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 Steven Spielberg's The BFG

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Donald McKinney
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PostSubject: Steven Spielberg's The BFG   Fri Aug 26, 2016 12:42 am

Roald Dahl wrote The BFG in 1982, It was an expansion of a story told in Dahl's 1975 book Danny, the Champion of the World. Since it's publication, it's enthralled children and adults alike. It was made into an animated film in 1989 by British animation studio Cosgrove Hall, with David Jason voicing The BFG. While Dahl had usually treated film adaptation of his works with disdain and vocal disgust, (he hated Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) for his script being rewritten, and he picketed The Witches (1989) for it's tagged on happy ending.) But, he loved Cosgrove Hall's take on The BFG, which was a blessed relief. Dahl sadly died in 1990, but while he'd become more protective of films being adapted of his works in his lifetime, it became less difficult, even though his family insisted they kept faithful to the books. Films like James and the Giant Peach (1996), Matilda (1996) and Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) came, oh and Tim Burton did his blockbuster take on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005). As for The BFG, it's rights were optioned by producers Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall, who saw instant potential in the fantastical story. It was batted back and forth for nearly 2 decades, directors like John Madden and Terry Jones expressed interest, but couldn't figure out how to tackle the, (pardon the pun), giant problem of putting a 24 foot giant and a little girl in the same scene and make it work. In 2014, it landed on the desk of Kennedy/Marshall's long time production partner and friend, Steven Spielberg. He'd been aware of the project for sometime, indeed his company DreamWorks bought the rights in 2011, with screenwriter Melissa Mathison (E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)), hired to do the screenplay. Spielberg hadn't tackled a full family fantasy film since Hook (1991), a film he has mixed feeling about. But, technology had moved forwards enough to bring his vision to life. The BFG (2016) is a different kind of Spielberg film, but one with enough heart and charm that does the story justice, while Spielberg adds his own stamp to it.

Set somewhere in the 1980's, it has orphan Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) awake at 3am, (she's never able to sleep), she spots a giant outside the orphanage she lives at, the giant subsequently takes her from the orphanage and takes her back to Giant Country. The giant is called The Big Friendly Giant (Mark Rylance), or The BFG. He tells Sophie he took her as she spotted him, and he was afraid he'd tell everyone about his existence. But, The BFG convinces Sophie not to escape, as there's a far bigger problem outside his little cottage, or rather, 9 of them. Giants all 30 foot taller than The BFG, who bully him and calling the 'runt'. Their leader is the Fleshlumpeater (Jemaine Clement), his second-in-command the Bloodbottler (Bill Hader) and the others, Butcher Boy (Michael David Adamthwaite), Bonecruncher (Daniel Bacon), Gizzardgulper (Chris Gibbs), Manhugger (Adam Godley), Childchewer (Jonathan Holmes), Meatdripper (Paul Moniz de Sa) and Maidmasher (”lafur ”lafsson). They bully the BFG and they ate the last human he kept. As well as managing to survive by eating Snozzcumbers and drinking Frobscottle, the BFG catches dreams which he then gives the good dreams to sleeping children, but after witnessing the bigger giants on the prowl, as they go around snatching children from orphanages and eating them, and after confronting the BFG when they believe he has a human. Sophie comes up with a plan to put a stop to the giant's evil actions. It involves forging the most horrible and realistic nightmare imaginable, and giving it to Queen Elizabeth II (Penelope Wilton), and make her believe giants are real. So, The BFG and Sophie go to Buckingham Palace and give the Queen the nightmare, she wakes up to find Sophie on her windowsill and The BFG outside in the gardens. Within minutes, they manage to convince the Queen, her maid Mary (Rebecca Hall) and her butler Mr. Tibbs (Rafe Spall) that giants are real, and giants are murdering children, and they convince the Army to stop the evil giants.

It was always going to be a difficult story to adapt, even though it was Dahl's personal favourite out of all the children books he wrote. It's mostly a two-hander between Sophie and the BFG, and it shows on screen, but that's how Dahl wrote it. Plus, there's the garbled Stanley Unwin-esque language The BFG uses, with brilliant words like "crockadowndillies" and "Puddlenuts" and "Whizzpopper". It manages to use motion capture to it's advantage, Spielberg has experience with motion-capture having used it to make The Adventures of Tintin (2011), and it's a perfect tool to bring Dahl's world to life. The last time Spielberg tried to bring a fantastical world to life 25 years ago with Hook, he was limited by the technology available then, and it showed. Now computer technology has moved on in leaps and bounds, and it can help create fantastical worlds. To help with this, Spielberg turned to Peter Jackson's WETA Digital, creators of Middle-Earth and some of the most cutting-edge motion capture technology to date. They make The BFG and the other giants feel real, and not dead-eyed zombies which is a drawback with motion capture. It's look was designed by both Rick Carter, (who worked with Spielberg on Jurassic Park (1993), A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001) and Lincoln (2012)) and Robert Stromberg (Avatar (2009), Alice in Wonderland (2010) and Oz the Great and Powerful (2013)). to bring Giant Country and beyond to brilliant, vivid life. It's fantastical, beautiful and full of detail. The screenplay is by the great Melissa Mathison, and it captures the spirit of Dahl's book, and keeps it focused on the two main characters. Sadly, this was Mathison's final film, as she tragically died last November. It's a fitting end to her career, and she would have been proud of it. Spielberg's usual cinematographer Janusz Kaminski manages to combine the fantastical world and real world seamlessly, and it's his and Spielberg's first film to be shot digitally, so a leap into the future. Also back is the great John Williams, after missing Bridge of Spies (2015) due to illness, and he creates a lush, sweeping score, which harks back to the rousing, fantastical scores he did for the likes of E.T. It's always a joy to hear a John Williams score, and he doesn't disappoint at all with this film.

Spielberg assembles his most original cast to date, hardly any blockbuster names, but all very talented and engaging too. Beginning with Mark Rylance as The BFG. Spielberg had followed Rylance's career for years, before convincing him to be in Bridge of Spies (2015), after working with Rylance for one day on set, something sparked in Spielberg's head, Rylance could be The BFG, and he asked Rylance there and then. Rylance agreed, and he's a perfect choice. Giving his take on The BFG a West Country accent, and getting his malapropisms down perfectly, and giving The BFG a warm, friendly personality, but also shy and timid. But, Dahl would have approved of Rylance's spirited and caring portrayal. For Sophie, Spielberg cast a relative newcomer, Ruby Barnhill, whose only credit was CBBC's 4 O'Clock Club. She brings a spirited and plucky take to Sophie,, who used her wits and physical prowess to stay away from the giants, and even comes up with the big plan that holds up the films third act. Sophie might be scared of the surroundings of Giant Country at first, she soon helps The BFG to stand up to the other giants too. This is Barnhill's first feature film, and on the basis of this, there should be more to come. Also rounding out the cast are Penelope Wilton, giving a dignified yet regal portrayal as Queen Elizabeth, and you can tell Wilton is having the time of her life playing the Queen, especially when it comes to one scene over breakfast that wasn't in Dahl's book, but it's one he would have killed for. To play the giants, Spielberg brought in an array of talent from all over the world, led by Jemaine Clement from Flight of the Conchords as their leader, Fleshlumpeater, who is big and threatening, but is actually an idiot, he and his bunch of cronies are no more than idiotic school bullies, and compared to them, The BFG is smarter than them. Rebecca Hall and Rafe Spall round off the cast as Mary and Mr. Tibbs respectfully, oh and Matt Frewer (Max Headroom) makes a quick cameo in Buckingham Palace too.



Spielberg's take on The BFG might tone down the darkness of Dahl's book, but it keeps the heart of the story intact, and keeps the focus on The BFG and Sophie. He manages to make it engaging and enthralling. It might be a bit much for the more die-hard Spielberg fans, and it might lack in the emotional punch the likes of E.T. had or the jaw-dropping thrills of Jurassic Park. But, this is Spielberg being faithful to Dahl's original book. Unlike other Dahl stories, there aren't as many central characters as say, James and the Giant Peach or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but as a character piece, it works, it's an old fashioned story of friendship. Like E.T. It has an alien on Earth, here, it's a human child in a strange, fantasy land, so the reverse. Visually, it's a stunning and imaginative film, and Spielberg has managed to succeed here compared to what he struggled to create with Hook (1991), after an abundance of serious films and the odd blockbuster here and there, it's good to see Spielberg embrace family films again, and he made a good choice by going with The BFG. It has a whimsical charm about it, rather like a bedtime story, or like the dreams that The BFG captures. It's beautifully made, and it has some good set pieces too, and Spielberg manages to be respectful of the source material. While it might not have all the silliness and anarchy of Dahl's book, Spielberg makes up for it with heart and visual invention. As the BFG would say, "How whoopsie-splunkers!"
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