It’s a big premiere for a big, friendly giant – and an equally sizable year for his creator. A feature-length adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The BFG arrives in U.S. theaters on July 1. The production, from DreamWorks and Amblin Entertainment, is directed by Steven Spielberg and stars Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, and Jemaine Clement. Roald Dahl’s fantasy story, illustrated by Quentin Blake, was originally published in 1982 by British publisher Jonathan Cape. The book is about a nine-year-old orphan named Sophie who is snatched from her London orphanage by a giant and taken on a voyage to Giant Land. Despite his intimidating size, the BFG is a gentle vegetarian who spends his days catching good dreams in jars to trumpet into the ears of sleeping humans. His fellow giants in Giant Land, however, prefer to eat humans over filling their minds with sugar plums.
The film features nine of the giants who have prominent roles in the book, including The Fleshlumpeater, The Bonecruncher, and The Childchewer, all of whom speak in a hybrid form of garbled English punctuated by wordplay (“human beings” are “human beans”). As with Dahl’s other works, The BFG embraces a sense of jovial disarray, with occasional strokes of darkness – attributes that early reviews suggest that the movie honors.
The film was adapted for the screen by Melissa Mathison, who is best known for her screenplay about another endearing outsider – E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial – which Spielberg also directed. Spielberg and Mathison (who died of cancer last November) worked closely together on E.T. and, as Spielberg [told the New York Times] http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/17/movies/a-word-with-steven-spielberg.html, working on The BFG with her brought back fond memories: “They were very casual, very beautiful sessions. It’s hard being here without her.”
In the interview, Spielberg also spoke about making decisions relating to the film’s aesthetic and wanting to create a visual experience that was akin to “literal alchemy on the screen that was somehow similar to things we’ve seen before but somehow also very different.” The goal was to “really infuse actual, human, God-given soul [into] an animated character,” but without having the use of performance capture digital technology undermine the actors’ performances in any way.
Spielberg has also addressed recent controversy concerning allegations that Dahl was anti-Semitic. “I wasn’t aware of any of Roald Dahl’s personal stories,” Spielberg said during a recent press conference at the Cannes Film Festival. “I was focused on this story he wrote.”
He also elaborated on the issue during his New York Times interview. “For somebody who has proclaimed himself anti-Semitic, to be telling stories that just do the opposite, embracing the differences between races and cultures and sizes and language, as Dahl did with The BFG, it’s a paradox,” he said.
A Big Birthday
This September will mark the centennial anniversary of Roald Dahl’s birth. Dahl’s daughter, Lucy Dahl, recently spoke with the Associated Press about her father, the upcoming film, and centennial celebrations happening later this year. She remarked how much her father was driven by the desire to “make children happy through his work,” and how he recognized the difficulties that children have being little people in a big world. She also praised the film adaptation, saying “Steven got it right. Steven, too, understands the idea of good triumphing over evil and identifying with being young at heart.”
Dahl also went on to say how “It’s very difficult for many people to adapt Dad’s work” because of the space it occupies between tragedy and humor. “There’s an invisible tightrope Dad was able to walk along that makes it a challenge for filmmakers,” she said.
Penguin is releasing a movie tie-in edition of The BFG featuring cover art from the film this month as well as a BFG movie MadLibs, a BFG doodle book, and a BFG journal. Earlier this year, Penguin released several Dahl paperback editions with new cover art, including The Twits, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, and James and the Giant Peach. On September 6, Penguin Young Readers will publish collectible hardcover editions of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Matilda, and James and the Giant Peach.
Penguin Young Readers also reports that, on Dahl’s birthday (September 13), libraries, bookstores, and other public spaces will hold Dahl birthday extravaganzas. Additionally, in September, the arts education group Story Pirates are partnering with Penguin Young Readers and the Roald Dahl Literary Estate to visit schools and libraries for The Roald Dahl Splendiferous Showdown, an interactive live trivia show based on the work of Dahl.
And in other news, Universal Studios will be opening the Toothsome Chocolate Factory & Savory Feast Emporium, a restaurant inspired by Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, complete with a chocolate river, at Universal Orlando Resort.
Dahl’s hometown of Cardiff, Wales, has a theatrical tribute planned for Dahl this summer. To commemorate the centennial, the city will be transformed into “Roald Dahl’s City of the Unexpected,” with Dahl-themed performances, displays, and celebrations city-wide. The events take place September 17 and 18.
And there’s a casting call. According to the official Roald Dahl website, the Wales Millennium Centre and National Theatre Wales are seeking “6000 performers for this landmark celebration, needing 2,000 choristers, 1,000 dancers, 50 Morris Minor drivers, 40 bald men, 13 magicians, four brass bands, three excavator drivers, a Spitfire pilot, firemen, circus artists, aerialists, rock climbers, grandparents, children, and a performing mouse.”