dir Steven Spielberg
scr Melissa Mathison
prd Frank Marshall, Sam Mercer, Steven Spielberg
with Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Penelope Wilton, Jemaine Clement, Rebecca Hall, Rafe Spall, Bill Hader, Olafur Darri Olafsson, Adam Godley, Michael Adamthwaite, Daniel Bacon, Jonathan Holmes
release US 1.Jul.16, UK 22.Jul.16
16/UK Amblin 1h57
In your hands: Barnhill and Rylance

wilton clement hal
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
The BFG Roald Dahl's classic gets the big-budget Steven Spielberg treatment, emerging as a wondrous story of acceptance and respect. There's still quite a bit of Dahl's brittle, acerbic wit on-screen, although it's pushed to the edges by the surge of warm emotion. And while the performance-capture animation is high-quality, it's impossible not to wish it had been shot more realistically.

In a London orphanage, young insomniac Sophie (Barnhill) spots a giant (Rylance) prowling the streets. He grabs her and takes her back to Giant Country, where she discovers that he's an outcast among his own kind, much smaller the nine giant neighbours who ridicule him because he refuses to eat human beans. So his nickname, The Big Friendly Giant, is both true and ironic. As he protects Sophie from them, she encourages him to stand up for himself, eventually turning to the Queen (Wilton) and her staff (Hall and Spall) for assistance.

Spielberg directs with wide-eyed amazement, echoed in an emotive John Williams score. The film has a storybook sheen, from the twee version of London's cobbled, puddle-filled streets to the sweeping giant landscapes and the magical colour of Dream Country, where BFG work as a collector of dreams and nightmares. This heightened approach can't help but soften the story's darker edges. So the way the alpha-giant Fleshlumpeater (Clement) bullies BFG is more comical than menacing, as are the bumbling antics of his nasty pals (including Hader, Olafsson, Godley).

Thankfully, the film is anchored on a feisty performance from Barnhill as a young girl who simply won't accept any of this nonsense. Her interaction with BFG is sparky and enjoyable, impressively creating genuine chemistry with the enormously digitised Rylance, whose skilful performance has been rendered with remarkable detail. Still, there isn't a moment when this doesn't feel like animation, and perhaps a more life-action approach would have given the film an earthier kick.

The best scenes are the more realistic ones, such as the prickly slapstick of BFG's visit to Buckingham Palace. These moments combine dark humour with social satire, keeping the childlike wonder in check. But most of the time, it's allowed to swell up to fill the scene. Spielberg is adept at keeping everything from becoming too sentimental, but since this is based on a screenplay by the late Mathison, it's hard not to remember their much edgier collaboration on E.T. This is a lovely film, but it's too nice to be a classic.

cert pg themes, violence, vulgarity 15.Jul.16

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© 2016 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall