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"THE BFG"
(2016) (Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill) (PG)


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QUICK TAKE:
Fantasy/Adventure: An orphan finds herself in the company of a giant who collects and distributes dreams and must protect her from much larger giants with an appetite for children.
PLOT:
Sophie (RUBY BARNHILL) is a young girl growing up in a 1980s era orphanage in London. Often suffering from insomnia, she ends up hearing and then seeing a giant lurking about the dark city streets outside her building. She rushes back to bed hoping not to be seen, but the giant (MARK RYLANCE) snatches her from that and returns her to his hidden world and specifically his cave. She's initially scared of the giant, but upon learning that he doesn't eat humans, she decides he's okay after all and names him BFG ("big friendly giant").

He spends most of his time collecting dreams and then distributing them to those sleeping in London and thereabouts. But he must also hide her from a much larger band of giants, led by Fleshlumpeater (JEMAINE CLEMENT) and his right-hand dimwit, Bloodbottler (BILL HADER), who do have an appetite for humans and have caught a whiff of Sophie.

Tired of seeing the others bully BFG, Sophie comes up with a plan that involves none other than the Queen of England (PENELOPE WILTON) and her country's military might. But getting to them and convincing her majesty to help will take some resourcefulness and bravery on her part and that of BFG.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
Over the past four decades, director Steven Spielberg has been nothing but a prolific filmmaker, delivering blockbuster hits, Oscar winners, small flicks and those with massive budgets. And while they've covered a variety of genres and storytelling approaches, a common element in some of his offerings has been that of kids put in unique situations and/or who face apparent peril.

Just some examples have been the boy in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," the siblings in "Jurassic Park," young Christian Bale in "Empire of the Sun," the animated boy in "The Adventures of Tintin," the kids in "War of the Worlds" and, of course, young Drew Barrymore in "E.T."

He's even said in interviews that had he had children when making some of those earlier flicks, he might have done things differently, what with would have obviously been a parenting perspective. Nevertheless, and thirty-four years after pairing little Miss Barrymore with a big-headed extraterrestrial who just wanted to go home, Spielberg pairs up another young girl with a decidedly different character in "The BFG."

It's based on Roald Dahl's 1982 children's book of the same name (and meaning "big friendly giant") and centers around an orphan (Ruby Barnhill) who happens to discover that a giant (played by Mark Rylance in a motion control performance) lurks about her London neighborhood at night.

When he spots her, she rushes back to bed, only to have him snatch her from that and run back to his literal otherworldly home. Yet, rather than eat her, he's essentially kidnapped her -- for the rest of her life -- due to him fearing she'd otherwise blab about his existence and thus cause trouble for him and his vocation.

And that would be the giant equivalent of serving as something akin to the Sandman. In short, he goes and collects dreams (and sometimes nightmares) that flit about like glowing fairy orbs and then sneaks into the human world where he blows such dreams (both pure and whipped together like the work of some nocturnal mixologist) into the bedrooms of those in the state of sleep.

The only problem for both Sophie and BFG is that in his world, he's a runt, with much larger giants living close by -- and led by the imaginatively if appropriately named Fleshlumpeater (Jermaine Clement) -- who have a taste for human morsels. They literally sniff out the girl, and with tummies rumbling, set out to locate and consume her like some tiny appetizer. That necessitates some creative thinking on the part of the unlikely duo, including a royal visit and a case of some extreme flatulence.

In the canon of Spielberg films, this isn't his best work nor his worst (although I've never felt any were truly bad). And from the best side of things, that even includes his reteaming with the writer of "E.T.," Melissa Mathison -- who passed away last fall -- who adapted Dahl's tale.

What's present works from a storytelling perspective and includes plenty of flights of fancy and fantasy elements to keep it interesting from start to finish over its nearly two-hour runtime. Yet, for yours truly, and despite those elements, it just never felt magical enough.

The special effects of mixing the two different sized worlds work well, and Rylance is terrific as the kind giant with a penchant for unintentionally garbling words and phrases into something of his own language. The motion capture technology (where the actor wears dots all over his body and the camera and computer capture his essence and transplant that into a fantasy character) lets the actor do his thing and then some. Barnhill isn't up to the Barrymore standard of cute and precocious, but does a decent enough job in playing her character, and Clement is believably imposing as the huge but somewhat dimwitted big giant.

Despite all of that, the film never really engaged, fascinated or blew me away as much as I would have liked to have experienced and as has oft occurred in past Spielberg offerings. Maybe part of that stems from never really be a huge (get it?) fan of books or movies about giants and their smaller human counterparts. And perhaps part of my reaction could be attributed to however I was feeling that day before the screening.

Whatever the case, I didn't find it as excellent as I had hoped. It's still good enough to earn a recommendation, however, for families looking for some fantasy-based escapist entertainment where kids are put in some peril, but not too much to cause sleepless nights. But should that happen, you could just tell them a BFG might be waiting outside their window to replace their bad dreams with those of the good variety. Solid and with its share of charms, "The BFG" rates as a 6 out of 10.




Reviewed June 15, 2016 / Posted July 1, 2016


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