Thursday, June 30, 2016

'BFG' is a bit of a bore

The magic is only intermittent in director Steven Spielberg's adaptation of a Roald Dahl story..

The real giant behind the movie The BFG is Steven Spielberg, a director whose amazing track record ranges from the serious to the sublimely whimsical. Inspired by a story by Roald Dahl, Spielberg abandons the brooding intelligence of his last movie -- Bridge of Spies -- to focus on a tale aimed at children.

With a screenplay by ET screenwriter, the late Melissa Mathieson, The BFG centers on young Sophie (Ruby Barnhill), a lonely orphan who early on is whisked off to a giant's lair. Thanks to his vegetarian preferences, the giant -- known as the BFG or Big Friendly Giant -- doesn't eat little kids. He dines on glop that bares little resemblance to food as we know it.

A generally affable sort, the BFG frequently finds himself at odds with his monstrous giant colleagues who do like to gobble up kids. These bad giants look like floating ogres in a Thanksgiving Day parade. Very frightening -- if, say, you're five years old.

Younger audiences may also respond to the movie's fart jokes. The BFG aids his digestion with a drink called Frobscottle, a fizzy brew that gives him gas inducing bouts of flatulence that he calls "whizpoppers."

All of this offers mild amusement with Spielberg obtaining fine, motion-capture work from Mark Rylance as the BFG; Rylance, you'll recall, won a supporting actor Oscar for his work in Bridge of Spies.

An unlikely duo, Sophie and the BFG spend lots of time together at the BFG's home in Giant Country. Unfortunately, this house-bound part of the movie becomes a bit of slog and early enchantment gives way to monotony.

The movie perks up significantly during a late-picture tea party attended by Sophie, the BFG and the Queen of England (Penelope Wilton). Finally, you may think, some fun.

Spielberg ably handles the technical challenges of Dahl's story, and the movie's production design has an admirable story-book quality.

Ultimately, though, story takes a back seat to tricks of scale. Spielberg and his crew must have had a great time playing with size differences between young Sophie and those who inhabit Giant Country. The movie is at its best when the BFG enters the world of normal humans, puny in comparison to the big guys.

Dull as it can be, the movie deserves credit for at least one bold stroke: A fart joke in Buckingham Palace unwinds with whizpopping gusto. But much of the movie drags in ways that seem uncharacteristic of Spielberg who usually sets a brisk pace.

For all his prowess, Spielberg can't carve a giant-sized slice of charm out of The BFG.

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