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Steven Spielberg is set to follow in the footsteps of Tim Burton by updating a much-beloved Roald Dahl tale for modern audiences. The BFG, published in 1982, was first brought to the screen as an animated feature in 1989 by Danger Mouse creator Brian Cosgrove.
Providing the voice of the eponymous character was acclaimed actor David Jason, who had previously worked for Cosgrove on both Danger Mouse and another hit show, Count Duckula. Released five months before cult filmmaker Nicolas Roeg brought another Dahl classic, The Witches, to the screen with a sinister glee, The BFG was met with a positive response from both critics and audiences and has since hailed as a children’s classic.
In September 2011 it was revealed that DreamWorks had purchased the movie rights to Dahl’s story to be developed by husband-and-wife producers Frank Marshall and Kathleen Kennedy, whose association with Spielberg had begun thirty years earlier with Raiders of the Lost Ark. The task of writing the screenplay was given to another former collaborator of Spielberg, Melissa Mathison, who had written the director’s 1982 masterpiece E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and his segment the notorious anthology Twilight Zone: The Movie.
Dahl had dedicated The BFG, or the Big Friendly Giant, to the memory of his daughter Olivia, who had passed away twenty years earlier at the age of just seven. The story would also mark the first novel to be illustrated by Quentin Blake, the man who would become synonymous with Dahl’s imagination for the last decade of the author’s life. In 2012 Blake told the Telegraph ‘I never wanted children. But I do invent them,’ and his artwork on The BFG and many other Dahl stories would help bring the characters to life in the mind of the reader.
‘Quentin began to realise just how precisely Roald imagined his stories, and how close in particular he was to the character of the BFG,’ claimed biographer Donald Sturrock. ‘Initially, Dahl had described his character wearing a black, hat, apron and large black boots. But when Roald saw Quentin’s drawings, he knew at once that the giant needed to look softer and more lovable…But the giant was not entirely modelled on his creator. There were a number of other sources, including Dahl’s ever present builder, Wally Saunders, whose huge ears influenced the BFG.’
In April 2014 it was announced that Spielberg, who directed an animated Tintin in 2011, was to adapt The BFG into a live action movie, replacing first-choice John Madden who had chosen to focus on a sequel to his 2012 hit The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Following the announcement the Roald Dahl Literary Estate issued a statement in which they said, We are delighted that Steven Spielberg will bring his inventive genius to directing the story of The BFG and that Roald Dahl’s beloved story and characters will be brought to the screen in 2016 – a year when we will be celebrating a hundred years since Roald Dahl’s birth!’
In June DreamWorks and Disney announced that the project would be released in the United States on 1 July 2016, a little over two months before Dahl’s centennial. Madden has remained onboard as executive producer with Michael Siegel, who had previously helped in bringing Dahl to the big screen with Tim Burton’s 2005 re-imagining of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The BFG will be Spielberg’s first picture as director since his Academy Award nomination for Lincoln, having backed out of pre-production on the Navy Seal drama American Sniper in 2013.Entertainment One have now revealed that The BFG will be released in the United Kingdom on 22 July 2016, three weeks after its North American debut. ‘The world’s number one storyteller in books, the world’s number one storyteller in film, come together in the centenary year of Roald Dahl’s birth for the film of the summer,’ said the company’s managing director Alex Hamilton in a press release. ‘The BFG has caught our golden phizzwizard and is set to deliver it into the hearts and minds of everyone in the UK in 2016. This will be a GIANT film in every sense of the word.’
Luke Kelly, the grandson of Dahl, commented that ‘We are so thrilled and excited at this collaboration between two storytelling giants — Roald Dahl and Steven Spielberg. The fact that Steven is bringing one of my grandfather’s best-loved stories and characters to the big screen in the middle of the year in which we will celebrate Roald Dahl’s centenary is even more fantastic. Regarding the UK release date Spielberg added, ‘It is fitting that the UK is the first international country to announce the date of The BFG, a story that sprang from the imagination of this proud son from Wales…We at DreamWorks Studios hope our film will add to Roald Dahl’s prolific legacy of entertainment.’