The BFG **

Steven Spielberg is back in “E.T.” mode with this tedious children’s story about a little girl who befriends a Big Friendly Giant.

Is it worth $10? No

Among director Steven Spielberg’s finer filmmaking gifts is his uncanny ability to know how to capture the imagination of the little ones sitting in the theater. This is especially important with “The BFG” because the film does so little to capture the imagination of adults. Yet children who attend the film, which is based on the Roald Dahl book of the same name, will find it enticing if for no other reason than because there’s a 24-foot tall old man helping the 10 year-old heroine at the story’s center.

That heroine is Sophie (Ruby Barnhill), an orphan in London who likes to read (she’s fittingly working on Dickens’ “Nicholas Nickleby” at the moment) and has trouble sleeping. As the story begins she’s kidnapped from her second-story dwelling by a Big Friendly Giant (“BFG”) who takes her to giant country, where all the locals but him eat humans. The BFG (Mark Rylance) pledges to protect her, which is the least he can do given that he brought her there.

At this point the film’s perspective and tone are prominent: Logically speaking, a little girl taken from her home and forced to live in a foreign land in which she’s constantly in danger should be horrifying. But in Spielberg’s hands there’s lightness to the story that makes it all seem okay; Barnhill’s bravado performance, coupled with Rylance’s gentility as the giant, also helps.

You will ask: If she’s in danger in giant country and the BFG wants to help, why doesn’t he just take her back to London? He tries, but Sophie is such a young “snapper whipper,” as the BFG calls her in one of the many idioms he flubs, that she insists on helping him get back at the giant bullies who pick on him.

It lacks narrative thrust and the characters are under developed, but visually the film is stellar. For two-thirds of the movie Barnhill is the only actor we see in true flesh and blood; the giants (played by Bill Hader, Rafe Spall and Jemaine Clement, in addition to Rylance) are rendered via motion capture, a process by which the actors’ motions are recorded and then a character is created using computer generated imagery (CGI). The production design by Rick Carter, coupled with the visual effects work, creates an awe-inspiring picture that maintains its scale and never ceases to impress. If you’re going to see “The BFG,” make sure you see it in 3D to enjoy its full effect.

Though Spielberg may insist otherwise, clearly “The BFG” isn’t for adults. It’s too cheesy, simple and dull to capture a mature crowd. However, it may connect with its target audience of those 12 and younger given the “wow” factor of the visuals and having a little girl as the main character. Note this, though: The children at my screening seemed engaged but occasionally confused as the story progressed (I know they were confused because they incessantly asked questions to their parents), and confusion is never something you want in a kids’ movie.

Did you know?
Screenwriter Melissa Mathison, who also wrote “E.T.” (1982), died in November 2015 while the film was in production.