How many indelible themes can one man write? One would think that after Superman, Star Wars, Jaws and even lesser known efforts such as The Cowboys a composer would be running short on original thematic material. Of course, when it's John Williams
, great expectations are usually met and so when Steven Spielberg and George Lucas joined forces to create a globe trotting archeologist (not the most obvious source of potential for a great action film, it has to be said) they both brought along John Williams
to bring Indiana Jones musically to life. The Raiders March is now an almost obligatory entry at any Williams concert and more often than not the encore, even if it hasn't been featured in the listed program. The first 30 seconds are usually drowned out by cheering and the time between those final five notes and the return of cheering, is infinitesimal. The Raiders March is just one of those themes that you can remember after the first listen and yet its appeal doesn't diminish with repeats.
While the Raiders March is used quite frequently throughout Raiders of the Lost Ark
it would be wrong to suggest that it's a one theme score. There's the old fashioned passion of Marion's Theme which slips nicely into sub-genre of Williams romance and along the same lines as Han and Leia's indelible theme from The Empire Strikes Back
. Then there's the portentous Ark Theme, the officious but mildly comical march for the Nazis and equally memorable secondary melodies, notably the mysterious oboe melody for The Medallion which, give every key element of the film a readily identifiable motif. Raiders of the Lost Ark
is one of those scores where every track has something going for it, but there are of course many stand out highlights.
After a nice arrangement of the Raiders March that acts as a prelude to the album presentation of the score (if not in the film), there is suspenseful and creepy music as we find Jones raiding a Temple in South America. Barely a whisper of the march is heard, instead there's much tension and skittish musical responses to the dangers lurking around every corner. Only with Flight From Peru does Williams let the cat out of the bag and the march takes its place as an emotional trigger for when Indy is doing something heroic. The ability of the melody to appear as a brief hint as well as a full length theme is a testament to its inspired construction.
While most of the action is played seriously, The Basket Game makes for a more light hearted scherzo, notably scored for pizzicato strings, even if the ending is somewhat more subdued when Indy believes Marion to have been killed in an explosion. Airplane Flight and the lengthy Desert Chase both give much air time to the Raiders March, perhaps a little too much for some people, but Williams' ingenious counterpoint gives it different dramatic meaning as Indy either appears to be winning or losing the battle. The music associated with the Ark isn't as biblical as one might expect, the final sequence of The Miracle of the Ark demonstrating its power as too much for mere mortals. Some disturbing trumpet fanfares and other genuinely frightening musical effects add greatly to the potency of the scene.
One could also mention the choral grandeur of The Map Room: Dawn and the gentle use of Marion's Theme after the Desert Chase, but as a top Williams score, is one that should be owned and listened to. The performance of the London Symphony Orchestra
is outstanding in every respect and this expanded edition from Silva Screen is a model of great presentation both in terms of musical production and excellent liner notes. The Indiana Jones set offers only slightly more music than the original album, notably Washington Men/Indy's Home and Bad Dates, yet oddly has an edit in the Truck Chase that appeared in the original album release. It's only around 40 seconds, but it seems odd. The other slightly unusual editing choice is to put the delightful coda that originally appeared at the end of the opening 3 minute version of the Raider's March on the end of the End Credits. For fans, both versions are required for the most complete view (I'm not sure if there's much else unreleased), although more casual fans would be happy with either version. The sound quality is fairly comparable, although the Silva release contains perhaps the more interesting liner notes. Either way, an essential film music classic that should be in anyone's collection.
Read other recent reviews by Tom Daish: The Snow Files: The Film Music of Mark Snow
, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad