Raiders Of The Lost Ark
DCC Compact Classics Records, 1981
REVIEW BY: Alfredo Narvaez
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 08/06/2000
I must start this review by thanking all those folks that dropped by and read my reviews of the Star Wars Trilogy soundtracks. Particularly the folks at The Force.net and Star Wars Database for directing traffic this way. Thanks!
Now, if you read those reviews, you may have noticed that I refer to the late '70s-early '80s as John Williams' Golden Period. Why? Because of the amount of quality work that he released during that time! Starting with Jaws (whose soundtrack will be reviewed here soon) and running to Return Of The Jedi, I consider all of his stuff necessary for anyone who enjoys great movie music. (Of course, he would go on and do other great scores -- Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade, Schindler's List, Jurassic Park among others -- but these would be spaced between less-than-stellar works.)
Among those scores from his heyday, Mr. Williams bestowed upon a simple movie adventure one of his greatest. Set against the backdrop of World War II, Raiders Of The Lost Ark introduced Indiana Jones to the movie-going world and instantly placed it in its pantheon of heroes. Both director Steven Spielberg and producer George Lucas must have known that this type of movie would require some epic-style adventure music. Lucky for them, they had the best composer available on speed dial.
Any mention of this score must begin with the classic "Raiders' Theme" -- AKA "dum-duh-dum-dum, dum-duh-dum." Again, Williams is able to aptly catch the essence of a character in a single piece of music. Indy is the larger-than-life hero that forever lives on the largest movie screens. He can outfight, outfox and outshoot anyone in his path -- be it Nazis, Amazonian warriors or even nests of snakes.
The music takes turns between soft, other-wordly, fun-action and serious-action. In the soft category, we have "Marion's Theme," or the love theme for the movie. Played by the winds in the movie -- and repeated by the violins later on -- the theme is tender and melancholic. It seems to symbolize a love that was ignored, but that both main characters still feel.
In the other-wordly category, we have the Ark's theme. First appearing in "Journey To Nepal" -- right after Marion's theme -- this theme doesn't reach its apex until "The Map Room: Dawn," where Indy finally discovers the true location of the Ark of the Covenant. It is later repeated in "Reunion And The Dig Begins." Later on, it makes a full-fledged return with "The Miracle Of The Ark," where the villains finally get what they deserve. There's also a theme for Marion's medallion -- first appearing in the aptly-named, "The Medallion" -- that is closely tied to the Ark's theme. It is later united with the Ark's theme in "Ark Trek."
Besides those two themes, Williams also composes some low music to designate Indy's explorations. "In The Idol's Temple" is creepy as hero and his sidekick move through the Amazonian temple. "The Well Of The Souls" is also atmospheric and dangerous. Both underscore the dangers that Indy places himself into -- booby traps, natural dangers and the decay of centuries of neglect -- to reach his various prizes.
However, this wouldn't be a true Indy movie without some adventures. Williams manages to create music that is both light and heavy for these sequences. On the fun side, we have "Flight From Peru," where Indy is forced to flee from the Hovito warriors. Here the music, though Indy is in danger, turns more fanciful and heroic, culminating in the first statement of the "Raiders March." More amusing is "The Basket Game," where Indy and Marion are attacked in the streets of Cairo. While we know the dangers they face in the Nazi henchmen, the scenes never take any gravity until the very end, when the music turns dark.
On the more serious action pieces, we have "Airplane Fight," where Indy fights a gigantic Nazi thug. The music gains more urgency as Marion becomes trapped in the flying wing. "The German Sub/To The Nazi Hangout" is also filled with urgency, as the Nazis seem to have won. Suddenly the low sounds give way to a triumphant rise of the "Raiders March" -- as the hero manages to outsmart the Nazi men. It turns low and creepy again for Indy's infiltration into the Nazi base.
The best action sequence in the entire score has to be, without a doubt, "Desert Chase." Changing tempos and themes so quickly that you barely get the chance to recognize all of the nuances, this is one of the best pieces in all of Williams' career. Matching the fast speed pace of the scenes, Williams' score twists and turns as both Indy and the Nazis take turns placing each other in check. If you want pure adrenaline-filled action music, play this piece over and over.
In the end, with this score, Williams breathed life into a whole new series. The themes introduced here would flesh out the emotions and sequences of one of the most adventurous movies of the last twenty years. To paraphrase Steven Spielberg, Indy knew when to creep, when to run, when to duck and when to fight because he paid close attention to the music Williams was playing. Do you hear the music playing behind you? Dum-duh-dum-dum/Dum-duh-dum...