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Review: Steven Spielberg still has it in 'The BFG'

Posted Tuesday, November 29, 2016 at 3:46 PM Central
Last updated Tuesday, November 29, 2016 at 3:48 PM Central

by John Couture

I remember reading Roald Dahl's The BFG when I was a child. I don't remember exactly when I read it, but I figure I was about 8 years old. I didn't quite understand it all, but I remember being completely enthralled with the world that unfolds over the rather lengthy children's book.

My own children are three and five years old, so they are still a bit young to read it on their own, but my daughter could probably manage it. Of course, the wonders that I remember from that book were mostly wrapped around my imagination as guided by the few illustrations throughout.

The power of imagination is one that I worry about for the next generation as we tend to rely more on the immediacy of film over the longer form of the written word. Thankfully, Steven Spielberg is the perfect choice to direct this adaptation from the beloved classic and his attention to detail underscores his reverence for the source material.

It's pretty obvious that Spielberg is as much a fan of Dahl's original story as anyone in his audience. That attention to detail translates into a vibrant, faithful world that matches up rather well with the images that I created in my head oh so many years ago.

Interestingly, since my children aren't able to read the original book yet, their first impression of The BFG was this film and I was surprised that given their young age, just how immediately taken they were by the film. It's not that I didn't have high hopes for the film or faith in Spielberg's talent, it's just that they tend to prefer animated films and find it difficult to stay focused through an entire live-action film.

Interestingly, they were instantly hooked and continued to follow along through the entire two hours. They were as heavily invested in the film as newcomers as I was as someone intimately familiar with the story. This is the true power of film and I'm happy that my kids are able to feel the same hook from Steven Spielberg that I felt the first time I watched E.T.

Speaking of E.T., The BFG represents a reunion of sorts for Spielberg and screenwriter Melissa Mathison. The pair found lightning in a bottle with E.T. and it's safe to say that they hit another home run with The BFG. Sadly, though, this will be the last time that they would work together as Melissa passed away late last year from cancer.

Melissa only lists a handful of credits for screenwriting, but they are all impressive. She worked sparingly over the years when she was raising her two kids with former husband Harrison Ford. Perhaps because of that, her screenplays always captured the human element despite characters that were anything but. Whether it was aliens, or horses, or giants, she was always able to project human emotion that hit a soft spot in the hearts of the audience.

She will be missed and the film being dedicated to her is a fitting memorial for a woman who was a pioneer in her field and yet still able to live her life on her terms. If her story mirrors that of the source material's author, it's no surprise as they both had to deal with tragedy and often responded to it by delivering an uplifting response through their writing.

Finally, the real revelation here is Oscar winner Mark Rylance, who shines through all of the CGI to breathe life into titular BFG. His performance helps to make everything onscreen more believable and really helps to sell the experience, especially for those not familiar with the story. My children were rapt on his every utterance and whizpopping.

When entertainment is done right, it resonates with people of all ages and this is evident in every frame of The BFG. Steven Spielberg is a master of his craft and this film is yet another entry into the record that will someday describe the most ingenious filmmaker of our generation.