Steven Spielberg and Roald Dahl do not at face value seem matched talents. Spielberg makes winsome paeans to lost childhoods and his films seem to feature children who ache with a longing for friends and protagonists only seeking a welcoming home; Roald Dahls visions of childhood are much rowdier and terribly more British, not to mention come with an unbridled sense of glee in the unleashing of mischief and just desserts meted out to those who deserve them. Spielberg seems to find it difficult to be mean, even in creating villains. On the other side of the coin, it is hard to imagine that Roald Dahl would have ever written an E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), at least without subverting it in some way. You suspect that The BFG would work the best of Dahls works in Spielbergs hands as it plays to themes the lonely child looking for a friend and just wanting to have somewhere to call a home that he regularly revisits.
It is a shame that The BFG bombed at the US box-office. With the tendency these days for critics and audiences to assume that a films lack of financial success is a measure of its lack of worth, a certain vulturish bitchiness has ensued. To the contrary, The BFG is not a bad film at all. Its certainly not another E.T. but then its not another Hook (1991) either. Moreover, for someone like Roald Dahl, who notoriously poured scorn on those attempting to adapt his works, the film is surprisingly faithful to the book. Spielberg even keeps in some of the more bawdy aspects of the book like the whizzpoppers (farting) scene (which the 1989 film saw fit to excise). Not to mention he retains The Queen as a character (albeit a younger version of Queen Elizabeth II the film would seem to take place in the 1980s as a side-comment about Ron and Nancy would indicate). It does result in a very peculiarly quaint and picture postcard England, the sort someone standing outside the culture imagines the country to be all cobbled streets filled with Minis and Morris Minors, and a veneration for the pomp and officialdom of Royalty that is more reverential than any British-made film I can recall having seen.
The centre of the film are the two performances. Mark Rylance, who notedly won an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actor for his part as the Russian spy in Steven Spielbergs previous film Bridge of Spies (2015), has his body and features entirely sublimated by motion-capture. Underneath this, Rylance wields a West Country accent and an amazing range of Dahl-esque malapropisms with affecting results. Newcomer Ruby Barnhill is well placed up against him with an appealingly determined plaintiveness.
As you might expect of Spielberg, the entire film is an expert fusion of visual effects, digital sets and motion capture such that you tend to forget that it is effects and watch the charms of the fun play out. In the past, Spielberg has tended to have a hand with broad comedy that at its worst toppled over into the whole of Hook and some of the more indulgent sequences in the Indiana Jones sequels. There is an unnecessary sequence here with giants using the backs of vehicles as skates that could easily have hit the cutting room floor but most of the film wears its charms. Spielberg contrives some likeable knockabout sequences with the other giants invading BFGs home in search of Sophie. The most winning of these is the Gullivers Travels (1726)-esque sequence with BFG being served breakfast with The Queen.
Steven Spielbergs other genre films are: Duel (1971), Jaws (1975), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), Twilight Zone The Movie (1983), Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), Always (1989), Hook (1991), Jurassic Park (1993), The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997), A.I. (2001), Minority Report (2002), War of the Worlds (2005), Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008), The Adventures of Tintin (2011) and Ready Player One (2018). Spielberg has also acted as executive producer on numerous films too many to list here. Spielberg (2017) is a documentary about Spielberg.
Other Roald Dahl screen works are:- the short-lived anthology tv series Way Out (1961), which Dahl wrote for and hosted; the screenplays for the James Bond film You Only Live Twice (1967) and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968); the childrens classic Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971); the psycho-thriller The Night Digger (1971); the tv series Tales of the Unexpected (1979-81), an anthology series adapting Dahls macabre tales; and adaptations of The Witches (1990), James and the Giant Peach (1996), Matilda (1996), Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) and Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009).
(Winner for Best Actor (Mark Rylance), Nominee for Best Actress (Ruby Barnhill) at this sites Best of 2016 Awards).