Last week we looked at recent “best of” releases celebrating two masters of film music: Hans Zimmer and James Horner. Reflecting on the works of Zimmer and Horner reminded me that I have gone a long time with out appreciating the one composer who can rightfully be called their superior. Of course I am talking about the maestro himself, John Willaims, the single most prolific master composer in the history of cinema.
In honor of the maestro’s concert series at the Hollywood Bowl this weekend and the two new scores coming out this winter I am going to review the last score John Williams wrote for a feature film, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. The much maligned sequel to the popular franchise, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull still boasted a brand new, return to 80’s action style score from Williams.
The movie might have failed to live up to the high standards of Spielberg and his franchise, but the Williams brought his A game to the table. The score is right out of the vintage Williams style that influenced an entire generation. If you would have told me the music came from a lost late 80’s adventure film scored by Williams, I would have believed you. The spirit and tone of Williams most iconic era was alive again.
Now at the point of this soundtrack’s release Williams had already reached back into his prime era with the return to Star Wars. Those scores were less about recapturing an old sound and more about moving the franchise into a modern era. With the Indiana Jones sequel, the mandate accross the whole production was to bring back the fun and adventure of the 80s films that people know and love. Williams clearly took that to heart and the result is a score that far exceeds the quality of the film it accompanies.
There are three main things to discuss with this score, the first of which is returning themes. Of course you will have the essential Indiana Jones theme, and it plays subtly throughout the score, popping in and out to assert itself as the main theme. Aside from Indy’s theme, the other main returning theme is that of Marion Ravenwood, although, more simply, this can be considered Indy’s love theme. It is an absolute treat to hear this music used again. It is presented big, bold and proud, a reminder of the classic roots this score has.
I was lucky enough to go to Williams’ summer concert at the Hollywood bowl in ’08, this was the year Indiana Jones 4 came out and Williams was very keen to share his favorite new music from the movie. He was quite fond of the theme of Irina, Cate Blanchett’s Russian psychic. He explained that the he wanted to write music to accompany a strong female who could stand toe to toe with one of the most iconic manly men of all time. The haunting, almost supernatural flavor of Irina’s theme is punctuated by a very Russian sound. It almost plays the same as the grail theme from Raiders, melding into the music for the extra dimensional finale.
One very important thing that needs to be stated in this review before I finish with my favorite tracks, Shia Labeouf better fully appreciate just how lucky he is. The kid has a full fledged John Williams theme. Not a motif, not a cue, a full, fun, fantastic theme. I don’t care what your opinion of Mutt Williams (Jones) is, his theme is exactly the type of music that Williams nails. Action and adventure, mixed in with a hint of playfulness that just puts a smile on your face. Mr. Labeouf, you better whistle this theme to your self as you walk down the street, because otherwise you don’t understand just how lucky you are.
Three Favorite Tracks:
The Adventures of Mutt by John Williams – No need to beat around the bush, I obviously love this theme. There is something that John Williams does better than and composer in the history of time, and that is writing action music that forces a smile onto your face. This music is just plain fun. I am sitting here writting this review, but as I listen to this music the urge to toss my computer and grab a sword is almost too strong to resist. Seriously, this music makes me want to swashbuckle, how cool is that.
Irina’s Theme by John Williams – As much as I loved Mutt’s theme, the music for Irina is probably the best new music on this album. It is such a prefect blend of supernatural intrigue, Russian strength and perfect mood music. This villain music is taps into that same reservoir that gave us the Imperial March and the woefully underrated Hook pirates theme, giving a strong villain presence that can be littered into the whole album. The ever presence of the theme during the more supernatural moments perfectly links Irina’s loyalty with the unknown rather than her mother Russia.
Finale by John Williams – The finale is everything this album truly has to offer in one easy to swallow ten minute package. From the returning main themes to the worthwhile new ones, the finale track gives us everything in a perfect nutshell. It starts with the love theme that is played over the wedding in the movie, followed by the most pure version of the main Indiana Jones theme as you are ever going to hear. It then flows perfectly into the new music, allowing us the opportunity to fully embrace how well Williams came back to the ’80s style glory of his most famous decade as a composer.
Least Favorite Track:
A Whirl Through Academe by John Williams – One of the hallmarks of the original Indiana Jones movies is the classic action set piece music. If Williams excelled at recapturing his character theme mojo, he missed the boat with this music. For lack of better explanation, the music is messy and doesn’t have any cohesive hook. If there is a theme here I am missing it entirely. I don’t remember being this bored with any of this music back when it was released, but this track was the only one that I had to stare at the ticking track time, waiting for it to end. It is a swing and a miss.
At the end of the day this is another classic John Williams score. Not something that transcends his current work and establishes itself as new pop culture like the previous Indiana Jones scores, and more recently Harry Potter, but it is a welcome return to form from a composer who has lacked a truly fun action adventure score for almost twenty years.
Final Score for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull:
4 out of 5