Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Tuesday's Reviews: The BFG (2016)

Conditions aren't exactly ideal for writing at the moment. My back is aching again and I just can't get comfortable. I've changed position about a million times whilst getting to this point in the sentence. My computer is irritating me and annoying noises every few seconds. And it's nearly 11 o'clock and I'm feeling a bit under pressure to finish. Still, we all know by now that I like a challenge. I can and will write something before midnight. Now that we're done with exposition, you may remember that a few months ago I reread The BFG before I watched the film. I managed to read it before Spielberg's film came out but never actually came through on the second part of the plan. This Summer ended up being a bit of a blur that revolved around work and my sister's wedding. So the film came and went without me realising. However, it was finally released on Monday so I decided it was time I finally sat down and got on with it.

There's a certain whimsical charm that comes with any Roald Dhal story that has proven to be difficult to capture on screen. Whether it's an English thing that Hollywood always fails to understand or if it's a magic that can only come out in words, I don't know. However, the films that have come out of Dahl's works so far have been good but never seemed to be able to translate the whole story. Although, every trailer for Steven Spielberg's The BFG seemed to suggest that, finally, someone had got it right. Spielberg hasn't really made a successful kids film for a good few years and has never been able to recapture the greatness that made ET such a firm classic.

Still, what better film to recreate that magic than The BFG? A story that picks us up from the grime of London and puts us right into the heart of Giant Country. We accompany the BFG to his home after he kidnaps a young girl from a orphanage. It's not as dark as it seems, of course, because the giant is only taking her in case she blabs about the existence of his kind. Thankfully, Sophie's captor is a Big Friendly Giant who, unlike the other residents of Giant Country, has made a vow to never eat a "human bean". Instead, he captures and mixes dreams to put into the minds of sleeping families with the help of his special dream trumpet. Unfortunately, the BFG if lonely and must contend with the constant bullying of the much larger and more violent giants. They are merciless in their treatment of the BFG that Sophie decides that it is time to put a stop to it. In order to get their plan to work, the pair must ask for the help of the Queen of England... naturally.

The BFG is a simple tale that, for the purposes of this film, has been augmented with extra action sequences, special set pieces, and additional backstory to ensure it fits a the run time for a feature film. Whilst non of these moments feel particularly necessary, they hardly take anything away. There are a few times when you might wish scenes were shorter but, all in all, the film flows nicely towards its epic final act set inside Buckingham Palace. It is these scenes that provide a lot of the really memorable moments. The breakfast scene is such a visual and comedic treat that you'll be whizzpopping with sheer joy.

It helps that the casting is so perfect. Mark Rylance plays the titular dream-catching giant and does so wonderfully. Rylance embraces the language of the BFG and manages to relay the many misheard words and mixed up phrases in a poetic way. His motion-capture performance will have even those with the hardest hearts smiling though sheer joy. It also ensures that Spielberg proves, that after the uninspiring Adventures of Tin-Tin, he can work with CGI and not really fuck it up. There is as much human emotion and presence on that screen as if Rylance had been there in person. It really is delightful and ensures that, even in the slower sections, the audience will stick with the character.

Alongside the BFG is his little friend, Sophie, who is played beautifully by 12 year old Ruby Barnhill. In both looks and screen presence, Ruby reminds me of Mara Wilson when she brought Matilda to life in Danny DeVito's adaptation. Sophie is an emotionally vulnerable and lonely child but is full of confidence and big ideas. Barnhill and Rylance come together in the film's quieter moments to create an emotional centre that shows action and noise aren't the only things needed to keep a children's film moving. Their conversations are so funny and enjoyable to watch that it's almost a shame when we need to move onto the big set piece at the end of the film.

The BFG won't be the kind of film that everyone will love. It moves at it's own pace and will indulge itself in the conversations between the orphan child and her new friend instead of wowing its audience with special effects and action. It is a film that is unashamedly nice, which many may think is a mistake. Yes, it is twee and it does push the ideas of magic and fun to the forefront in an incredibly unsubtle way. But so what? Watching this film made me feel fantastic. It was a lovely experience and the kind you can only get from something so pure-hearted and well-meaning. It takes a lovely story of an unlikely friendship and makes it something so real and believable. Anyone who could have watched this film and not forgiven it's few sins is someone that is beyond hope. After all, as Dahl himself said, "those who don't believe in magic will never find it" and, unfortunately for them, there is magic flowing out of The BFG.

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