Disc 5: Interviews and More Music From Indiana Jones
In addition to the previously discussed tracks, Disc 5 features a lengthy series of interviews between producer Laurent Bouzereau and John Williams, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. If you’ve been a devoted Indy follower, there’s not much new here…in fact, most of this interview material has already been released on the various Indiana Jones DVDs. That said, there’s no evidence that additional unreleased music was left off to make room for this track (Disc 5 has plenty of unused space remaining), so there’s no real reason to object to the interviews’ inclusion.
As a side note, Bouzereau has stated that the intention of Disc 5 was to present a cohesive listening experience. For casual or undemanding fans this will very probably be the case. Others will want to engage in a bit of reprogramming. In any case, Bouzereau informs us that Disc 5 was not initially on the menu, meaning we should be doubly grateful for the additional music it contains.
Notes on Sound-Quality and Presentation
This is bound to be the most controversial portion of the review, since any criticism of the boxed set (both legitimate and of the “sour grapes” variety) on various messageboards has sparked a backlash from fans who complain, “We’ve waited for this for so long, and there’s so much fantastic music! Why can’t we just enjoy what we have?” Valid as that sentiment may be, there’s no reason not to critically evaluate such an ambitious presentation of these historic scores, “warts and all,” so long as we retain a proper sense of perspective.
Let’s start with the box set’s visual appeal, which is very strong. The embossed slipcase is sturdy and attractive, with a leather-like look and classy logo design. This is a set you’ll want to display full-on. The enclosed disc cases are digipaks, a la Concord’s earlier release of Kingdom. Provided you aren’t one of those who rages against digipaks, this is not a problem; the individual releases are well-designed, incorporating each score’s original album cover. The exception here is Disc 5, which comes in a simple cardboard sleeve…not likely to damage your disc, but handle with care all the same.
Liner notes are minimal, which is disappointing when you consider the virtual book that accompanied the comparable Star Wars anthology set many years ago, and the actual book that accompanied FSM’s “blue box” Superman saga. But this isn’t really unexpected, and certainly not unusual for a mainstream release. Bouzereau writes a few (mostly generic) paragraphs in the booklet for the main box, and three more paragraphs are duplicated—word for word—in the booklets for each of the first three films (this was probably done with individual releases in mind for somewhere down the line). Happily, Spielberg’s original notes have been retained for each of these three scores. Each booklet is fleshed out with a handsome assortment of stills and photographs.
Moving on to the sound quality: The first thing to note is that the overall balance of the mix is improved for each of the first three scores. The difference is especially dramatic with Raiders, which sounds cleaner and more robust than ever. Those who were disappointed with the DCC album’s choral mix in cues such as “The Map Room: Dawn” will be thrilled to discover that the full potency of the choir has been restored. Unfortunately, all three scores have also been volume-compressed, meaning that while the overall volume is louder, there is considerably less dynamic range. This is commonplace today among record companies, across all genres, but it’s long been a pet peeve of mine, and it’s a shame to see it done to Indy. Unfortunately, there’s no getting around it. For most listeners, the loss in dynamic range will be worth the overall improvement in sound.
More problematic are issues that should have been avoidable. Many tracks fail to fade out completely, and the cut-offs can be noticeable and distracting. There are a few “pops” present in Raiders where there were no pops on the DCC. Most alarmingly, several cues—mainly from Raiders and Temple—were transferred at an incorrect speed, and therefore have an incorrect pitch (it varies from track to track—some are slightly sharp, some slightly flat—and there are additional fluctuations within some tracks). “The Map Room: Dawn” is a good example. These are errors, plain and simple, and should have been caught and corrected before the set was released. It’s a safe bet that many of the people who buy this box will never realize the problem. Among those who do, many will not care. (A similar situation occurred with the DVD release of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, where John Williams’ score was swapped in the rear channels—a fact that escaped the notice of many reviewers who praised the “perfect” audio mix.) But for those with “ears to hear” (and admittedly, not everyone is equally sensitive to such microtonal shifts) this is a serious flaw. The discrepancies can be corrected with a decent waveform editor, but not everyone has the time, patience or skill for such an endeavor. It’s not worth boycotting the album, of course—the copious unreleased music is simply too valuable to pass up—and I’m not sure what positive effect letters of complaint would have (the opposite effect, if the campaign surrounding the disastrously flawed Phantom Menace: Ultimate Edition is any indication). But this is a mistake that deserves to be recognized and pointed out. Those who do should not be accused of “nit-picking.”
(Note: The click-track is audible on several Last Crusade cues. While distracting, this is something that was present in the original recording, and is not an error on Concord’s part.)
Finally, there are those who will gripe about album arrangement issues. Some tracks, like “Scherzo for Motorcycle and Orchestra,” are out of film chronology. Two non-sequential cues are combined (“Marcus Is Captured/To Berlin”) while at least one cue transition is seemingly not the way Williams intended it (“The Scroll/To Pankot Palace”). Furthermore, many cues that were clearly designed to be combined are not. In all this, we must draw a distinction between mistakes and deliberate creative decisions. In his FSMO interview, Bouzereau takes pains to point out that this method of presentation came at Williams’ specific request, and was approved by Spielberg and Lucas. Many online fans have come to their defense, expressing their relief that some of the larger passages (which, in Temple especially, would regularly exceed the 10-minute mark) have been broken down into discrete chunks. To my ears, however, cues like “Map/Out of Fuel” sound too strange for comfort when presented on their own. Again, this is a question of taste. Those with decent audio-editing skills will be able to construct something more to their liking on their computers. (If you are so inclined, be warned: the aforementioned pitch fluctuations will lead to some sour notes between cues if left uncorrected!)
Ultimately, it’s important not to get too bogged down in negativity. To be listening to some of this music after so many long, long years seems nothing short of miraculous. The many revelations and hours of sheer joy to be extracted from this set make it an unconditional recommendation. I’ll state it plainly: No serious film music fan should be without a copy. That said, it is important to acknowledge the set’s mistakes and shortcomings, notable as they are—and avoidable as they ostensibly were. My dock of a half-star from the rating reflects this. Perhaps somewhere down the line truly complete Indiana Jones releases will be put into production, and their producers will remember the errors of this set and avoid repeating them. In the meantime, this is a landmark release containing a staggering quantity of some of the greatest, most important film music ever written. Buy it, and bask in the glory.
As an addendum, an excellent online resource has been set up for the music of the Indiana Jones films by Jason LeBlanc and JWFan.com’s Ricard L. Befan. Go to http://www.indianajonesmusic.com/ for exhaustive details on how each score breaks down, including many of Williams’ original cue titles and slate numbers.