Combustible Celluloid
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With: Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Penelope Wilton, Jemaine Clement, Rebecca Hall, Rafe Spall, Bill Hader, Olafur Darri Olafsson, Adam Godley, Michael David Adamthwaite, Daniel Bacon, Jonathan Holmes, Chris Gibbs, Paul Moniz de Sa, Marilyn Norry
Written by: Melissa Mathison, based on the book by Roald Dahl
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
MPAA Rating: PG for action/peril, some scary moments and brief rude humor
Running Time: 117
Date: 07/01/2016

The BFG (2016)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Huge Hugs

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Due to some scheduling conflicts, I came to Steven Spielberg's The BFG a bit late, after it was already on track to become one of the director's biggest flops. I can't understand why; it seems to me that it's one of his gentlest and most beautiful films, less frenetic than Hook, less grueling than E.T. the Extra-terrestrial and less wispy than War Horse. I can only guess that because The BFG comes from a book by the wicked, clever Roald Dahl, viewers have been miffed that Spielberg's movie is soft and touching instead. But I loved it. (Melissa Mathison, the screenwriter of E.T., re-teamed with Spielberg for this one, apparently completing it before her death in November of last year.)

The delightful Ruby Barnhill -- a big star someday, I think -- plays young Sophie, an orphan who can't sleep and wanders the halls of the orphanage at night. She spies a giant out the window; since he has been spotted, he reaches in and takes her away to his faraway dwelling. It turns out he's friendly (he's a vegetarian) and they become fast friends; their only worry is the rest of the giants, much bigger and with a taste for "beans" (human "beans" in particular).

Spielberg and his team of craftsmen have turned his Oscar-winner Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies) into the giant, stretching him out like a cartoon character, but retaining his expressive eyes and voice. His dialogue is mixed-up and silly ("Words is oh such a twitch-tickling problem to me all my life") and Rylance turns it into giggly music. His home is a magical swath of beautiful art direction, from the colored specks of "dreams" that BFG collects in jars, to the ship he uses as a bed, and especially the secret waterfall that hides a secret room within.

Not much else really happens, except that Sophie and BFG enlist the aid of the queen (Penelope Wilton) to help stop the bigger, meat-eating giants, and there are some farting jokes ("whizzpoppers"), but everything feels enchanting. There are many rather awesome sights to behold, and it feels as if Spielberg is just as excited and awestruck as we are; he loves being here, in this world. In that sense, there's nothing profound going on in The BFG other than some expert escapist fantasy, but that much, at least, is among the best you'll ever see.

Disney's excellent Blu-ray release does justice to one of the most underrated movies of the year. It includes a bonus DVD and digital copy, and a 30-minute series of video journals by the young star Ruby Barnhill, as well as a tribute to the late screenwriter Melissa Mathison and a few other, shorter extras. It could have used a few more extras to be a truly exceptional package, but I hope people catch up with this movie at home.

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