Roald Dahl’s brilliant literary creation, The BFG (short hand for ‘Big Friendly Giant’,) has taken to the silver screen once again. The original 1989 animated film was one of the few adaptations of Dahl’s novels that he actually enjoyed- so how does Steven Spielberg’s 2016 live action version compare?
The original text shines in places and the film is immensely visually appealing, the animation is flawless and entertaining. Crucially the BFG himself, portrayed brilliantly by Mark Rylance via motion capture, looks fantastic. Rylance’s performance makes up the backbone of this film, he’s becoming an increasingly sought after star since performances in the likes of Bridge of Spies and TV’s Wolf Hall shot him into the acting stratosphere and won him an Oscar.
Spielberg’s direction leaves this film immensely polished, but also lacking in nuance…
Elsewhere though there are flaws- as much as it never feels right to criticise a child-actor, Ruby Barnhill’s debut performance as Sophie, the film’s central character, is a stuttering one, at least to begin with. Ruby herself conceded that she was unconfident in the early stages of filming, but later grew into the role and that comes across in the film. Her performance, ultimately, is enjoyable, but also carries a couple of moments early on that are a little grating.
Spielberg’s direction leaves this film immensely polished, but also lacking in nuance. Small changes to the original story are by no means catastrophic but feel awkwardly crow-barred in, by comparison with the original work and the animated 1989 version. Moments of dialogue, within the slightly altered sections, come across a little awkwardly and ever so slightly spoil what is otherwise an immersive cinematic experience. In this respect Spielberg seems eager to signpost character development but leaves too little to the viewers’ interpretation at times, just as he did in his last film Bridge of Spies, which was excellent other than some similarly un-subtle analogies and cues for the audience to acknowledge character development.
Arguably the other, (considerably less friendly,) giants that feature, though they are brilliantly animated and visually interesting, lack the same atmosphere that their counterparts in the original film carried. This is perhaps because they are portrayed as stupid more than they are as sinister.
Overall this is a good film and The BFG will certainly appeal to cinema-goers both young and old, its immense visual appeal combines with Mark Rylance’ strong performance and the genius of Dahl’s original work to create something very much worth your time. It’s not without its flaws though- one or two of Spielberg’s worse directorial habits do appear and the film, in gaining it’s Hollywood budget and the remarkable polish that goes along with that, loses a little of the uniqueness found in the earlier iterations of the story.
By George Storr
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