The BFG is a film that Steven Spielberg could not have made 30, or even 20, years ago. For a start, the digital technology we have now just wasn't available – he would have had to film it using a combination of forced perspective, rear projection and giant props, in much the same way they made the wonderful 1960s TV series Land of the Giants. But thanks to modern motion-capture technology, and a beautiful script from the late Melissa Mathison (who also wrote the Spielberg masterpiece E.T.: The Extraterrestrial), the Roald Dahl classic is spectacularly brought to life in true Spielbergian fashion.
Set in the 1980s (Dahl's novel was published in 1982) in a rather Victorian-looking London, The BFG opens in the orphanage that is home to Sophie (newcomer Ruby Barnhill). Awaka and wandering the corridors at 3am (she likes the quiet, alone time) Sophie spies a giant figure in the street outside. Realising he's been seen by her, the giant (Mark Rylance) grabs young Sophie and takes her with back to his home in "giant country" (somewhere north of Scotland). Afraid at first, Sophie soon learns this gentle gargantuan is actually a Big Friendly Giant, and his job is to harvest dreams and then give them to sleeping children using a strange trumpet-like device to shoot them into bedrooms through open windows. But BFG has some trouble of his own, in the shape of the bigger, meaner giants who also live in giant country. These are giants who bully him and call him "runt" - and like to eat human "beans" (BFG is a vegetarian and grows snozzcumbers to eat).
Mark Rylance is perfectly cast here, his BFG a gentle, somewhat fragile and childlike creature in a massive body. Much of the humour and pathos comes from his quirky way of speaking, a mix of mispronunciations as well as made-up words, such as splitzwiggled, whoopsy-splunker, scrumdiddlyumptious, figglers and phizzwizards – as he himself says, his English skills are "a bit crumply". Thanks to motion capture, Rylance is fully present in every scene, his big ears and friendly face filling the screen, his gentle ways slowly winning over young Sophie. As Sophie learns of the nasty ways of the otehr giants - they have been stealing and eating children from England - she convinces the BFG that they must visit the Queen at Buckingham Palace and convince her that giants exist and she must put a stop to their evil ways.
Spielberg has created a magical world here, with a real sense of awe and wonder as it is revelaed to us through Sophie's eyes. Barnhill is perfect in the role, initially frightened then brave and strong as she comes up with the plan for stopping the other giants. At its heart, The BFG is a tale of two lost, lonely souls who find each other and become firm friends. It's a very sweet-natured film, though sometimes dark and a little scary (although it's been criticised, unfairly, for not being as dark as Dahl's novel). But their is humour too, particlarly an uprorious scene at the palce when the Queen (Penelope Wilton) and her corgis drink some of the BFG's frobscottle - a green fizzy drink in which the bubbles go down instead of up, leading to some wonderful whizzpoppers (farts). Fart humour may be considered cheap, but you won't see anything funnier on screen this year than these tiny dogs scootling across the carpet powered by the noxious green gas coming from their bottoms.
Spielberg has always been a master of emotional manipulation, and that talent is very much on show in The BFG. There's a lot of CGI trickery involvved to be sure, and a few moments that do drag a little, but with some wonderful very and human performances from Rylance and Barnhill at its core, The BFG is sure to touch your heart.