Cannes 2016: Spielberg helms a heartwarming adaptation of the Roald Dahl classic
Roald Dahl dedicated 1982’s The BFG to his daughter, who passed away from measles at the age of seven. In tribute, he created a tremblingly scary and delightfully imaginative world, in which a young girl called Sophie (here played by Ruby Barnhill) is snatched away in the middle of the night from the orphanage in which she resides by the only vegetarian inhabitant of a land of ‘human bean’ gobbling monsters. This movie version of the beloved kids’ book mixes live-action and motion capture and is directed by no less than Steven Spielberg, with the late Melissa Mathison (ET) adapting Dahl’s text.
When they first arrive in this strange place of oozing snozzcumbers and artefacts from England, including a blue motorway sign, the BFG (voiced warmly by Mark Rylance) tenderly places Sophie’s possessions – a copy of Nicholas Nickleby and a blanket – in the crow’s nest of the ship in which he sleeps and sends her off to the land of nod with a nightmare in which big bad giants attack her. You see, the BFG has suffered a sad loss himself and wishes only to protect her.
Visual effects maestros Weta Digital have done a remarkable job with the creation of the ruddy-cheeked, massive-eared behemoth. Playfully introduced hiding in the shadows and under a long cape, as he wanders about on his lifelong quest of dream blowing, the film gets off to a strong and fun beginning. And the attention to detail is marvellous, with Spielberg inserting a fantastic nod to Dahl’s illustrator Quentin Blake, in the shape of a secret room where his sketches are haphazardly fanned out for discovery.
The film sadly loses its way in its attempts to deliver menace, with a couple of scenes involving the nine other giants feeling inconsequential to the plot, despite looking gorgeous. Instead it’s at its best when delicately weaving the affectionate relationship between the BFG and the bold and book-smart orphan. Packed full of magical imagery, jovial surprise and royally funny fart jokes, it’s heartwarming stuff, even if it doesn’t quite have a handle on the darker elements of Dahl’s vision.
Screening as part of Cannes 2016. General release from Fri 22 Jul.