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Iconic Williams score deserves its place in film music legend

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Album cover copyright (c) 1995 Lucasfilm Ltd.; review copyright (c) 2008 James Southall

A classic adventure film, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas didn't just succeed in their aim at recapturing the spirit of the classic serials they watched when growing up, with Raiders of the Lost Ark they were able to benefit from a big budget to create one of the most popular movie characters, and one of the most endearing films.  A collaboration between those two gentlemen could mean only one thing in terms of music, of course - and so John Williams came along and conjured up one of his most popular scores, one of the few film scores which has genuinely entered into the pop culture.

Of course, in the eyes of pop culture, it's all about the famous main theme - but this is a score with so much more than that to offer.  It begins rather darkly in "South America, 1936" as Indy makes his way through a jungle - this complex music is not the sort of thing one might expect over the opening titles of a Spielberg film in 1981, but it works brilliantly.  "In the Idol's Temple" then sees tensions raised through jabbing, dissonant music, Williams eventually allowing his orchestra to explode for the first time in the score, as all hell breaks loose around the hero after his (now very famous) attempt to replace the gold idol with a bag of sand.  "Flight from Peru" opens with unsettling pizzicato strings, before the moment arrives and the composer finally unleashes his glorious main theme - being an exceptionally young man myself, I can only imagine how film music fans felt when they were watching this film in the cinema and heard this theme for the first time - but I imagine the reaction was electric.  (Sadly this album rather spoils things by ill-advisedly opening with an abridged version of the end titles.)

The score's other two wonderful themes follow in the next track - the glorious love theme and powerful ark theme first appearing in "Journey to Nepal".  The latter gets a fuller run-out in "The Medallion" which follows; the former, in "To Cairo" after that.  Then, one of the classic set-pieces - both in the film and in the music - "The Basket Game", an amusing scherzo that only Williams would have attempted (and got away with) - it's so far removed from the scoring sensibilities of the day (or probably any other day), but works perfectly.  This is a score of many classic moments, and another one switfly follows - "The Map Room: Dawn" is one of Williams's finest pieces, the ark theme introducing the piece in deceptively low-key fashion, before it buils to its enormous choral climax.

The score takes a bit of a breather in "Reunion and The Dig Begins", with relatively unassuming presentations of Marion's theme and the ark theme; and "The Well of the Souls" is a more atmospheric piece, with Williams cranking up the tension for Indy's least favourite nemesis - snakes!  Things are back in full swing in the first big action piece, "Airplane Fight", another of the film's iconic moments as Indy battles a great big Nazi before just avoiding being sliced by an aircraft's propellor.  The thrills continue in the great "Desert Chase", an eight-minute tour de force which sees Williams showing that even mickey mousing can be made to sound gilt-edged and sophisticated.  It's the composer at this very best, and Spielberg at his very best too - praise the lord that nobody had thought of CGI by that time, because the great stunt work in the sequence is one of the film's highlights.  (Nowadays of course, tens of thousands of people would make unrealistic movements captured in minute detail and nobody would bat an eyelid.)

An extended version of "Marion's Theme" is followed by more action material in "The German Sub / To the Nazi Hideout" - it doesn't reach the highs of the earlier pieces, but is still wonderful.  "Ark Trek" brings the ark theme back; but that's like an appetiser before the main course in "The Miracle of the Ark", the explosive finale.  After the brief "The Warehouse" comes the classic end title piece, the icing on the cake as it were - there are few more famous film themes, and it's deservedly regarded as a classic.  The score as a whole is simply brilliant, a masterpiece of scoring a family adventure film.  It can be quite hard to find the album these days, but I'm sure it won't be long before there's a re-release of some kind.  


  1. The Raiders March (2:50)
  2. Main Title: South America, 1936 (4:10)
  3. In the Idol's Temple (5:26)
  4. Flight from Peru (2:20)
  5. Journey to Nepal (2:11)
  6. The Medallion (2:55)
  7. To Cairo (1:29)
  8. The Basket Game (5:04)
  9. The Map Room: Dawn (3:52)
  10. Reunion and The Dig Begins (4:10)
  11. The Well of the Souls (5:28)
  12. Airplane Fight (4:37)
  13. Desert Chase (8:15)
  14. Marion's Theme (2:08)
  15. The German Sub / To the Nazi Hideout (4:32)
  16. Ark Trek (1:33)
  17. The Miracle of the Ark (6:05)
  18. The Warehouse (:56)
  19. End Credits (5:20)