'The BFG': Spielberg's magical new movie is a supersized dream

Beware the hand that reaches through the window, holds fast, and steals you away into the darkest night.

That's what happens to Sophie (newcomer Ruby Barnhill), a bespectacled little girl, wrapped in her quilt and snatched from a London orphanage at the beginning of Steven Spielberg's supersized dream of a movie, The BFG.

Those letters stand for Big Friendly Giant, a character and book concocted by the devilish storyteller Roald Dahl.

In Spielberg's grasp - mixing live-action and green screen, CG and motion-capture effects - the 1982 children's story becomes a large-scale tableau of impossibly wonderful images: the giant (played by Mark Rylance, with Dumbo ears and a sweet, befuddled frown), skulking down London side streets, cloaking himself in the shadows; the giant (holding Sophie) taking (yes) giant leaps across the Thames, alongside rows of trees and coastal cliffs, over mountains and moors, on the way to his home.

Like E.T., that other Spielberg yarn, The BFG is the tale of a child who befriends a scary and misunderstood creature from a different land. Each learns from the other, working out issues of fear and loneliness, coming together to battle malevolent forces.

In E.T., the bad guys were ominous G-men. In The BGF, they're a different kind of G-men: giants, far taller and mightier than the one they call "Runt." They sense their neighbor, the BFG, is harboring a human. They can smell her, and they want to eat her.

Like the best children's stories, The BFG has a dreamlike quality, in no small part because its towering title character concocts dreams - that's what he does. There are jars, labeled with dreamers' names, all over his stone and wood abode, each with a nocturnal reverie swirling inside. The BFG uses a long, trumpetlike apparatus to send the dreams their respective ways.

If this all sounds magical and splendiferous, it is, up to the point when the film - like the Dahl book - does a wacky 180, landing in Buckingham Palace, of all places.

There, the Queen (Penelope Wilton) and her staff (Rebecca Hall, Rafe Spall) must figure out how to accommodate a terribly large and unexpected guest. There's also a third-act military operation - the generals of the British Army ordering squads of helicopters and soldiers to the land where the really big, mean creatures live.

So there's that silliness. There are also several distracting scenes where little Sophie and her 24-foot-tall pal are talking to each other, bonding, but the actors' eyes are fixed on some imaginary point in the middle distance, where a ping-pong ball on a stick (or something like that) is too obviously subbing for the other pal.

And tell me if I'm nuts, but another distraction: Doesn't the BFG bear a striking resemblance to George W. Bush?

Make his ears flappier, give him a more dramatic recession (hairline, that is, not economic!) and a jawline wisp of beard, and GWB and BFG could be twins. That's Rylance in the BFG's eyes, for sure, and in the voice, but it's not hard to imagine "43" striding around the White House at 3 a.m., causing a great rumpledumpus, as BFG would say.

But, hey, even if the Queen makes a passing reference to "Nancy and Ronnie" (time-framing a movie that otherwise looks like it's set in 1960s London), politics - American, British, otherwise - is not what The BFG is about.

It's about coming to terms with the Bogeyman. And coming to like him, very much.

srea@phillynews.com

215-854-5629 @Steven_Rea


Movie review

The BFG

***(Out of four stars)

yDirected by Steven Spielberg. With Ruby Barnhill, Mark Rylance, Rebecca Hall, and Penelope Wilton. Distributed by Walt Disney.

yRunning time: 1 hour, 57 mins.

yParent's guide: PG (scary images)

yPlaying at: Area theaters.