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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

John Williams -- Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

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No matter what life threw at my family, my dad always made sure we had a giant satellite dish in our yard. I don't know why we always had this (until high school, when it became antiquated, and we had neither the money to tear it down nor to acquire its technological equivalent), but we did, and it was as great as it was strange. My favorite element of the elephant-sized dish was easily the fact that we picked up feed channels which featured broadcasts of films and TV shows well before they aired or became available on home video. I watched many episodes of The Wonder Years and Star Trek: The Next Generation days before they aired on network television. I also saw Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade just a couple of months after it was released in theaters. Yes, 1989 was a glorious year, and by the end of that summer, I had watched my taped off TV copy of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade 57 times before losing count. By the age of ten, I had not only memorized the film's dialogue, but its sound effects and music. With all of that said, I can objectively say that John William's Last Crusade score, while still great, is the weakest of the original Indiana Jones Trilogy.
After the darkly intense Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, filmmakers Steven Spielberg and George Lucas aimed to end the trilogy with a more light-hearted, humorous entry. As the duo were also nearly a decade older than they were when the trilogy began, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is a more loose, relaxed, and reflective film than its predecessors. While this makes for an enjoyable and satisfying conclusion to the most famous of all fictional archeologists' adventures, it also makes for a slightly less engaging soundtrack.
Outside of the opening track and its track two conclusion, there are no long, continuous action takes. Williams adds more contemporary classical touches than any other soundtracks of his I can remember, particularly in "The Austrian Way" and "No Ticket," which feature some humorous bassoon playing.
This is still an excellent John Williams score, though, and as such, it contains many memorable, well-composed themes. As Last Crusade deals with the acceptance of aging, along with making peace with one's father, Williams composes a theme for the Indiana Jones and Henry Jones, Sr. relationship that complements his theme for the film's Macguffin, the Holy Grail. The Holy Grail actually transcends the simple concept of a Macguffin, as it represents letting go of youth, making peace with the one who sired you, and aging gracefully (It is also the only of the original "Macguffin's" Jones does not recover by the end of its respective film). The regal, stately, and comforting compositions Williams comes up with, as usual, do as much to perpetrate these intended emotions and feelings as the work done by the filmmakers. Williams also composes a nice Spanish-inspired theme for the opening title object of acquistion, the Cross of Coronado (found in the two opening tracks), a fun, swiftly moving theme for the Jones duo on the run, found primarily in "Scherzo for Motorcycle and Orchestra," as well as a menacing, march-like track for the film's Nazi villains, heard throughout the second and third quarter of the album. Finally, Williams also does a great job of creating a trek-like feeling with his work here, as the final tracks convey that these characters have not only reached the end of their journey, but the very summit of the unknown. "The Canyon of the Crescent Moon," heard just before the film's protagonists reach their final destination, contains a short, unnerving, otherworldly flute solo that marks my favorite moment of the score.
Williams major themes all come together quite satisfyingly in "Finale and End Credits," as Jones, his father, and their friends ride triumphantly off into the sunset, a fitting conclusion for an excellent trilogy of films, and a great sendoff for a character on his last adventure ever, because they definitely never, ever made another Indiana Jones film after this one.*

NOTE: This is a review of the 2008 Concord Records re-release of the soundtrack, not the inferior 1989 release, which contains less music, and at a lower sound quality (and was also one of the first CD's I ever bought). Both versions contain the track "Keeping Up With the Joneses," only seconds of which appear in the film, as it was deemed an unacceptable accompaniment.  It is easily some of Williams' weakest work, and I don't understand why it was included here, as twenty minutes of the score actually heard during the film was left off due to running time. Also, I don't understand why "Scherzo for Motorcycle Orchestra" precedes "The Austrian Way," as the order they are heard is reversed in the film, and the rest of this release is in chronological order.

* Of course, "they" did make another Indiana Jones film, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, which was maligned to the same degree as George Lucas' Star Wars prequels. While I do not own the Crystal Skull soundtrack and will thus not review it (I do own the Star Wars prequel soundtracks, and will review those in the coming week), I am planning on doing a re-watch and written re-evaluation of Crystal Skull in the coming months. Six years should be enough time to be objective. Also, all four films mentioned in the italics addendum received positive accolades from critics at the time of their release, so when I say "maligned," I obviously mean by the fans. By the fans, I mean people who have seen the original films more than 57 times.*

1989/2008 Concord Records
1. Indy's Very First Adventure 12:00
2. The Boat Scene 2:23
3. X Marks the Spot 3:12
4. Ah, Rats!!! 3:40
5. Escape from Venice 4:22
6. Journey to Austria 0:38
7. Father and Son Reunited 1:49
8. The Austrian Way 2:40
9. Scherzo for Motorcycle and Orchestra 3:53
10. Alarm! 3:06
11. No Ticket 2:45
12. Keeping Up With the Joneses 3:37
13. Brother of the Cruciform Sword 1:57
14. On the Tank 3:38
15. Belly of the Steel Beast 5:29
16. The Canyon of the Crescent Moon 4:17
17. The Penitent Man Will Pass 3:24
18. The Keeper of the Grail 3:24
19. Finale & End Credits 10:40

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