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The BFG (2016)

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When the trailer for Steven Spielberg’s big screen adaptation of one of our favourite ever children stories was released, I promised I would take my sister, Suzie, to watch it. It became a dangling carrot for her as she worked through her A Level exams and last weekend we finally got round to watching it. We’ve always loved Roald Dahl’s books, and we would watch the novel’s 1989 adaptation (with David Jason voicing the BFG) every time we went over to stay at our grandparent’s at summer.  If you weren't aware, it tells the story of an orphan called Sophie who becomes friends with The BFG, or 'Big Friendly Giant,' who takes her to Giant Country.

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The best way of describing this latest adaptation of The BFG is that it felt like a big warm hug. It somehow managed to be both familiar and original. Care’s been taken to respect what made the book and its character’s great, and the casting could not have been more perfect. The film’s been in production for so long that Robin Williams was originally considered for the title role, but it’s a real credit to him that I can’t imagine anyone other than Mark Rylance playing the BFG now. His friendly face and delivery of the genius dialogue was absolutely perfect. I actually thought that the more difficult role to play would be that of Sophie, particularly with the amount of CGI used. It can’t be easy having to perform to nothing but she manages to build a relationship with what must have been a green screen and some tennis balls. That, coupled with some of the best motion capture I’ve ever seen brings their relationship to life and that’s what this story hinges on. Spielberg clearly likes to make use of the possibilities he has when he’s not stuck behind a camera when he does animation. The Adventures of Tintin (2011) was a bit hit and miss as he experimented with the art, but the tracking shot as the adventurer’s chase after a hawk was breath-taking. He makes similar use of the ability to move the ‘camera’ around the action here, particularly as we explore the BFG’s house, and I thought it worked really well.

I really enjoyed Spielberg’s interpretation of dreams, Giant Country, London’s cobbled streets, and the creatures that inhabit both. I’ve heard that some feel this is a welcome return to Spielberg finding his inner child once again, and I can see what they mean. Off the recent success of the Spielberg and Stephen King homage that was Stranger Things, you get the impression that is something audiences are keen to see again. Hopefully Indiana Jones 5 carries on that theme! I did feel that the pacing of The BFG was a bit of a plateau throughout though and ended up feeling a bit longer than it’s running time. I badly wanted it to pick up the pace at times, go up a gear or two and excite a bit more. One of the best scenes was the duo’s visit to Buckingham Palace with fried eggs, frobscottle and whizzpopers in tow and it feels like its building to something. The finale went out with a bit of a whimper though and that’s such a shame when that will be many people’s lasting impression.

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There have been multiple adaptations of Roald Dahl’s novels that formed a big part of my childhood. Our VHS copy of late great Gene Wilder’s turn as the title character in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) got played to death. The animation in James and the Giant Peach (1996) is mad and brilliant, and Matilda (1996) got the magic of the novel spot on with its perfect casting and excellent soundtrack. My favourite was 1990’s seriously dark Witches (I’m not kidding, that bit when the kid gets stuck in the picture and grows old and dies is horrifying…), but these books and films played a huge part in my childhood. That’s the benchmark. Spielberg’s BFG is a lovely family film that adults and children will really enjoy. I strongly recommend it, but I don’t think it quite has the longevity of those other Roald Dahl film adaptations.

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