Indiana Jones: The Soundtracks Collection (1981, 1984, 1989, 2008) **** 1/2
94 tracks - 355:51
It’s a daunting prospect to review any great work of art—more so when the work of art in question represents a transcendent archetype. One does not casually “review,” for example, the Mona Lisa, or the original manuscript of Romeo & Juliet. Now, I do not mean to suggest that John Williams, as a touchstone of the Arts, is in league with Shakespeare or DaVinci (I don’t mean to suggest he isn’t, but that’s an argument for another day)…in the arena of film scores, however, it’s clear that the iconic music for Indiana Jones isn’t just another contender. Probably no theme is so well-known around the world, or so indelibly—and necessarily—identified with the character for whom it was created. James Bond…Superman … heck, M-I-C K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E…I’d wager good money Indy beats them all.
To paraphrase: If adventure has a sound, it must be John Williams.
For all its popularity, however, Indy has never been a marketing juggernaut to equal Star Wars or Superman (just look at action figure sales). That, and the vast corporate forces surrounding the franchise—the stuff that legal nightmares are made of—may in part explain why it’s taken so long for expanded versions of all three classic scores to hit the market. Concord Records’ new box set, containing newly remastered and expanded versions of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (packaged with the original album release of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and a bonus disc of interviews and additional material) is a long, long time in coming. Indeed, it represents a personal “holy grail” for many soundtrack fans. The question remains: Was it worth the wait? And also: Did they get it right? More on this later. First, let’s break down the set, film-by-film. Notes on the overall sound quality and presentation will follow.
Disc 1: Raiders of the Lost Ark
Everyone knows (or should know) by now the story of how John Williams’ original “Raiders March” came to be. Two themes were prepared for Spielberg’s consideration: what we now know as the “A-theme,” or the march’s opening verse—the part everyone and their grandmother can hum for you—and the “B-theme,” or bridge section. Spielberg’s wise reaction: Why not both? The result, it can truly be said, was history. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) is a genuine masterpiece of movie music—a perfect “five out of five stars” score if ever there was one. It’s a compendium of brilliance, from Marion’s sweeping love theme, to the threatening brass declamations of the Nazis, to the numinous awe and terror of the Ark of the Covenant. Sure, there’s the occasional “breather” where the music isn’t about the spectacle…but in terms of epic highlights, Raiders is a parade of them: the Idol’s Temple sequence; the Flight from Peru; the Basket Game; the Map Room; the Desert Chase; the Miracle of the Ark…just to name a few! This is the score that cemented forever John Williams’ status as a pop culture icon. Attempts to pin down and explain its magic are doomed to melt away like so many wax Nazi faces.
What’s new? Compared to the original LP and CD, an awful lot. Virtually the complete score is here. Compared to DCC’s 1995 expanded release, less is new, but the additions are still significant. Three tracks are previously unreleased: “Washington Men/Indy’s Home,” “Bad Dates” and “Indy Rides the Statue.” The first is the most significant, featuring the initial appearance of the Ark theme in a restrained setting that can’t mask its latent power. The second is actually a combination of two short cues (in the original manuscript, “Poisoned Dates” and “Don’t Touch That”), while the third features a nice callback to music from the Idol Temple sequence. Several cues that were combined on the DCC release are separated here (DCC track 3 becomes Concord tracks 2 & 3; DCC track 15 becomes Concord tracks 18 & 19), which follows the film presentation. “Washington Ending & Raiders March,” by contrast, has been combined into a single, overlapping cue, as was probably Williams’ original intention (the film transition is an obvious chop job). The End Credits coda has also been restored, having been truncated on the DCC.
What’s on Disc 5? Kicking off Disc 5 is a short version of the Raiders March that was artificially created by editing material from Raiders’ End Credits. This was previously heard on the original LP/CD, and on the DCC release (although the latter featured a new edit, and kept the coda). Second, we have “Uncovering the Ark,” which sees its first release on CD. This was previously heard as a part of “The Well of the Souls” on the DCC LP. It’s an essential cue, featuring as it does the actual discovery of the film’s legendary artifact.
What’s missing? Not too much. There was a short insert Williams wrote to modify the beginning of “Escape From the Temple” (you can hear it in the finished film). “Indy Rides the Statue” is actually a replacement section for the first half of Williams’ original composition for that scene. Interestingly, the complete original version—much more low-key, and containing the second half of the cue for the escape through the mummy cave—was originally slated to appear on the Concord disc. (Williams wrote a second, revised version of his “fix” that has yet to see the light of day; and no version made it unadulterated into the final film, which tracked in a fanfare from the airplane fight sequence.) Curiously—and frustratingly—Concord’s Raiders is the only score in the set to fail to feature all previously released music. First, it uses the abridged “Desert Chase” from the original album, whereas the DCC release featured the complete composition. (Producer Laurent Bouzereau has stated that this was in direct accordance with Williams’ wishes.) Second, there is a short cue for Marion being thrown into the Well of the Souls that DCC included on the LP. So if you’re a completist, don’t throw out your old releases just yet!