8. Raiders of the Lost Ark
score by John Williams
The Raiders march, brimming with brash heroism and can-do gusto, is one of the most memorable of John Williams’ themes in a career slopping over with memorable themes. (Any composer today would kick orphans just to have one of them on his or her resume.) The score is one of the greatest in his ongoing creative collaboration with Steven Spielberg, a partnership that has been spectacularly fruitful for both men and has continued largely uninterrupted for forty years (Williams did not score The Color Purple in 1985, and a health issue prevented his participation in Spielberg’s forthcoming Bridge Of Spies). Along with the wildly romantic love theme, the score boasts a trio of major set pieces in which Williams effortlessly guides the mood and emotion: the bouncy, manic melody that accompanies Indiana Jones’ pursuit of a basketful of Marion through a Cairo bazaar; the pulse-pounding truck chase through the desert that effectively ratchets up the tension with its inexorably quickening tempo; and Indy’s discovery of the location of The Ark Of The Covenant, in which the Ark’s theme – gently hinted at earlier in the picture – firmly takes center stage and blooms into full orchestral majesty.
Look at that scene with the sound muted: without the music, it’s some dude climbing into a room, putting a stick in a hole and standing around waiting for the sun to give him a clue, after which he takes some measurements, writes down some stuff, and scrams. You could find similar activity in any construction site on Earth, but you wouldn’t call it entertainment; that scene needs Williams’ music to convey the required epic grandeur and biblical reverence for what was, up to that point, essentially a gilded box of dust. Which we haven’t even seen yet. The Ark is the Harry Lime of the movie, growing in stature by its absence on the screen, accompanied by all the talk about it and action around it. But some characters in Raiders – Indy among them – have their doubts about the worth of the Ark, or what it contains, or indeed its very existence. Until, there in the map room, the music has its say. And then you believe.