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  • 4 out of 5 stars
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Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Steven Spielberg teams up again with Mark Rylance for a magical adaptation of Roald Dahl's adored children's tale

A little orphan girl is snatched from her bed late at night by a big-hearted vegetarian giant and whisked off to an unwelcoming land of over-sized cannibals in Roald Dahl's much-cherished 1982 book 'The BFG'. For this movie version, aimed squarely at small kids who love the book, Steven Spielberg, working with the late 'ET' writer Melissa Mathison, runs with the lean meat of Dahl's tale. 

Mark Rylance is the benevolent giant who pours dreams and nightmares into the ears of sleeping humans and who joins forces with the Queen (Penelope Wilton) to put a stop to the threat of flesh-eating giants. Spielberg makes surprisingly few embellishments to Dahl's story, yet he tones down some of the more vicious bone-crunching and is more interested in the wonder of dreams than the terror of nightmares.

This is a faithful, charming (if a tiny bit sluggish) version that mixes live action with the same motion-capture technique that Spielberg used for 'The Adventures of Tintin' in 2011. There are a handful of heart-stopping moments, not least when Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) is snatched from her bed by those enormous fingers coming through the window. But there are points, too, when you can see the technology working, which might leave you wondering if digital invention can ever really match the imaginative leaps inspired by the printed word.

Still, the giant that Spielberg has created with actor Mark Rylance is testament to how fast this technology is moving: he's a fleshy marvel, full of personality, flaws and life. And yes, he does indeed look very, very friendly. You also fully believe the BFG’s friendship with the little girl, Sophie, played by Ruby Barnhill, who early in the film threatens to be annoyingly bossy and stampy, but whose performance gives way to something more sweet and vulnerable – steering well clear of cute.

Spielberg more or less keeps the 1980s setting (Reagan is President, although, worryingly, a mysterious politician called 'Boris' is on the other end of the phone to the Queen). The story plays like a reverse of 'ET' (here it's the little girl who must return home, fleeing a hostile land). And Spielberg nods to his earlier movie with a striking moment when the BFG is silhouetted against a blazing sun. For all the film's strengths, it's hard to shake the niggling feeling that something is missing. Certainly this slightly mournful 'The BFG' could use more humour (it’s no 'Paddington'), and perhaps also a more personal spin on Dahl's story would have been welcome (it's no 'Fantastic Mr Fox' either). But flaws aside, this is a superior, inventive kids' film, and one that's bound to make Rylance's giant a favourite with younger audiences.

Dave Calhoun
Written by
Dave Calhoun

Release Details

  • Rated:PG
  • Release date:Friday 22 July 2016
  • Duration:115 mins

Cast and crew

  • Director:Steven Spielberg
  • Screenwriter:Melissa Mathison
  • Cast:
    • Rebecca Hall
    • Jemaine Clement
    • Mark Rylance
    • Penelope Wilton
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