At his best Steven Spielberg is a genius film-maker and director, and Roald Dahl was and still is one of my childhood favourite authors, of which 'The BFG' is a favourite.
Spielberg's 'The BFG' sees him nowhere near at his best (being at his peak in the 70s and 80s),but at the same time this reviewer does think there is enough to stop it from being one of the low-points. It is not an awful film, far from it, but it does lack of the Spielberg and Dahl magic overall. Although it isn't perfect, the 1989 animated version captured the spirit of the story much more.
It was disadvantaged by pretty bad advertising, that the title and story is not familiar to a lot of non-UK viewers (and many seemed very put off by some of the book's plot-line and themes) and that despite being a great story the original book doesn't lend itself well particularly to a 2 hour film.
There are many things to like about 'The BFG'. It does look great (one of two improvements over the 1989 animated version),the production and set design are exquisite on the eye and it is beautifully shot and immaculately edited. John Williams' music score is rich in orchestration, lively, whimsical and emotion-searing, more fitting and cinematic sounding than the charming, atmospheric but somewhat very 80s soundtrack of the animated version.
Best thing about 'The BFG' is the BFG himself. He is a wholly likable character and brilliantly motion-captured. This is matched in every way by the performance of Mark Rylance, which has a twinkle, warm humour and heartfelt subtle nuance, bringing surprising complexity and expertly soul to a motion-capture character that could have not had any of those qualities in lesser hands as well as a rare ability of bringing meaning and nuance to a line of dialogue when many struggle to bring the same amount of believability to a page.
Ruby Barnhill to me was engaging as Sophie, and she has a promising future ahead of her. Really enjoyed the warm and touching chemistry between her and the BFG. While generally a better job could have been done with the rest of the giants, the acting for them is very effective particularly from a deliciously repellent Jermaine Clement as the Fleshlumpeater. Bill Hader also does well as the Bloodbottler, very different to other performances of his. Penelope Wilton is suitably sincere as the Queen, Rebecca Hall sparkles as Mary and Rafe Spall delights as Mr Tibbs.
While there are changes, a good deal of the details are here and there are some effective scenes. Especially the rivetingly exciting opening kidnapping scene, the visually stunning and enchanting Land of Dreams sequence and the affecting blowing-of-the-dream-to-the-little-boy scene. Spielberg shows real technical brilliance throughout.
However, 'The BFG' does suffer from pacing issues. It starts off great, but becomes inconsistent once in the Land of Giants. The first half is at times quite sluggish, conversely the climax feels rushed and at the same time lacking in urgency. A couple of scenes fall flat too, one does miss the heart-skipping-several-seconds impact of the Bloodbottler's first entrance here, which is nowhere near as frightening here, and although the Frobscottle is in the book it's overdone to overkill effect here with the otherwise visually entrancing and interesting breakfast scene for example, amongst others, marred by misplaced lowbrow humour (like the farting corgis, and for being too long).
It has been said in this review that many of the details, though with also some changes, are here, but the spirit is lost. There is charm here, but it does feel so restrained emotionally it comes over as remote, while it lacks the darkness of the book and the magic of Spielberg's best work, instead often feeling too safe. Despite the acting, the giants not only do not have the wondrous attention to detail that the BFG does (with the CGI looking like over-sized cheapness in comparison) but are not terrifying enough and most are not very interesting or much different from one another. For example the Fleshlumpeater should be the most fearsome of the lot, but feels too much like an ordinary "menacing" giant.
Overall, 'The BFG' has a number of impressive things but feels rather bland and too safe. 6/10 Bethany Cox