We’ve had a string of Roald Dahl adaptations over the years. Nic Roeg, Wes Anderson, Henry Selick and even Danny DeVito (whose Matilda is arguably the best), have all directed films based on novels penned by the children’s author. Now it’s the turn of the most commercially successful director in history, Mr Steven Spielberg, who once again rediscovers his inner child and takes us on a whoopsey-splunkers, buckswashling adventure journey across Giant County.
We open in London where Janusz Kaminski’s camera floats and glides along Victorian streets to an orphanage and inside a small window where we first meet young Sophie (Ruby Barnhill). The BFG (Mark Rylance) will soon take her to Giant Country with even bigger, nastier giants with names like Fleshlumpeater and Bonecruncher who have appetites for “human beans”.
The BFG poses no threat to Sophie though. He is the Big Friendly Giant after all. A 24-foot giant with lonely, sad eyes and expressive ears who carries with him a dark secret. The timid old man is bullied by the bigger, more aggressive beasts and perhaps with Sophie’s help, he can learn to stand up to them. And who knows, perhaps he can teach Sophie about his work – how to catch and bottle dreams and hear the “secret whisperings of the world”.
The screenplay was penned by the late Melissa Mathison, perhaps best known for writing E.T (1982) and there are glimpses of the sci-fi classic throughout. The use of light (one shot in particular), and even a sly nod to the iconic finger touch scene. Even the characters of Sophie and Elliott share some traits. Both are kind-hearted, young, spirited, resourceful, independent and loyal, yet lonely and without much purpose or direction in their lives.
Mathison’s script brings out the best in young Ruby Barnhill who plays the role with no fear, capably showing us Sophie’s strength, but also her innocence and child-like wonder and amazement. She not only reminded me of E.T’s Elliott, but as another strong-willed girl, Matilda, the eponymous heroine from Dahl’s novel.
Rylance makes the script sing to his tune. His delivery is perfect. Lyrical and at times poetic as he talks about “tellytelly bunkum boxes”, “croco-down-dillies” and “jiggy-raffs”. He somehow makes us fall in love with a CGI-animated (albeit a good one) creation.
Action sequences are deftly used and composer John Williams’ score shepherds us through the peaks and troughs of the journey, from the beautifully coloured dream-catching sequences, to the agony and ecstasy of battling the giants.
The funniest scene, however, is when Sophie and the BFG eventually meet Queen Elizabeth II (Penelope Wilton) at Buckingham Palace. The BFG is treated to a scrumdiddlyumptious breakfast feast and in return offers the Queen some of his favourite fizzy drink, “frobscottle”, with hilarious results. You can’t beat a good fart joke!
Spielberg revels in his latest film. From the man who knows how to cast child actors, he has unearthed another gem in Ruby Barnhill. But he himself demonstrates his child-like enthusiasm for making movies with his best friends – composer John Williams, editor Michael Kahn, cinematographer Janusz Kaminski – just like he did alone as a boy with his Super 8 camera.