John Williams is without doubt the most celebrated figure in film score history. He has released a string of themes that are instantly recognisable. From the moody Jaws theme to the upbeat melodies in Jurassic Park and the much celebrated Star Wars titles, his passionate music has captured the hearts of many...including myself. With Raiders of the Lost Ark not only does he create the most iconic theme of all time, he also puts forth some of the finest music of his career. For some obscure reason, soundtrack CDs are often put together in the cheapest and most disrespectful manner possible. The original 1995 release was a petty 11-track affair missing more than half of Williams' music. One the other hand, the DCC reissue that I am reviewing here is one the most comprehensive and honoring CD you could imagine. To top things off it is superbly remastered and contains previously unreleased material as well as a big fat booklet. You can't go wrong.
The score opens with the Raiders March, pushing the main title in second position. Although the theme is very present in the score, more so than in the following installements (Temple of Doom, Last Crusade), the full "march" displayed here is not present in the film. Tracks "Main Title", "In the Idol's Temple" and "Flight from Peru" were missing from the 1995 version; a veritable crime considering their sheer brilliance. The Peruvian mystique and deadly temple traps are captured here with screaching noises, gongs and hissing snake-like instrumentation. The Idol has its own particular theme too. This seems to be a tradition in the Indiana Jones films; an object is always introduced before the actual story kicks in, such as the statuette and Coronado cross from the subsequent installements, with a mini-theme curtosy of Sir. John Williams.
"The Basket Game" has to be an all-time favourite of mine. The romantic arabic tones established in the previous track "To Cairo" are now saturated with humour and immediacy; the eccentric use of wind instruments recalls the most complex bits of the following installement: The Temple of Doom (1984). "Airplane Fight" and "Desert Chase" introduce a more violent brand of orchestration. Big crushing movements and fierce repetitive percussion make for amazing intensity. You can most definitely hear a strong Wagner influence in some of this.
"Marion's Theme" is a noteworthy track. Although it only extends a theme displayed many times throughout the score, I suppose it adheres to the same idea than that of the first track on the album. The fact that Williams captures the character with a 1930's sweeping romance works wonderfully when juxtaposed with the brash Marion Ravenwood as portrayed in the film. Additionally to good acting skills and charm, the music is what gives Marion more dimension and wit. This truely is scoring at its best. Another important theme pops in and out of the score: the Ark. Here we have one of Williams' most haunting compositions, displayed at its most hypnotic in "The Map Room: Dawn" and its most dramatic in the final moments of the score: "The Miracle of the Ark". The Ark theme has more in common with the Last Crusade's Holy Grail theme (1989) than it has with the Temple of Doom's dark "Shankara stones" theme. It is a humble, solemn and epic piece of music that swells the heart with its simple but majestic string sections and brings about shivers and goose-pimples with its occasional nightmarish ambience.
In simple terms, Raiders of the Lost Ark is an absolute masterpiece. It is one of the most important scores of the 80's as well as a strong reminder of the sheer heights a composer such as John Williams can rise to in terms of both complexity and originality. As a collectors item the soundtrack album is available at a price at the following links at Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com. As alternative you may wish to check out "Indiana Jones: The soundtracks collection" which can be cheaper for the set of 4 CDs at: Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.