we watch the duo try and overthrow a gang of human-“bean”-eating giants. The movie uses the space a thicker plot would fill for some serious pacing issues. Too many scenes, even good ones, overstay their welcome (i.e. a cute but way overlong meal scene with the Queen). Luckily, both lead actors prove more than affable enough to carry through some of the runtime. Barnhill is adorable, while Rylance shines through the mo-cap animation of his surprisingly soulful character.
As always, Spielberg moves his camera from fluid to frantic with narrative purpose and precision. Sadly, what he’s shooting is not only overstuffed, but its combination of CG animation and live-action is distractingly ill-fitted. Why he didn’t do all animation (ala Tintin) or all live-action (ala Honey, I Shrunk the Kids) is beyond me. In the end, it’s a muggled ucky-muck of phizz-whizzing and frothbuggling! (Translation: The BFG is a qualitative mess).
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars