The film features the last script written by Melissa Mathison (in her second and final collaboration with Spielberg, the first being E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial) before her death in late 2015. The film had been in development by producers Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall since 1991 with Paramount Pictures, until DreamWorks acquired the rights to the production in 2011. Spielberg eventually signed on as director, with Walt Disney Studios, Amblin Entertainment, and Walden Media following suit. Many fans of Spielberg's previous films expected him to tackle the darker elements of Dahl's book with proficiency, likening the project as a spiritual successor for Spielberg to E.T. However, when The BFG was premiered at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, critical reaction was mixed with praise going towards Rylance and Barnhill's performances along with the visual effects. Reviews after the film's worldwide were generally the same - somewhat positive - but the film ended up severely underperforming at the box office within its first weekend, with many analysts rushing to call it the largest flop in Steven Spielberg's entire career.
The BFG also marks a welcome return to a collaboration which hasn't been seen since 2012. Fresh off the massive success of a certain seventh sequel to a certain popular science-fiction franchise, John Williams returns for his 28th collaboration with Spielberg after having been forced to drop out of scoring duties for Bridge of Spies due to a minor health issue. The composer has certainly been active in the last few years and shows no signs of stopping, age seeming to not be a factor for turning out high-quality music. But the question does therefore remain: what's the end result?
Williams's traits - they're all here. Musical motives, development, genius orchestration, and his usual palette of colors at his arsenal depending on the genre and feeling of the film he is working on. In this case, it's a return to the whimsical fantasies of childhood adventure films. However, much like the final product of The BFG itself, Williams's music plays it safe and subdued, yet intimate and heartfelt. It makes no alarming attempts to grasp the truly darker elements of Dahl's book in the veins of E.T. Don't expect to hear any truly frightening, dissonant stingers or massive, epic symphonic gestures.
The score by John Williams was his first collaboration with Stone, and he would go on to work with him again for the political thrillers JFK and Nixon. This was not the first political film Williams had worked on, having previously scored the 1977 thriller Black Sunday. However, it began a new path in his career as he explored a new idea for future films: a deeply embedded, strong sense of Americana spirit. Williams had embarked on such concepts with the two Olympic fanfares he had composed before this film, "Olympic Fanfare and Theme" (for the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles) and "The Olympic Spirit" (for the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, Korea), but the direction he took for Born on the Fourth of July was stark and different. The score would go on to be nominated for both an Oscar and Golden Globe for Best Original Score, but it lost both awards to another film released in 1989 - specifically, a musical that put a certain "magical" film studio back on the map.
The score makes no use of woodwinds at all, instead relying on a mostly string-based ensemble for its orchestral power and emotional depth. Hauntingly beautiful trumpet solos, masterfully executed by Tim Morrison (who would become a regular collaborator with Williams during their time in the Boston Pops), foreshadow and remind listeners of the tragedies Kovic will experience in his lifetime. Minimal brass and timpani are also present throughout several cues in the score. The main theme is absolutely captivating for its Americana roots, its beauty stemming from both the joy and sorrow of Kovic's life through harmonic simplicity yet genuinely rich orchestration. Included in the middle of this theme is the return of the trumpet in a brighter, nostalgic spirit. The tragedy can be felt in every second of this theme, regardless of the innocence and joyful spirit it also evokes.