Sunday, August 13, 2017

Composing Greatness: #15. John Williams - "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (1981)

Scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark
Welcome to Composing Greatness: a column dedicated to exploring the work of film composers. This will specifically focus on the films that earned them Oscar nominations while exploring what makes it so special. This will be broken down into a look at the overall style, interesting moments within the composition, and what made the score worth nominating in the first place. This will also include various subcategories where I will rank the themes of each film along with any time that the composer actually wins. This is a column meant to explore a side of film that doesn't get enough credit while hopefully introducing audiences to an enriched view of more prolific composers' work. This will only cover scores/songs that are compiled in an easily accessible format (so no extended scores will be considered). Join me every Sunday as I cover these talents that if you don't know by name, you recognize by sound.

Series Composer: John Williams
Entry: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Collaborators (If Available): London Symphony Orchestra
Nomination: Best Music, Original Score
Did He Win: No

Other Nominees:
-Chariots of Fire (Vangelis) *winner
-Dragonslayer (Alex North)
-On Golden Pond (Dave Grusin)
-Ragtime (Randy Newman)

Additional Information

This is to help provide perspective of where each composer is in their Oscar-nominated life as it related to the current entry.

Oscar Nomination: 16
Oscar Wins: 3

Track List

1. "The Raiders March" (LINK)

*NOTE: Due to unforeseen issues, the Raiders of the Lost Ark score is not currently available on YouTube in any semblance of an entirety. Unfortunately, this will create issues when trying to assess the score as a whole. Since there is an incomplete collection, I will only focus on the main theme this week. As compensation, please enjoy this disco cover:

Exploring the Music
The area of the column where I will explore the music in as much detail as I see fit for each entry.

Theme Exploration:
"The Raiders March"

As far a John Williams' greatest works go, this is probably my favorite of his classic period. It has the adventure theme at the center of it. You feel like exploring as the slow build to that iconic melody. When it starts, you can imagine yourself swinging on vines away from boulders. You can imagine being a tough guy fighting the elements to solve your expedition fancies. It's such a wonderful melody that builds and maintains its enthusiasm for the entire run. As it heads towards the back half, it gets more interesting and exciting, occasionally going more quiet. It helps to build suspense of what lies beyond the adventure. Where is Indiana Jones going to go? Who knows. As the melody steps over itself at one point, it becomes even more exciting. This is the magic that John Williams managed to build with Steven Spielberg, and I'd argue that they were never better than they were here. I can understand why Chariots of Fire won, if just because of that main melody, but this has sustained the test of time better. Maybe it's because Williams had three Oscars and Vangelis zero. Still, this is one of the greatest pieces of music ever, and there's no way around it.

Did This Deserve an Oscar Nomination?:

It's a bit difficult to assess an entire score off of one track. I apologize, as I tried to salvage something worthy of this column. However, nobody could write an adventure score quite like John Williams. It's a callback to an old style of film making that shows just how involved he is in updating music of the past. It's so majestic and fun, creating a new iconic theme for a new generation. I wish that I could assess the rest of the score with this, but there's not a version readily available to do this (if you can find one that is almost complete and free, let me know and I will redo this entry). Still, how can you hate such a memorable theme? You cannot help but hum along as it starts. It's amazing to think how many time-testing themes he has made over the course of just a few years, not even 10 if you start at Jaws. Here's hoping that next week's Spielberg/Williams score has more of its part in place, because E.T. is if nothing one of his best works and yet another reinvention of space culture in an interesting way.

Up Next: E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial (1982) for Best Music, Original Score

Best Theme

A ranking of all themes composed by John Williams.

1. "The Raiders March" - Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
2. "Main Theme (Theme From 'Jaws')" - Jaws (1975)
3. "Theme From 'Superman'" - Jaws (1978) 
4. "Prologue/Tradition" - Fiddler on the Roof (1971)
5. "Main Title and Mountain Visions" - Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
6. "Main Title/The Ice Planet/Hoth" - Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
7. "Main Title" - The Towering Inferno (1974)
8. "Main Title/Rebel Blockade/Runner Medley" - Star Wars (1977)
9. "Wednesday Special (Main Theme)" - Cinderella Liberty (1973)
10. "Main Title/First Introduction/The Winton Flyer" - The Reivers (1969)
11. "River Song"- Tom Sawyer (1973)
12. "Where Did My Childhood Go?" - Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969)
13. "Theme from 'Valley of the Dolls'"/"Theme from 'Valley of the Dolls' - Reprise" - Valley of the Dolls (1967)
14. "Opening Titles" - The Poseidon Adventure (1972)
15. "In Search of Unicorns" - Images (1972)

Best Song

A ranking of all Oscar-nominated songs composed by John Williams.

1. "Nice to Be Around" - Cinderella Liberty (1973)

Best Winner

A ranking of all winners composed by John Williams.

1. Jaws (1975) for Best Music, Original Dramatic Score
2. Fiddler on the Roof (1971) for Best Music, Scoring Adaptation and Original Song Score
3. Star Wars (1977) for Best Music, Original Dramatic Score

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