Steven Spielberg’s last properly family-friendly offering was The Adventures of Tintin, the filmmaker’s motion-capture animated adaptation of Belgian cartoonist Georges Remi’s (a.k.a. Hergé) beloved comic book series. It’s perhaps fitting, then, that Spielberg’s world to the realm of stories about kid-friendly fantastical adventures comes in the form of The BFG, another big screen take on a beloved author’s work that makes substantial use of performance-capture technology.
The BFG (which, let it be known, has nothing to do with the weapon of the same name from the Doom video games) is based on author Roald Dahl’s 1982 novel. Longtime Spielberg collaborators Frank Marshall and Kathleen Kennedy – the latter of whom is now overseeing the Star Wars franchise as Lucasfilm’s President – picked up the rights to adapt Dahl’s book as a big-budget live-action movie in 1991, and the late Robin Williams was even considered to play the title role at one point. E.T. screenwriter Melissa Mathison was eventually hired to work on the project in 2011 and it’s her script that Spielberg drew from when production started, four years later.
Disney, which has released several Spielberg-produced films in the past and handled the U.S. release for his Bridge of Spies (while 20th Century Fox handled the international roll-out) prior to The BFG, has now released a second full-length theatrical trailer for Spielberg’s Dahl adaptation. Check it out, above.
Whereas the film’s teaser and first trailer focus more on how Dahl’s story begins – as young English orphan Sophie (newcomer Ruby Barnhill) is whisked away to Giant Country by The BFG a.k.a. Big Friendly Giant (Mark Rylance) after she spots him one night – the newest trailer teases what happens to Sophie after she arrives in The BFG’s homeland. Namely, she discovers that her new friend is a kindly vegetarian who spends his days collecting dreams and distributing them to children at night, but that other (and much bigger) giants in Giant Country like Bloodbottler (Bill Hader) and Fleshlumpeater (Jemaine Clement) very much have a taste for human flesh. Sophie and BFG thus put together a plan to stop the blood-thirsty giants once and for all, with some help from the Queen in London (Penelope Wilton).
The BFG, which will be dedicated to Mathison (who sadly passed away from cancer shortly after filming wrapped), differs from Spielberg’s Adventures of Tintin, in that it blends live-action with motion-capture animation, whereas Tintin was entirely mo-cap. BFG looks to boast the dazzling imagery and immersive atmosphere that moviegoers have come to expect from Spielberg and cinematographer Janusz Kamiński, but the wild card factor here is The BFG himself and the decision to render the character digitally based on Rylance’s performance, rather than have the actor wear makeup and prosthetics.
Motion-capture has come a ways since even when Adventures of Tintin was released five years ago, but humanoid characters are still a challenge for the technology to handle – and there are moments in the newest BFG trailer where the title character’s facial expressions in particular (arguably) come off ungainly, as a result. That’s nothing to do with Rylance’s performance either, going by his previous work; including, his Oscar-winning performance in Spielberg’s last film, Bridge of Spies. The director clearly enjoys working with the actor too, as Rylance will be in Spielberg’s next two directorial efforts as well (The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara and Ready Player One).
UPDATE: The BFG was shown out of competition at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, so reviews have started to make their way online already. You can read excerpts from a few of them, below (click the respective links for the full review):
THR – Todd McCarthy
An uncanny thematic mirror to E.T. some 34 years later, Steven Spielberg and Melissa Mathison’s The BFG emerges as a conspicuously less captivating, magical and transporting experience than its classic forebear. Quite literally about the value and importance of dreams to the exclusion of almost anything else, this adaptation of Roald Dahl’s enduring classic (published, coincidentally, the same year E.T. came out) sees the director diving deep into a technological bag of tricks to mix giants and humans on the same cinematic stage. Big commercial results loom for Disney’s major early July release, but the two-hour two-hander drags with too much dialogue during the first half and never truly achieves narrative lift-off.
Variety – Peter Debruge
Let’s say for the sake of argument that giants really exist. That they galumph around London, ’round about the witching hour, plucking kids from orphanage windows as a late-night snack. That one among them has misgivings about all this “cannybullism” and might actually make a pretty good friend, if given the chance. Wouldn’t you like to know about it? That’s the beauty of Roald Dahl’s “The BFG,” as brought to life by recent Oscar winner Mark Rylance: You believe. No matter how fantastical the tale (and it gets pretty out-there at points), this splendid Steven Spielberg-directed adaptation makes it possible for audiences of all ages to wrap their heads around one of the unlikeliest friendships in cinema history, resulting in the sort of instant family classic “human beans” once relied upon Disney to deliver.
Time Out London – Dave Calhoun
This is a faithful, charming (if a tiny bit sluggish) version that mixes live action with the same motion-capture technique that Spielberg used for ‘The Adventures of Tintin’ in 2011. There are a handful of heart-stopping moments, not least when Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) is snatched from her bed by those enormous fingers coming through the window. But there are points, too, when you can see the technology working, which might leave you wondering if digital invention can ever really match the imaginative leaps inspired by the printed word.
Indiwire – Eric Kohn
[Steven] Spielberg remains the preeminent classical Hollywood storyteller [of] our times, whose ability to create astonishing moments surfaces in every carefully enacted camera movement. Visually alluring in every frame, “The BFG” proves that he’s at the height of his powers even when the material doesn’t soar on quite the same level.
The BFG opens in U.S. theaters on July 1st, 2016.
Source: Walt Disney Studios