In my “9 on the 9th” post last week listing my favorite John Williams scores, I was asked in the comments, “No love for Indy?” While I don’t adore the Indiana Jones movies, or their scores, as much as some film music fans, far be it from me not to acknowledge their craft, their popularity, and their place in film music history.
Everyone has their favorite Indiana Jones score. I’d pick RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK for the simple reason that it’s the best film in the quartet and I’ve lived with the score longer. And oddly enough, I prefer the original MCA LP sequencing. The extra music that was added to later CD releases, while certainly welcome, diluted the impact of the score.
If you ask most other fans, they’ll probably list TEMPLE OF DOOM as their favorite score. For years, the message boards were filled with pleas for an expanded domestic release of the score on CD. (The original LP version had only been available as a Japanese import CD). With the arrival of the 5-CD INDIANA JONES – THE SOUNDTRACK COLLECTION last fall, fans got their wish. Even with the wealth of material, complaints were still leveled at that superb set: music still left off, re-edited cue problems, and remastering issues. I was happy to have all the scores in one place and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the set.
Unfortunately, you won’t find any cues from last year’s KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL. The score contains some great musical set pieces and Williams showed that he hadn’t lost any of his versatility, but the score felt like second-tier Indy.
To me, Indiana Jones has always spelled fun and adventure. These cues reflect that.
10. Anything Goes (TEMPLE OF DOOM)
I can hear the cries of horror emanating from Indy disciples even as I type this. Why “waste” a slot on a non-original Williams tune? Because it shows off Williams’ arranging and orchestration genius, perfectly capturing the aura of classic movie musicals as well providing a fond reminder of his earlier work, like the Oscar-winning FIDDLER ON THE ROOF (without the Hebraic harmonies). Besides, it’s Cole Porter in Cantonese! How could I resist? Just try and keep from tapping when the orchestra goes into the dance break.
9. Short Round’s Theme (TEMPLE OF DOOM)
Adding the character of Short Round to the sequel to RAIDERS was like adding the Ewoks or Jar-Jar Binks to the STAR WARS franchise: unnecessary and detrimental. Obviously Williams saw much more in the character than I do. This is a truly heroic theme that deserves a far better fate than being attached to that annoying little half-pint.
8. Desert Chase (RAIDERS)
From its opening French horn whoops, this is one action cue that doesn’t let up. The brass and the drums are relentless throughout as your blood pumps faster and faster. You’ll hear echoes of this track in “The Jungle Chase” in CRYSTAL SKULL. But nothing tops the original.
7. Keeping Up With the Joneses (LAST CRUSADE)
The staccato woodwind theme and the playful afterbeats provide the Joneses with a humorous counterpoint to the dark brass theme. The strings later swell with an elongated rendering of the Joneses’ theme that shows off the kind of string writing that is pure Williams.
6. The Map Room: Dawn (RAIDERS)
All this sequence needed was a simple three-note motif, a chorus of awestruck voices, and a thin pinpoint of light crossing the sandy floor in search of a secret. And it’s up to Williams’ music to provide the excitement and sense of wonder in this visually simple, dialogue-less, scene.
TEMPLE OF DOOM was a much darker sequel to RAIDERS and nowhere is that more evident that in the plight of the slave children. With the theme’s minor key, insistent snare drum, and metallic percussion, this march of the unfortunate is the antithesis to the popular “Raiders March,” and every bit as memorable.
4. The Mine Car Chase (TEMPLE OF DOOM)
The tempo flies along at a brisk clip that reminds me of, well, an out-of-control mine car and Williams gives those poor winds and strings one helluva workout. The rollercoaster visuals made my stomach flip-flop in the theater as Williams brought together many of the major themes in the score. This is one action cue that leaves you breathless.
3. The Basket Game (RAIDERS)
The joy of this track comes from the E-flat clarinet and the rushing sixteenth notes in the strings. Williams wrote many other cues in the Indiana Jones franchise that contained motivic elements of “The Basket Game,” but few matched the sly humor and energy of this track.
2. Indy’s Very First Adventure (LAST CRUSADE)
I’ve been known to air conduct the staccato theme (in the privacy of my own home) just to see if I can get the woodwinds in my imagination to play the music as crisply as Williams does. The extended cue that was included in the box set was a welcome surprise. Whether it was the youthful energy of River Phoenix as a young Indy or the sense of playful joy that infuses much of LAST CRUSADE, Williams’ opening track is about as much fun as anything you’ll hear in the series.
1. Flight From Peru (RAIDERS)
This may seem like an odd choice to occupy my top slot, with its pizzicato strings, squawking clarinet, and the sounds of the jungle. But when I first heard that trumpet followed by the full-throttled French horn statement of the “Raiders Theme,” I wasn’t the only person in the theater that felt shivers travel up my spine. A hero was born, in cinema and in film music.