The first of my four stories in a special edition of this week’s Variety deals with fantasy-film scores, specifically The BFG by John Williams and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by James Newton Howard. Both composers gave me time on the phone last month, Williams before he dove back into the Star Wars universe — he begins recording in a matter of weeks — and Howard prior to leaving for an extended stay in Europe. These are two of the finest orchestral scores of the year and, in this story, we delve into the details and the approaches to two very different fantasy tales (one by Roald Dahl, whom Williams knew, and one by J.K. Rowling herself).
Tonight, John Williams becomes the first composer to receive the American Film Institute’s Life Achievement Award in the 44-year history of the honor. In connection with the event, Variety asked me to interview the five-time Oscar winner about composing such iconic themes as Star Wars, Jaws, E.T., Raiders of the Lost Ark, Superman and Harry Potter — as well as what’s next for him in an already distinguished 60-year career. It was also an opportunity to inquire of conductor Gustavo Dudamel, producer Kathleen Kennedy and AFI president Bob Gazzale about their thoughts on working with a Hollywood legend — and a chance for me to outline (in a short sidebar) some key career highlights.