This past week John Williams had his 80th birthday. One of the first thing he will do during his 80th year will be attending the Oscars later this month where the Maestro is nominated for 2 best score awards. Even at this age Williams is at the top of his game.
In honor of the most prolific film composer alive today I wanted to use my weekly film score soap box to celebrate the man who has provided the soundtrack to the imaginations of several generations.
Everyone knows about his contributions to Star Wars, Superman, Indiana Jones and Harry Potter, but how many people are aware that he wrote not one, but two classic themes for Lost in Space?
It was John Williams music that made me fall in love with film music. I can pinpoint it all the way back to a single moment in Jurassic Park when the helicopter approached Isla Nublar, the cue still gives me chills to this day, and nearly two decades later I still look to Mr. Williams as the inspiration for a life long passion.
So to celebrate the man’s mountainous influence, I am going to spotlight a specific, often over looked track on several of my favorite Williams scores of all time. No list, no real specific order, just a casual walk through some of the very best film music of our lifetimes.
Jurassic Park – Journey To The Island
I have to begin at the beginning, that very same cue that roped me into film score love before I even understood what it was. This track encapsulates the score of Jurassic Park perfectly, it starts with one of the most powerful musical moments I have ever encountered, with triumphant trumpets and stirring strings it introduces us to the island in an incredible fashion.
The track is home to not just one iconic movie music moment, after the arrival music it blends perfectly into the most pure and imaginative version of the Jurassic Park main theme written. The moment where Dr. Grant see’s a living, breathing dinosaur for the first time. So many people were blown away by the cinematic marvel of the scene, but Williams’ moving version of his theme played a big part as well.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – Finale
Before I read the novels, before I fell in love with the universe I was just a film fan who kinda, sorta dug the Harry Potter movies. It wasn’t until the end of the third film where I started to realize that I was being ensnared into the wondrous world of Harry Potter, and John Williams’ out of left field score for the third film was a big factor for me.
Alfonso Curon worked with Williams to create a far more complex, interesting and heartbreaking score for the film. Setting the entire franchise in the right direction. The theme Williams wrote for this film feels very much like the theme of Harry’s connection to the past. It is a simple tune that is as good in a full orchestration or in a tiny arrangement, and it speaks to the sadness in Harry’s heart without being sad. In fact, it is rather a noble theme, underlying the impact of their sacrifice in Harry’s mind. The music is illustrating the resolve inside harry that is setting him on the difficult path he has to travel.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade – The Penitent Man Will Pass
There are tons of amazing themes in the Indiana Jones movies, but the one that is my favorite never really got a tone of love. The grail theme from The Last Crusade is such a great tune, it is a shame there is not one amazing track that just nail it. There is however this track, which does a really good job of selling the music as something very old, very dangerous, but only threatening to those who don’t understand.
Another did you know, the main Indiana Jones theme is actually two separate themes Williams wrote for the original Indiana Jones movie. Spielberg himself actually suggested Williams find away to mix the two together since he liked both equally for the main theme.
Hook – You Are The Pan
My favorite John Williams score of all time. Hook is a special score that deserves a higher place in general public opinion. This track in particular has one of the more emotionally powerful moments in the entire score. The moment when a young lost boy finds Peter behind the wrinkles of age, it might seem a little creepy that Robin William’s face is being felt up by a little boy, but the music cuts right through any of the ancillary silliness and plants you firmly in the world an aging Peter Pan.
The score also has one of the best flying themes ever written for film, filled with such pure energy and exhilaration. If a space alien, radio active accident or radical evolutionary change allows me the ability to fly, that theme will be on a constant rotation in my iPod.
Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back – The Asteroid Field
I have to give some nod to the Star Wars films, it just wouldn’t be right otherwise. I gave serious consideration to spotlighting the celebration music from the end of the 1997 re-release of Return of the Jedi. I rather liked it, but I know most fan boys miss the Ewok song so I passed.
What I did choose was one of the best pieces of action music Williams ever wrote. One talent he has beyond writing iconic themes is writing action music that can make even the most mundane activity thrilling. The Asteroid Field is one of those tracks that feels like true Star Wars to me. It only has a limited taste of a couple iconic main themes, but it retains such a rich Star Wars-y feel keeping the listener hooked to a Star Wars track that isn’t the imperial march or the force theme.
Plus it is one of Han Solo’s most bad ass moments in the saga. Outsmarting an entire fleet, spearheaded by Darth Vader himself, in a tiny, barely operational Millennium Falcon. Screw shooting first, THAT is bad ass.
I am starting to run out of ways to talk about the amazing works of John Williams with out getting repetitive. His legacy is vast, and his influence is incalculable. The Maestro has long been regarded as a living legend, and as he enters the eighth decade of his illustrious life, we here at The Flickcast wish him all the best.
Happy Birthday John Williams, and thank you.