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Big and friendly indeed - 'The BFG'

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Family film offers stunning visuals, sweet sentiment

We all have cultural touchstones that we love particularly those from our youth. Our fond memories of these works, be they books, films, television shows or what have you, are ingrained in us. So it's no surprise that the Hollywood machine would look to these past properties in an effort to cash in on their reinvigoration though the results can sometimes disappoint.

Roald Dahl is one of the most beloved children's authors out there. His blend of whimsy and the macabre has been striking a chord with young readers for generations, but that same blend has presented some difficulties when taking the tales from the page to the screen.

The latest Dahl adaptation is of his 1982 book 'The BFG.' It has been considered to be one of Dahl's more difficult works to translate, but when you have heavyweight talents like Steven Spielberg in the director's chair and the late Melissa Mathison writing the screenplay not to mention an Oscar-winning actor like Mark Rylance those obstacles don't loom quite so large.

Indeed, 'The BFG' is a visually splendid film with some clever laughs and heart to spare.

Young Sophie (Ruby Barnhill, TV's '4 O'Clock Club') is an orphan suffering from insomnia. She spends her nights wandering the orphanage, doing her best to help keep things running smoothly despite the incompetence of the matron. One night, at what Sophie calls 'the witching hour' (three in the morning), she inadvertently sees something that she shouldn't.

There's a giant roaming the streets of London.

Before she knows it, she's snatched up and whisked away to the far-off land known as Giant Country. Despite her initial fear, she soon realizes that her captor known as the Big Friendly Giant, or BFG (Rylance) means her no harm and they quickly become fast friends. She learns that he spends his days collecting dreams and sharing them with those who need them, a need he can discern with the incredible hearing bestowed upon him by his enormous ears.

However, there are others in Giant Country. Giants that are far bigger than the BFG and far, FAR less friendly. This gang of nine led by the hideous and cruel Fleshlumpeater (Jemaine Clement, 'Don Verdean') are devoted to the devouring of childrenand Sophie would make a delicious morsel.

In order to save the BFG from an eternity of bullying (not to mention herself from becoming an hors d'oeuvre) Sophie needs some help help that winds up coming from a very unexpected (and very high) place.

There's no question that this movie is square in Spielberg's wheelhouse. He long ago established his bona fides when it comes to telling fantastic stories featuring child heroes. Considering he reteamed with Mathison the screenwriter who wrote the script for 'E.T.' on this, there was no doubt that the behind-the-camera side of things was locked in.

And the look of the film is simply exquisite, capturing Dahl's world with a rollicking brightness that can't help but delight. Granted, Spielberg and company definitely focus more on Dahl's whimsy than the darkness that lurks beneath it (though the giants offer the occasionally frightening and/or grotesque moment), but that's OK. The soul of the film the relationship between Sophie and the BFG remains intact. The full embrace of Dahl's love for nonsensical language is a major key here, creating a sense of fun even when there's not a lot in the way of action.

(Note: Any family film with a set piece built entirely around the aftermath of a flatulence-inducing fizzy drink is aces in my book. Whizpoppers for all!)

Barnhill is wonderful, continuing a recent trend of child actors who manage to largely avoid the hamminess and mugging that sometimes comes with youth. She's very sweet and genuine throughout no easy task when you consider how much of her time is spent interacting with CGI.

Rylance simplyshines. He's a remarkable actor; even leaving aside his well-deserved Oscar win for 'Bridge of Spies,' he's one of the most talented and accomplished performers out there, both in terms of stage and screen. This role might have seemed a bit of a departure for Rylance, but he's a perfect fit he radiates a steadfastness and sincerity that makes him the ideal actor to bring the BFG to life. It's a remarkably nuanced and subtle performance for a film such as this.

As for the rest, they're all very good; Clement is excellent, as is a nigh-unrecognizable Bill Hader and Penelope Wilton as the Queen. Still, it's the Barnhill and Rylance show much to our benefit.

'The BFG' is the kind of understated family-friendly fare that we see far too little of in this age of superhero explosions and broad animated comedy. It is a quiet, thoughtful and very sweet film that is unafraid to be sentimental a movie that is big and friendly indeed.

[4 out of 5]

Last modified on Tuesday, 31 January 2017 19:43

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