|'There are echoes of the likes of Harry Potter and Spielberg's own Hook within the film's world... London becomes a quirky bundle of anachronisms that work pleasingly well together'.|
If Steven Spielberg's adaptation of The BFG proves anything, it's that Roald Dahl's story of giants - both big and friendly, and even bigger and not so friendly - is one of his most weakly plotted tales. It's a problem the 1989 Cosgrove Hall animation couldn't overcome, and one that Spielberg's film falls foul of too. There's simply too much time in the middle act where remarkably little happens to move the story on, a problem which is amplified through transferring the tale to the big screen.
To be fair, Melissa Mathison's script does try to remedy this, most notably through adding a tragic backstory for the BFG (Mark Rylance) where, in a change from Dahl's novel, Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) isn't the first child he's ever brought back to Giant Country. It's a bold addition which works as far as it's allowed to, but it's also never developed enough by either Mathison or Spielberg to make a genuine impact.
The director has his greatest success elsewhere in bringing the settings and characters of the novel to life. There are echoes of the likes of Harry Potter and Spielberg's own Hook within the film's world: Giant Country has a well-realised fairytale feel, littered with stolen artefacts of the human world from across the centuries, whilst London becomes a quirky bundle of anachronisms that work pleasingly well together.
The BFG's characters are the true strength of Dahl's novel, a fact which translates satisfyingly to Spielberg's film. Rylance does well in the title role, delivering a surprisingly sombre version of the BFG thanks to some of the novel's more playful dialogue not making it into Mathison's script, but crafting the character into a charming creation through a softly genuine performance brought to life through impressive CGI. The BFG's relationship with Sophie feels a little disjointed at first, but Rylance and Barnhill achieve a convincing chemistry between the two by the middle act.
Much of the humour comes from the other giants, who are less monstrous than in previous incarnations and more like colossal infantile bullies, tormenting the BFG for their sadistic pleasure one minute and expecting him to nurse their cuts and bruises the next. Only Jemaine Clement's Fleshlumpeater is expanded beyond a single dimension, however, with the remaining eight man-eating giants never really feeling distinct from one another and largely blending into one.
Even if the story overall proves to be the film's major drawback, there are nonetheless scenes in isolation which stand out. The BFG and Sophie's journey to Dream Country is pleasingly magical, offering some real invention if occasionally feeling a little too Hogwarts in flavour. By far the standout sequence, however, is when the orphan girl and her colossal companion join the Queen (Penelope Wilton) at Buckingham Palace for breakfast. It's a wonderful combination of impressive effects, game performances and genuinely funny slapstick. Whizzpopping may not be high comedy, but I challenge you not to crack a broad smile and let out at least a few giggles at the family-friendly fart jokes The BFG has to offer.