Fresh from his Oscar-winning performance in Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies, Mark Rylance, one of the greatest actors working today, reunites with the director who helped him get that golden statue, for the big-screen adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic book, The BFG. It’s a collaboration that proves just as successful the second time around with Rylance’s performance, aided by the technical wizardry of Weta Digital and Spielberg’s masterful direction, ending up being just about the best thing in the entire film.
If you’re familiar with the source material, you’ll know that Spielberg is the ideal film-maker to bring the story to life. A young orphan named Sophie is snatched from her Orphanage when she spots a giant outside her window, and is whisked away to Giant Country. Fortunately for her, her kidnapper happens to be a big friendly giant who may not have the best vocabulary in the world, but at the very least isn’t a cannibal like his neighbouring giants. The pair strike up a relationship and hatch a plot to stop the evil cannibals from stealing and eating young boys and girls.
It’s easy to see why Spielberg would be attracted to a project of this kind. Not only is it a story that’s filled with wonder and magic, but it is a story that deals with friendship and bravery. The director is more than familiar with each of these things, and, armed with a screenplay from the late and great Melissa Mathison – the writer of one of Spielberg’s greatest films, E.T. the Extra Terrestrial – the team behind this adaptation are quite clearly a match made in heaven.
In spite of the challenges that come along with a story about giants, The BFG does feel like a walk in the park for Spielberg at this stage of his career. Visually beautiful, the fantastical imagery of colourful dreams which swarm around a tree underneath a starlit sky is barely scratching the surface when it comes to the film’s technical achievements. And whilst that sequence is a particularly stunning bit of film-making, it is the way in which the CGI and motion-captured performances are effortlessly combined with the lush, real life landscapes of Scotland’s coast that prove most impressive.
At the centre of this is Mark Rylance’s BFG, which is undoubtedly the film’s biggest success. The second that he appears on screen, you absolutely believe he is real. You can see Rylance right there through the big ears and crazy hair, and get a real sense of emotion that lives within the eyes. It is an extraordinary performance and one which furthers the argument that, as technology continues to improve, motion-captured performances should be considered when it comes to award ceremonies such as the Oscars.
Equal credit should be payed to newcomer Ruby Barnhill, whose star-making turn as Sophie is a joy to watch. In many ways, it is her performance which outshines Rylance, especially when you consider the fact that she is acting against a computer generated image for a lot of the time. She has all the charisma and moxie you could want fro, a leading heroine and her future career already looks to be a bright one.
For all of the good that’s in The BFG, there are, however, some pacing issues which hold the film back from becoming an instant classic. Knowing full well that the relationship between Sophie and the BFG is the beating heart of the story, Mathison’s screenplay wastes no time in putting the two together. The chemistry between the leads is so wondeful that the initial sequences in which they get to know each other are fantastic; however, during the film’s second act, the story does somewhat struggle to maintain that fizzy excitement.
Fortunately, things do come together in the final and best act which has Sophie and the BFG approach the Queen to help them defeat the evil giants. The laughs comes thick and fast as the giant has breakfast with Her Majesty – or ‘Her Majester’ according to the BFG – which results in the best fart joke I’ve seen in quite some time.
The jury may still be out as to where it sits in Spielberg’s catalogue – I get the impression that it will continue to grow on me over the next few years – but The BFG is, nonetheless, a solid family film that perfectly adapts Dahl’s source material. With outstanding central performances, magical visuals and heartwarming storytelling – I may have welled up in the film’s final few moments – it proves that even when Spielberg may not be at his very best, he’s still better than most. All somebody needs to do now is start a campaign for Mark Rylance to be nominated for another Oscar…
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