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Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull by John Williams

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

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Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (Soundtrack) by John Williams

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Composed by John Williams
Concord Records (2008)

Rating: 7/10

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Listen to this soundclip of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull by John WilliamsCall of the Crystal (383 kb)

Listen to this soundclip of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull by John WilliamsIrina's Theme (365 kb)

Listen to this soundclip of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull by John WilliamsThe Snake Pit (357 kb)

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(John Williams') evolved style is more fitting of films that have not had a particular musical-personality already established.  While acceptable efforts in themselves, both the film and the music for INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL, don't quite provide the same thrills, the same memorable moments, as the previous films.

It's Not the Years.  It's the Mileage.
Review by Christopher Coleman

Director Steven Spielberg was somewhat nervous in showing INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL at the Cannes Film Festival in 2008...and with good reason. Indiana Jones has become an undeniable, cinematic, icon. The films of the original trilogy are among the most beloved films of the 80s and remain so to this day. Bringing the franchise back some 20 years later was a risky venture. Would an aging Indy still appeal to the generation who first fell for him? Would bringing a feisty-son-sidekick, attract the generation born since RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK first thrilled audiences in 1981? Valid questions. Now, for the film music community, another equally valid question has been whether composer John Williams could recapture the adventurous magic he helped to create decades ago.

JOHN WILLIAMS still is, and will likely ever be, "the maestro," but there's no denying his style has continued to evolve since his classic, symphonic scores from late-seventies and early-eighties. For myself, and perhaps a few others who were raised on Williams and his unforgettable works for Steven Spielberg and George Lucas might agree, it's hard to say that the latter-day-Williams is as "fun" to listen to. When it came to the prequel trilogy of the STAR WARS saga, those expecting the same musical magic found in the original trilogy, were, to varying degrees, let down.   The same magic just wasn't there. It may be that it was an impossible, self-created, standard for John Williams to live up to. Whether it was by Williams' choice, Lucas', or some combination,...the musical experience of the Star Wars prequel trilogy just didn't live up to first three. Now, with this INDIANA JONES revival, we are faced with the same issue. There's no question as to whether Williams would be able deliver a decent score for THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL, but rather would he rise up to the level of quality and deliver flat-out, iconic, film music once again.

INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL is all about the 1950s: from Rock and Roll, to the Communist paranoia, to the cold war, to the growing fascination with U.F.O.s, to Area 51. It's quite a different environment from the previous three films set just prior to World War II. Spielberg and company do an admirable job of bringing our beloved hero into this era. The film has a number of very entertaining moments, a few good laughs, and a good degree of intrigue, but sadly it does not reach the overall, creative and entertainment quality of the first three films. So how has the transition to this new era affected the film's music?  In the film, we are immediately shown that we have moved forward from the late-30's to the late-50's. The opening sequence finds, not John William's score, but Elvis Presley's "Hound Dog" being played over a race-sequence involving a 50's roadster, teenie-boppers, and military vehicles of the USSR. Later, we hear "Shake Rattle and Roll" by Bill Haley and the Comets. It doesn't get any more "fifties" than that. In terms of the JOHN WILLIAMS' score, we do hear a slight nod to the era as well, but his score also reflects his contemporary tendencies - techniques found in "futuristic" films such as MINORITY REPORT and A.I.

Crossing all eras, whether it be the 1930s, 50s, 80s, or the 2000s, is the appeal of John Williams famous Indiana Jones theme.  With careful employment of this theme throughout the score, he brings one of the most memorable anthems in Hollywood's last 50 years to the new millennium. In fact, listeners will occasionally hear almost identical performances from previous Indy films.  Concord Jazz's soundtrack release begins with the famous "Raiders March" (1). This appears to be a shorter edit of the march that appeared as the "End Titles" from RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. Naturally, this piece sets the mood for what is to follow and is, afterall, what everyone knows and wants to hear as soon as possible. Unsurprisingly, we find Indy's motif in just about every track of the score not directly representing the story's nemesis. Other familiar bits include the resurrection of the romantic theme from RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, (aka "Marion's Theme"). The theme for the Ark of the Covenant (a particularly strong employment, given its fleeting cameo) is found at the onset of "The Spell of the Skull" (6). At the onset of "The Journey ot Akator" (7), we also hear a familiar, upbeat, arrangement of the theme, used in the previous films to mark the air-travel-sequences. In "Finale" (19), there is a reprisal of the Raiders March and other pieces from the film, but as it concludes, Williams adds a new arrangement of the signature fanfare (One that I have not been able to immediately embrace yet).  The introduction of new variations in the last few moments of a score always feels a bit odd.

Beyond bringing back a handful of the musical icons of the franchise, JOHN WILLIAMS introduces several new themes and musical styles to the world of Indiana Jones. Following in the footsteps of the Ark of the Covenant, the Sankara Stones, and the Holy Grail, the new centerpiece of this Indy adventure receives its own theme. The theme for the Crystal Skull is unlike any of its predecessors. Even beyond the Ark of the Covenant, it is the most mysterious or, dare I say, "the most alien" of all the central-object themes. Even though it is quoted boldly in dramatic sequences such as "Hidden Treasures and the City of Gold" (13), this theme is most often heard in its more subtle and mesmerizing form as in: "Call of the Crystal Skull" (2), "Return" (9) "Orellana's Cradle" (12). The basic formation of the theme is split into to parts. The first is a 3-note ascending section, played on strings. The second is an overlapping motif of 6-notes, which is played on synthesizer, and occasionally on trumpet. While it may not be as easily identified as the central-object-themes from the previous films, it's certainly fitting for both the era and story. Now, for INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL we don't have Nazi's or members of the Thuggee cult as the main evil-doers. This time out, we have the Russians of the new, cold-war-era. Our main villainess is the Ukranian psychic, Irina. For her, John Williams crafts a sexy, slinky, jazz-influenced theme. Her theme is presented even before the theme for the crystal skull within the film, but on the soundtrack "Irina's Theme" is found at track 4 and it is where we first hear Williams' contemporary styling begin to take hold.

Equally contributing to the success of the music from the INDIANA JONES franchise have been Williams' action sequences. Some of cinemas most memorable action sequences over the last 30 years can be found in one Indiana Jones film or another. Spielberg and company certainly didn't forget that fact and deliver a handful of sometimes-fun-sometimes-hair-raising-scenes for the fourth installment as well. It would again be unfair, if not foolish, to think that, as talented as Spielberg and Williams are, they'd ever top "Desert Chase" from RAIDERS OF THE LOST is simply the standard by which all one-man-versus-a-vehicle-scenes are measured. Be that as it may, this THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL does have some very memorable action scenes with great music attached. "The Adventures of Mutt" (3) is a delightful romp that evokes the occasional memory from William's HOOK. "The Snake Pit" (5) is mixes Williams' comedic style established in "The Basket Game" (Raiders), with his more modern techniques. "A Whirl Through Academe" (8) and "The Jungle Chase" (10) are simply modern-day-Williams at 100 mph. Sans the Indy-theme, they could almost be an alternative tracks from the Star Wars prequels.

As we reach the climax of the film, as with all the other Indy films, things become much more serious and the shift is clearly reflected in the music. Tracks such as "Hidden Treasure and the City of Gold" (13), "Temple Ruins and the Secret Revealed" (17), and "The Departure" (18), ratchet up the drama 10-fold. Again JOHN WILLIAMS chooses to employ his more contemporary practices to pull this off: cramming as many brass notes per second as humanly possible, injecting atonal strings and synths, and bright trumpet leads...all of which he has made work for movies on the other end of the spectrum like: MINORITY REPORT, A.I., and WAR OF THE WORLDS.  Herewith is where the score for THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL dips below the earlier Indiana Jones films.

One of my biggest complaints with John Williams current style has been that when it comes to his action sequences his consistent use of quick percussive and brass accents somehow diffuse the intensity of the scene it accompanies.  Whatever threat might be present on screen, this technique seems to dissipate the danger. It is not something he did nearly as much in his earlier career, although you can start to hear its birth even in THE LAST CRUSADE.  It is this single stylistic choice that, for me, diminished the Star Wars prequels and to a lesser degree, in this film.  In the past, JOHN WILLIAMS seemed to layer motif after motif extending and creating interesting permutations of them all throughout an action sequence. Today, including in THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL, he does much less of this...replacing it with this newer technique.  This is not to say that what he composes now is not complex or intricate.  It certainly is.  In the end, though, the question that must be asked is whether it works as well or better than the "simpler" techniques used in the past? 

Perhaps it is completely unfair to hope for John Williams (and Steven Spielberg) to deliver an experience a la 20 years ago. Still, deep inside, we hope for it. We want our kids to experience those same defining movie-moments that we did.  Truth be told, we, the generation Xers and boomers, want to have Williams help define new moments for us too. There may be those who can isolate each of John Williams' scores and rate it simply on their its own merits and its function within the film, but I am not among them. This composer has contributed too much to the landscape of film music and is too deeply embedded in our film and music consciousness. Other composers, whether they like it or not, have had to try to live up to the John-Williams-standard for decades, and like it or not, so does John Williams himself.  It hardly matters that it has been so many years since Williams has written music for Indiana Jones.  He has stayed quite busy and in all the miles of music that he has written since 1989, his style has continued to evolve.   Maybe its asking too much for him to "digress" to his earlier techniques which worked so well for films like Star Wars, Superman, E.T. and Raiders of the Lost Ark.  Where would the challenge be in that for him?  Still, his evolved style is more fitting of films that have not had a particular musical-personality already established.  While an acceptable efforts in themselves, both the film and the music for INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL, don't quite provide the same thrills, the same memorable moments, as the previous films.  If you are a fan of the films or of John Williams, there is hardly any doubt you will find this latest adventure something you'll want to own; however, if you are a more casual fan of either, I'd have to recommend any of the other three films and their scores over this one.

Rating: 7/10

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Track Title Track Time  Rating
1 Raiders March 5:05  ***
2 Call of the Crystal 3:49  ****
3 The Adventures of Mutt 3:12  *****
4 Irina's Theme 2:26  ****
5 The Snake Pit 3:15  *****
6 The Spell of the Skull 4:24  ****
7 The Journey to Akator 3:07  ***
8 A Whirl Through Academe 3:33  ***
9 "Return" 3:11  ***
10 The Jungle Chase 4:22  ****
11 Orellana's Cradle 4:22  ***
12 Grave Robbers 2:28  ***
13 Hidden Treasure and the City of Gold 5:13  ***
14 Secret Doors and Scorpions 2:17  ***
15 Oxley's Dilemma 4:46  ***
16 Ants! 4:14  ***
17 Temple Ruins and Secret Revealed 5:51  ***
18 The Departure 2:26  ****
19 Finale 9:19  ***
  Total Running Time (approx)    




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