Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of the Roald Dahl book follows orphan Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) as she befriends a Big Friendly Giant (Mark Rylance) – even though his name is tautological, the stupid idiot.
It seems like a match made in heaven, offering Spielberg the chance to return to the family-friendly scariness of Jurassic Park or even E.T. Sadly, he fails to put on screen the darkness inherent in Dahl’s storytelling, making The BFG something of a missed opportunity.
In fairness to Spielberg, the film looks great, with good attention to detail and cinematography by Janusz Kaminski. Most impressive is the giant himself, thanks to wonderfully expressive CGI and a likeable performance from Rylance, who seems to be channelling Stanley Unwin.
Whether this will be enough to sustain children’s interest depends on their familiarity with Unwinese. The movie feels long, slow and largely unfunny, while much of the running time is spent watching bickering, farting cartoons – one of whom is a human girl, but no more substantial.
Barnhill is distractingly poor as the precocious Sophie, herself a BFG: a boring, frustrating girl. Perhaps more importantly, Melissa Mathison’s writing never gives us any reason to care about Sophie beyond the fact that she’s an orphan. And when she patronises the BFG with lines like, “He’s never had schooling,” you wish he’d just squish her.
Like so many Hollywood movies, The BFG presents such an archaic depiction of London that one assumes it’s set in Victorian times, until Queen Elizabeth II (Penelope Wilton) shows up and saves the day. Royalist propaganda aside, the bigger problem is that the film simply isn’t charming enough to coast on charm. We are not amused.