Somehow, growing up, I never got around to reading Roald Dahl's 1982 children's book The BFG. I'd tackled Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, James and the Giant Peach, The Witches, heck I even managed to make it through the patience-testing Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, but The BFG never ventured into my grasp.
I will no doubt have to change that in the near future, as Steven Spielberg's take on the Dahl tale is, perhaps just second to The Jungle Book, the most enchanting picture of the year, thus far.
The BFG opens on Sophie (the delightful newcomer Ruby Barnhill), a bright but terribly lonely orphan who one evening, after having spotted the mysterious Big Friendly Giant (Mark Rylance, in a turn 10 times more moving and engaging than his overrated Bridge of Spies performance) outside, is plucked out of her orphanage by the "BFG" and transported to his home in Giant Country.
Initially scared, Sophie soon comes to find the BFG is really just a 24-foot-tall mountain of warmth and love and the two embark on a marvelous dream-catching adventure in the sky.
Alas, there are of course villains here who want to rain on Sophie and the BFG's parade, a group of ugly, man-eating giants who love pushing the BFG around and want to chow down on the leading lady. Sophie and the BFG decide to appeal to Queen Elizabeth (a very funny and game Penelope Wilton) to crack down on these mean monsters, leading to a showdown between these gruesome giants and the Queen's soldiers.
The BFG, which marks the second (and sadly final, given Mathison's passing) collaboration between Spielberg and screenwriter Melissa Mathison, is awfully reminiscent of their comparably heart-tugging work on E.T: The Extra Terrestrial. This is, after all, another picture focused on the friendship between two lost, sensitive outcasts, with John Williams' soaring music swelling in the background as tears inevitably start to fill the eyes. It also has a number of true laugh-out-loud moments, particularly in the picture's second and superior half, involving the Queen (and her precious corgis).
Having checked this out in its second weekend, I can say I think it's an absolute shame The BFG has thus far struggled at the box office. I would hope today's youngsters have the patience for a picture of this length and nuance. I surely hope its reception does not deter Spielberg, who is such a master at this sort of thing, from making more similar films in the future.