Thirty-four years after E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial walked up the red carpet steps in Cannes, Steven Spielberg returns with another creature. Presented out-of-competition in Cannes, The BFG reunites “the world’s greatest storytellers” in Spielberg, Walt Disney and Roald Dahl, who would have been 100 this year.
First published in 1982, the same year E.T. was released, The BFG also speaks of an unlikely friendship between a little girl and an unusual creature.
The BFG, or Big Friendly Giant, has the ability to hide at night and thus walks around London undetected. He enjoys strolling the city in the wee hours to blow Golden Phizzwizards (wonderful dreams) through the windows of sleeping children. One sleepless night, however, 10-year-old Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) spots him through the window. Is he one of those creatures that come out from hiding when humans are asleep? This very tall figure whisks her away from her London orphanage to the lush and emerald Giant Country where the inhabitants speak gobblefunk and gobble humans.
New Spielberg favorite and 2016 Oscar winner Mark Rylance has grown to a towering 24 feet, thanks to modern technology. The BFG has an endearing quality about him. The BFG is in fact designed to resemble Rylance and has that same melancholic look in his eyes. His features, however, have undergone a technical cosmetic procedure where everything is gigantic. My, what big ears he has…
Poor BFG though. He is a misunderstood creature and in Sophie he also seeks companionship. See, he’s not like his fellow giants. With names like Bonecrusher, Butcherboy, Manhugger, Childchewer, Gizzardgulper, , Maidmasher, Meatdripper and Bloodbottler (Bill Hader), how could they be nice? For starters, they are twice his size and troublemakers. And they don’t share the same culinary palate. While they favor meat – Human Beans are the tastiest – this thin BFG is a vegetarian who gets his vitamins from a yucky vegetable called Snozzcumbers, a specialty of the region. The tallest giant in the country, Fleshlumpeater (Jemaine Clement), picks up the smell of human flesh a mile away and like the others, he sees Sophie as a potential tea time snack.
The BFG and Sophie set out on a mission to rid the world of giants with the help of the Queen of England (Penelope Wilton). The film picks up pace in the last 30 minutes when they visit Buckingham Palace which results in a farcical sequence. Nevertheless, the movie fails to resonate with adults. Perhaps the most mesmerizing scene is when they visit the phosphorescent world from which The BFG gathers all those sweet dreams.
Spielberg first optioned the film in 1993. Penned by E.T. writer Melissa Mathison, who passed away last fall, the movie takes liberties with Dahl’s original story, but with the consent of the late writer’s family, Spielberg assured at the press conference following the screening.
Dahl famously disliked all of the movie adaptations of his stories, and I’m not sure he would have been enchanted with this film. Or perhaps he would have found the E.T. stuffed animal in the dormitory of Sophie’s orphanage quite amusing. (Sophie is also the name of Dahl’s granddaughter, a model who first rose to fame when she appeared in U2’s 1997 video “Last Night on Earth,” which also starred William Burroughs.)
A giant box-office hit? Most likely. A ginormous film? It doesn’t quite size up.