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Gorgeous scenery and human beans delight in ‘The BFG’

| Friday, September 2, 2016

The BFG webJoseph Han

In one of the most memorable scenes from “The BFG,” released July 1, the title character (the Big Friendly Giant, the BFG for short) stands next to our heroine, 10-year-old orphan Sophie, under a massive tree.

“I’s hearing all the secret whisperings of the world,” the BFG whispers to Sophie, raising his gargantuan ears to the open air. A glowy, blue-green light emanates from the colossal branches and casts its silhouette against a shimmering night sky. He points to the multi-colored sparks flitting among the branches of the tree. “Thems is dreams,” he murmurs.

This is the place where dreams are born, a magical, pulsating nebula of imagination. Sophie and the BFG set about catching the newborn dreams, running after whirling stars like an otherworldly game of catching fireflies. Gazing up at the screen from my seat in the movie theatre, I am starstruck.

The aesthetic accomplishments of “The BFG” cannot be overstated. Directed by Steven Spielberg, the movie came with a hefty $140 million price tag, a number reflected in its striking animations which consistently delight. The exceptional quality of animation rivals that of Andrew Stanton’s “WALL-E” or James Cameron’s “Avatar.”

Mark Rylance delivers an excellent performance as the titular character, despite the inherent challenges of playing a character 24 stories tall. He and daring Sophie, played by the adorable Ruby Barnhill, form an unlikely bond as they fight off the cohort of meaner, cannibalistic giants with appropriately ghastly names — including the Fleshlumpeater (Jemaine Clement) and his crony, Bloodbottler (Bill Hader). They even enlist the Queen of England herself to assist in their battle (played by Penelope Wilton of “Downton Abbey”).

Their journey moves quickly, but not too quickly, leaving ample room for both danger and the occasional (but relatively tasteful) fart joke. The plot appeals to both little kids and, in my case, their 19-year-old babysitters. In fact, I might have enjoyed the movie more than some of the kids I was with.

Spielberg adapted “The BFG” from the book by legendary British storyteller Roald Dahl. To that end, the movie captures the spectacle of Sophie’s story magnificently, but loses some of Dahl’s fantastic language. Spielberg keeps a few “de-lumptious” malapropisms and whimsical names of key objects, such as “snozzcumber” (the BFG’s favorite food, vividly depicted as a kind of giant zucchini feat. larvae) and the fizzy, “whizzpopper”-inducing drink known as Frobscottle.

Yet Spielberg keeps the dialogue between Sophie and the BFG to a minimum, and viewers are privy to less of Dahl’s witty spirit and more of the Fleshlumpeater’s animated fist-pounding. Spielberg’s adaptation gives viewers a mythic enlarging of the BFG story, one better suited to flashy CGI techniques and high-priced 3-D screenings than it is to quiet conversations between “human bean” and friendly giant.

Maybe that’s an inevitable side effect of lifting the story from its pages and attempting to re-create it on the big screen; it’s hard to say.

Ultimately, the heart of Dahl’s story lies in the relationship between Sophie and the BFG, a sweet kinship of two lonely souls, one giant and one “bean”, unified across cultural boundaries.

Unlike the book, where conversations between Sophie and the BFG portray their intimate relationship, Spielberg’s adaptation communicates the closeness, warmth and trust between the characters through focused shots.

With Sophie, the audience peers up at a wrinkly, friendly face that fills the entire screen, pokes a head out of a hole in the BFG’s front pocket, or steps confidently into the BFG’s reassuring outstretched hand. For all of its fairy-tale and improbable surroundings, the friendship between Sophie and the BFG never feels generated or fake — a testament not only to the quality of production but the impressive talent of the actors themselves.

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