THE BFG: Adapting Roald Dahl’s 1982 children’s story about an unlikely friendship between an orphan girl (Ruby Barnhill) and a “big, friendly giant” (Voiced by Mark Rylance) into a watchable movie comes with a high degree of difficulty. For the most part, director Steven Spielberg (SAVING PRIVATE RYAN) succeeds with effective live action combined with green screen CGI and motion capture which results in a visually arresting work replete with memorable imagery. Rylance (BRIDGE OF SPIES), who’s an “actor’s actor”, does a marvelous job of bringing his “dreamcatching”, picked-on, melancholy behemoth to life. To its detriment, the movie sanitizes the darker elements of Dahl’s literary work by only referring to the child-eating propensities of the title character’s colossal rivals who look like refugees from WARCRAFT (Shudder!). Consequently, there’s not much of a fear factor here which diminishes the greater impact this film could have had. Spielberg’s recurring motif of childlike wonder in all of us has been recycled from so many of his previous movies that its’ presence is now feeling like a completely manufactured product. And speaking of children (Kind of), newcomer Barnhill comes off as generic and lacking in the sort of depth the part demands for the outcast that her character is. But in the hands of a less skilled filmmaker, this movie could have been as awkward and embarrassing as a beauty pageant emceed by Steve Harvey. However, it’s a good-hearted family friendly movie that adults and kids with above average intelligence (We’ll miss you, Garrison Keillor.) and who are ridiculed for it will relate to. Granted, it’s “minor Spielberg”. But even his less noteworthy movies are likely better than everybody elses best ones. CRITIC’S GRADE: B-
CLOSING CREDITS: Sadly, THE BFG was the last screenwriting credit for Melissa Mathison who died of cancer last November. Mathison first came onto the Hollywood radar when she wrote the screenplay for THE BLACK STALLION (1979) which was based on a beloved children’s novel by Walter Farley. Mathison collaborated with Spielberg three years later when she wrote the script for E.T.: THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL (1982), earning her an Academy Award nomination. THE BFG is dedicated to her memory in the closing credits.