In our John Williams week within #Johnuary, we are currently right in the midst of his peak period between 1975 and 1983. The next film to look at is the 1981 classic, Raiders of the Lost Ark. This film was a collaboration between Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, who had both had huge success previously working with John Williams. The soundtrack was nominated for the Oscar for best score but lost out to Chariots of Fire.

I love how Williams uses different instruments to represent the environments and the cultures. At the beginning the oboe, I think, and other woodwinds evoke jungle. There’s also a very majestic or historic vibe in other places, almost Arabic. And then the triumphant brass for the main riff is amazing.

I think we first hear the main ‘Indy theme’ at about the one minute mark in ‘Flight from Peru’. I’m sure this is the bit in the film where Indy is fleeing the jungle natives and swings on a vine into the water to meet his waiting plane. I love this bit in the film. It’s like the moment in James Bond films when Bond is victorious in the pre-titles scene and you hear the James Bond theme kick in as he saves the day or starts his escape. The Indy theme is perfect for this triumphant moment and to me is a real Spielberg/Williams bit of movie magic.

Indy also has a secondary theme which I love. It appears in several tracks but you can hear it at 2:50 in ‘Desert Chase’. That track is a great one which incorporates many of the key themes and minor themes of the score. Here it is, in the context of the film,

The main part of the score is arguably a simple one, not many complicated layers and quite direct, fun and in your face. Just like Indy himself. This film was meant as a serial-style, action adventure and the score fits that perfectly. There are, however, several other emotions and themes addressed in the full score too. Romance in Marion’s theme and religion and wrath of god in the Ark’s theme. There are also several militaristic undertones to represent the Nazis.

The Ark theme is particularly evident in incredible choral form in ‘Map Room: Dawn’ and also in ‘The Miracle of the Ark’. This really does help to shift the tone from fun adventure to awe-inspiring religious history. It’s one of the reasons that the film works as well as it does I think. Williams helping again to add to the gravity of the situation.

Marion’s theme is a real thing of beauty. Here it is…

Williams also inserts interesting gong noises at points to indicate changing a country or culture. I feel this was also perhaps used in some Bond movies. I did hear that Spielberg was interested in doing a Bond film but didn’t like how the directors didn’t a cut of the profits, so didn’t pursue that and instead made Raiders. So perhaps Williams was even given Bond films as a source of inspiration to work from for this.

“The Basket Game” is a great one to listen to and imagine the swordsman scene playing in your head.

‘Ride to the Nazi Hideout’ has a great example of the main riff.

And ‘Washington Ending / Raiders March’ just sums it all up.

Here’s a great little video too about John Williams scoring the soundtrack.

This really is one of my personal favourite soundtracks from John Williams. It’s rich, powerful and just sheer fun. The main Indy theme could challenge Star Wars for the no.1 spot in my ranking later. Not strictly speaking as a piece of music in terms of its orchestration etc but in terms of the emotions it evokes and how well it fits with the movie.