Steven Spielberg's film of Roald Dahl's creepy children's story The BFG, adapted by the late Melissa Mathison (who also wrote E.T.), is not really a comedy, until, eventually, it is. The director's earlier films were often informed by the language of horror — they were filled with jump scares and suspense scenes built around characters' limited visions. And so, too, does The BFG open with menacing undertones, as a British orphan (Ruby Barnhill) one night witnesses a terrifying giant (Mark Rylance) wandering a dark alley. The giant abducts her, and Spielberg shoots their initial meeting with both dread and whimsy. For a moment, the movie is pure magic.
That soon dissipates, however. Spielberg's film is quite faithful to Dahl's original: The giant whisks the girl off to a magic land, where she discovers that he's the sole friendly member of a whole race of giants -- a kind and melancholy soul at the mercy of his bigger, man-eating brethren. Much of the film suffers from the one thing that Spielberg films almost never suffer from: stasis. He's made, essentially, a "hangout" movie, one in which we're supposed to luxuriate in our time with the characters, but this isn't a director who thrives on extended moments of just being.
The film seems meant to pick up when it moves on to Buckingham Palace and an audience with the Queen, where we get some laughs in a set piece involving massive farts (all straight out of Dahl). But Spielberg treats big moments of comedy like action scenes: All buildup, anticipation and climax with little room left for unpredictability, charm or freedom.