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
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 ARK...it 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.
Call of the
||The Spell of the Skull
||The Journey to Akator
||A Whirl Through Academe
||The Jungle Chase
||Hidden Treasure and the City of Gold
||Secret Doors and Scorpions
||Temple Ruins and Secret Revealed
||Total Running Time (approx)