Friday, July 8, 2016

Quick Review: The BFG

The BFG
Music composed and conducted by John Williams
Music recorded at Sony Scoring Stage 
Music recorded and mixed by Shawn Murphy
Music edited by Ramiro Belgardt
Album running time: 64 minutes
Available on Walt Disney Records

Based on the 1982 book of the same name, John Williams and Steven Spielberg reunite for another film in their multi-decade collaboration.  (For those keeping track, this is film 27 together).


While this musical material is new, the whimsical and magical style can be traced back to several other of his film scores - namely Hook, Home Alone and Harry Potter.  His thematic style and orchestration lend themselves to live almost in the same musical world.


For The BFG, the main theme is for Sophie (highlighted of course in the concert suite at the end of the album).  This theme permeates the score, mostly used for sweeter moments.  The meaner giants, Fleshlumpeater, Bloodbottler, Bonecruncher, among others, have a theme (which I'll just call Fleshlumpeater Theme).  There is a waltz-like theme for the traveling between worlds that I'll call Traveling Theme.  A lovely Friendship Theme, a Nightmare motif and a Queen motif round out the thematic material.   


Overture (unused in the film), is a lovely introduction to the score.  Harp glissandos and flighty flutes circle around a lovely statement of Sophie's Theme.  The Witching Hour begins in a slightly subdued and slightly spooky, representing London at Sophie's orphanage.  The clarinet takes over a lovely melancholy theme with low string interruptions.  As Sophie gets taken, the music grows larger and more menacing.  


To Giant Country begins with a low woodwind motif used for giants before the music opens up to the waltz-like Traveling Theme, fitting with The BFG's large strides and making it dance-like.  Dream Country, where The BFG bottles up dreams, is represented by Williams in an impressionist way.  Long melody lines, bell trees and harp glissandos give the dream-like feel of the magical place.  Parts of this track match the atmospheric/calmed sections of E.T. and A.I.  Sophie's Theme gets a few lovely reprises, with trilling flutes and racing strings accompany Sophie chasing dreams.  She does catch a nightmare, and Williams introduces his Nightmare motif.  It's unusual for Williams to have such a long track on the soundtrack, but this captures a long stretch of the film.


Sophie's Nightmare stays on the darker side, giving full statements of the Nightmare motif, my favorite being in the muted trumpets.  Building Trust is a particularly nice Williams track, fitting in with warm, gentle feelings associated with a Spielberg film.  The piano leads Sophie's Theme, eventually growing to the whole orchestra.  There's a bit of cartoon side to it near the end with Sophie's Theme being played in the woodwinds.  Fleshlumpeater brings us the 'villain' theme.  The mean giants do eat humans, but the music keeps them in a threatening/bumbling comic tone throughout.  (Most listeners know this style from Home Alone burglars, Jabba the Hutt's theme, or Gilderoy Lockhart in the 2nd Harry Potter score).


Dream Jars has some really interesting writing for flutes (many representing the dreams themselves).  It has an impromptu feel and might feel out of place without the film's visual.  A solo harp takes over for a bit, before leading into a quick reprise of Sophie's Theme.  The mean giants material returns in Frolic, and launches into a full-on Strauss-ian polka with a grand ending.  Blowing Dreams introduces the Friendship Theme, a lilting and lovely theme. The flitting flutes return and the orchestra shares some touching underscoring with solo woodwinds.  Snorting and Sniffing features Sophie's Themes in some new statements and add to the bumbling giant music heard earlier.  


Sophie's Future is another tender rendition of Sophie's Theme for flute and harp and later transitions into the Friendship Theme before returning to a bigger statement of Sophie's Theme.  A truly beautiful lullaby-style statement of both themes.  The slightly sad tone returns in There Was A Boy, with Sophie's Theme and the Traveling Theme making appearances.  The Queen's Dream opens with the Nightmare motif which returns us to a more action style with some reprises of Sophie's Theme.  This track also includes the Queen motif, a regal horn chorale.


The Boy's Drawings begins with the flighty flutes and transitions to Sophie's Theme, a few references to the Queen's motif and the Friendship Theme.  This darker backstory isn't in the original novel, but gives Sophie's motivation to round up the mean giants.  Meeting the Queen jumps into the snare drum and a regal variation of the Friendship Theme.  The Queen's motif obviously makes an appearance in that same horn chorale style.  Much of the Queen's scenes in the film are used with some British tune arrangements (used in Barry Lyndon and arranged by Leonard Rosenman).  


An airy version of Sophie's Theme starts off Giants Netted, while the strings charge along.  The Nightmare motif appears with the Fleshlumpeater Theme getting a full statement.  Even then, the mean giants are given music akin to Captain Hook as they receive their banishment.  Finale brings us back to a sweet and tender arrangement of Sophie's Theme on solo piano.  The Friendship Theme gets a reprise before the wistful ending.  Sophie and the BFG is a 8-minute suite of themes, each getting a chance to shine - Sophie's Theme, Fleshlumpeater, Traveling Theme, Friendship Theme, Nightmare motif - with Sophie's Theme taking one last bow as the flute flits off once more.  

Most of my criticism towards the score is more towards the film.  The BFG film is a bit of a puzzlement.  It is more of a serious film with serious topics of loneliness, loss of friendship and I guess the main moral is don't judge a book by its cover (?)  Of course being a Roald Dahl book, his made-up words are supposed to be funny but seemed to fall flat.  And of course the whizpoppers (ie farts) are completely odd in between the serious atmosphere.  (There is one that is actually funny because who can't resist?!)  After all, in Willy Wonka the main characters burp themselves down from the ceiling.  

All that said, John Williams brings his magical touch back with this score.  And of course, along with that touch are echoes of scores of years past.  Most filmgoers will instantly hear connections to previous works, and it might be hard to separate, but this new score does have a new identity.  On a technical musical level, Williams brings a new level of writing - both challenging and deceptively simple.  The parts for woodwinds could easily fit into his concert works, with the flute taking a majority of the solos.  His new themes work nicely in the film and the album, while somewhat out of order, is varied enough for an enjoyable listening experience.  Is this the score and film people will remember for years?  Probably not - it sadly doesn't reach the emotional level and iconic spirit as some of their best collaborations.  Still, grab a bottle of Frobscottle and listen to a touching and masterfully written score by the best!                    

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