When you find out that the director of one of the most magical movies of all time is reuniting with the screenwriter of that classic film, expectations are set pretty high. Melissa Mathison and Steven Spielberg captured the imagination of movie goers with E.T. in 1982—the same year Roald Dahl published his classic novel “The BFG.”
BFG stand for Big Friendly Giant, and it’s the nickname a little girl names Sophie (Rubie Barnhill) gives to the big oversized but gentle man who kidnaps her from her London orphanage after she spots him one night when she’s lying awake in her bed. The giant can’t take a chance that Sophie might expose him to the rest of the regular sized people for fear of retribution. The BFG is played by a digitally enhanced Mark Rylance—oversized ears that flap like Dumbo’s, a lanky frame, and a vocabulary that is a bit unusual spitting out words like “slogroggled” splitzwiggled” and “flunkgungled”. After being captured and dragged to his underground cave Sophie’s fear at first is that she’s going to become lunch, but soon realized the BFG dines mainly on a slimy vegetable called “snozzcumbers” and drinks a concoction that makes what’s called “whizpoppers” to come out of your—to use an British term—bum.
While BFG is not a carnivore his fellow giants with names like Fleshlumpeater, Bonecruncher and Meandripper are quite fond of tasty little children as appetizers. I haven’t read the original Dahl novel but it’s my understanding that the book doesn’t shy away from depicting the snacking on the kiddies—something Spielberg chooses to leave out.
This is one of those movies, especially considering the pedigree, where you just want to settle in and let the movie magic happen. It’s a sweet, imaginative story with the theme of making dreams come true. Rylance is the not only the BFG, but he’s the BSG—big saving grace. It’s Rylance who draws you in with his humble caring hopeful demeanor and big droopy ears and sagging eyes.
My only wish is that the connection would have come a little sooner since the film slogs around a bit in the first act and unlike most Spielberg movies doesn’t have the pacing the pack the emotional punch I was looking for.
A lot of people were surprised when Rylance won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor earlier this year for his role in another Spielberg project—last years outstanding “Bridge of Spies” (If you haven’t seen it—do so). He snagged the trophy right out from under the overwhelming sentimental favorite Sly Stallone for “Creed” I thought Stallone was amazing and deserved recognition. But I also remember thinking at the time that it was too bad for Mark Rylance because up until that moment his was the best performance of last year. In the end Oscar voters made a solid choice and if you see this nuanced performance you’ll understand how good this guy really is. Sure, he’s a digital recreation, the you can feel the man himself busting through all the special effects.
This movie is dedicated to the memory of Melissa Mathison who died last November, but her lasting legacy will always be E.T. I loved inspiration and imagination of the Dahl story, but “The BFG” is not going to be remembered in the top tier of Spielberg releases.
I’m giving “The BFG” a B -.