MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Directed by Stephen Spielberg. Starring Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill.
There is perhaps no author of children’s books more revered by filmmakers than Roald Dahl. The amount of care that is rendered in the film adaptations of his works is unparalleled to anything other than perhaps the Harry Potter films. Dahl had a marvelous voice that refused to talk down to children and a wonderful way with language.
Since most of Dahl’s major works (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, Matilda, James and the Giant Peach, and The Witches) have been made into movies, it was only a matter of time before the next book would be discovered and turned into a film.
The BFG (Big Friendly Giant) was Dahl’s last book for children and the film is a labor of love between director Stephen Spielberg, screenwriter Melissa Mathison (who also wrote E.T.) and British actor Mark Rylance, who brings heart and soul to the giant, and beauty to his vocabulary of mixed-up words (called Gobblefunk).
The story is slight but enough for two hours. Sophie (Barnhill) lives in an orphanage and enjoys reading. She is awake during the Witching Hour (3 a.m.) and is kidnapped by a giant who becomes a surrogate parent to her, introducing her to his wonder-filled house and his method of creating dreams for people. They develop a relationship that is filled with mutual caring and consideration and each encourages the other to grow. This is the best kind of parenting – when parent and child discover that growth is not something just for kids, but that love and compassion bring out the best in everyone.
There are some bad grownups in the book – mean giants – who consider BFG to be a “runt”. The encounters with these fearsome creatures takes up very little screen time (I had a hard time differentiating between these giants, even though they had distinctive names such as Fleshlumpeater (Jermaine Clement) and Bloodbottler (Bill Hader). This conflict however, leads to a delightful last act in Buckingham Palace.
Most of the film is CGI magic, including motion capture of Rylance as the BFG, but it is cinematically beautiful, with great use of light and shadow by Spielberg’s regular director of photography Janusz Kaminski.
There are times when there are long stretches of dialogue between Sophie and BFG that are hard to turn into anything other than visual quietness. Consequently, this is not a good film for preschoolers who will become bored, scared, and confused for most of the movie.
However, I would encourage grown ups (or as BFG calls them “human beans”) to rediscover the world of Roald Dahl with this movie. This is the rare film that has stayed in my memory for days after viewing. Only Steven Spielberg could have made a film so unique and beautiful.
Four halos: A meditation on the power of imagination and caring.
One pitchfork: For scenes of whizzpoppers.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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