The BFG is one of the late Roald Dahl’s most popular works. In bringing it to the big screen, director Steven Spielberg takes a big risk, knowing that many will be hoping to have their favorite childhood story faithfully recreated. Script-wise, that shouldn’t be too hard; Dahl’s words, in particular the Big Friendly Giant’s unique way of speaking, lend themselves perfectly to becoming actual dialogue in the movie, but the visuals are a whole other story, and much more difficult to achieve.
For those unfamiliar, The BFG tells the story of Sophie, a clever, curious orphan girl who is plucked from her bed by a giant, and whisked away to Giant Country. However, Sophie is perfectly safe in the hands of the BFG, since he is a strict vegetarian and more in need of a friend than anything. It’s a different story for the rest of the giants residing in Giant Country though; they are much bigger and more dangerous than the BFG and like to eat children in between bouts of bullying Sophie’s new found friend.
Sophie is played by newcomer Ruby Barnhill, while the titular giant is played by Oscar-winner Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies), using motion capture for his performance. The difficulties of bringing the two together are obvious, and speaking to Empire, Spielberg said that the Big Friendly Giant is the most ambitious motion capture character ever – even above films like Avatar, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin motion-capture film. As the filmmaker put it:
“It’s a big job. There are thousands of effects shots. I think it’s the most ambitious motion capture of a character that any film has ever done.”
While the BFG might be motion capture, he still looks (facially) remarkably like Rylance, yet also like the BFG Dahl describes in his book. Though we have yet to see the performance of Rylance on screen, in this respect at least, it’s perfect casting. Speaking to EW, producer Frank Marshall explains that it’s all Rylance’s expressions:
“It is performance capture, but it’s all Mark’s expressions. I’m not sure that this technique has been done before to this kind of detail, and that’s what was so exciting – to see Steven taking on this technology and mastering it, and doing kind of shots that he does, and the way he tells his story, but not letting the technology bog him down. He was having as much fun as everybody else.”
The BFG has been a long time in development, originally conceived by Spielberg in the nineties with the idea of having Robin Williams playing the giant. However, that version of the project was abandoned because the technology wasn’t available to make it look realistic. As Marshall put it:
“One of the most important things for Steven was to have the actors in the same space so they were relating to each other, so Mark, as the giant, was really talking to Ruby Barnhill, as Sophie. Even five, 10 years ago the two actors would have had to be in different stages to do this. That wouldn’t work very well.”
The BFG sees Spielberg reuniting a lot of the creative team he worked with on E.T., one of his most beloved films of all time. E.T. producers Kathleen Kennedy and her husband Frank Marshall take the same roles for BFG, and the script comes from Melissa Mathison, who also wrote the script for E.T.. This will be Spielberg’s final collaboration with Mathison since she died from cancer this past November.
In many ways E.T. had a similar storyline to that of The BFG; that of an unexpected friendship between an unlikely pairing and one which changes both sides for the better. Both stories have real heart, and given both Disney and Spielberg’s pedigree for family friendly adventure films, it seems reasonable to hope that The BFG will be a good film. Certainly the trailers give the impression that Mathison and Spielberg have stayed faithful to Dahl’s work. The question is, will The BFG capture our adult imagination as much as it did when we were kids?
The BFG opens in U.S. theaters on July 1st, 2016.