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This Intrepid Musical Archeologist...
on March 27, 2009
...has scoured the Earth for decades looking for the definitive soundtrack that captures and presents every magical note of John Williams' legendary score to the classic, original Indiana Jones adventure movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark.
This latest 2008 Lucasfilm-licensed, remastered incarnation is a quantum leap over the original 1981 version, and over even the 1995 DCC reissue (available here at Amazon; light beige case, artwork of Indy cheerfully cracking his whip), which includes several tracks that have never before been released, even in the 1995 DCC reissue.
Among them, we have "Washington Men/Indiana Jones Theme": After Indy's harrowing adventure in the South American jungle, when Indy is in conference with the U.S. Army Intelligence officials talking about the Ark of the Covenant, the chest the Hebrews used to carry the Ten Commandments in, one of the guys asks Indy, "Well, what does this Ark look like?". Indy promptly replies, "There's a picture of it right here." and opens up a giant book to reveal our first glimpse of the historic, supernatural chest in a drawing. As this is the first time in the film that we've seen the Ark, this is the first time in the film, and on this CD, that we hear the mysterious, ethereal theme that signals the danger of the Ark. After Indy's longtime friend and musty museum curator, Marcus Brody, concludes that, if the Nazis get ahold of the Ark, their army would be "invincible", the Ark theme segues into a calm, sedate rendition of the Indiana Jones theme, as Marcus drives up to Indy's house after dusk to tell Indy the good news, that "They want you to go for it!".
Also present, for the first time, in this release, is the menacing music when the monkey man poisons the dates in "Bad Dates".
Sadly absent, from this disc, is the entire section of music where Indy and Sallah enter the Ark's tomb, and, intercut with Marion getting Belloq drunk and trying to escape, Indy and Sallah hoisting the Ark out of its tomb, to glorious brass and the haunting choir music that follows, as the Ark is gently carried across a sandy floor of hissing snakes into its crate, where it is lifted up into the rising sun and the Nazis descend on our intrepid heroes.
Gladly, however, movie music fans rejoice: This track, called "Uncovering the Ark", is presented in its entireity on bonus Disc 5 of the Indiana Jones quadrilogy soundtrack collection!!!
Also sadly absent, and will probably be buried in the sand for at least a thousand years, like the Ark, is the brief but important cue when slimy, sadistic Nazi Gestapo agent Toht throws Indy's love Marion into the Well of Souls, and she is hanging off the giant statue for dear life until the arm of the statue breaks off and Indy catches her, to which she ungratefully says "Traitor, you get your hands off me!" and comes face to face with the Cobra, which spits at her, and she suddenly changes her tune and climbs up on Indy's shoulders!
We have a truncated version here, as on the 1995 DCC release, of "Indy Rides the Statue", which begins, unlike in the film, where there is more music before, when Indy sees more snakes oozing through "that wall", when Indy's whip cracks around the arm of the statue. This music is then complete up to when Indy breaks the statue loose, where, in the film, there is a spectacular burst of Indiana Jones fanfare as Indy rides the statue down to crash through the wall. At this point, on this CD, the "statue climbing music" merely continues at a faster, more frenetic pace when Indy breaks the statue loose. George Lucas, in one of his many inspired post-production decisions, with the approval of his director, Steven Spielberg, rightly realized that this moment was a rather heroic feat for Indy, needed a burst of Indy's theme, and robbed this bit of fanfare from the later Airplane Fight, when, in that sequence, the fanfare plays as Indy is narrowly missed by one of the Flying Wing's rolling tires. This bit of fanfare can be easily copied, pasted and inserted at this point here using a sound editing program.
After Indy crashes the giant statue through "that wall", and the dust has settled, Marion, seemingly safe, enters this area, relaxes for a moment, and calls for "Indy-?", only to pull down a mummified corpse! Shocked, she bumps into a lever that breaks loose hundreds of corpses, who seem to be shrieking at being awoken after thousands of years, culminating with a shot of one skeleton that has a giant snake slithering out of its mouth! This is one of the truly horrifying shock moments in Raiders and the music, sadly, is nowhere to be found on this or any release. Presumably this music too has been buried in the sand for at least a thousand years, like the Ark, until one of our musical archeologist descendants find it and resurrect it from its master tape tomb.
I consider "Airplane Fight" to be the finest use of classical, orchestral scoring for an action sequence in a movie ever, except for, perhaps, the opening title music from Williams' own Superman-The Movie (!)
The brass literally SPEAKS, SLICES, when the Nazi mechanic swings the wrench at Indy's head, and SPEAKS, SLICES again, when the mechanic swings it again, crushing the wrench against the Flying Wing's fuselage! Listen to it, as a standalone piece, then listen to it while watching the film. You'll see, and hear, what I mean. This is what movie music scoring is. It's perfectly in-sync with the action and expresses the savage nature of the violence. Brilliant!
"Desert Chase", the truck chase, sadly, on this 2008 release, appears to be the same edited version as on the original 1981 release of the Raiders Soundtrack. It is missing several bars. In case you're curious, they are:
When we see Belloq climbing into his car and telling the Nazis "let's go!" before he slams his car door shut.
The brief delay when Indy stops his horse on the hills above the truck convoy before he says "heeya" and ventures down through the sand to enter the convoy, to the snare drum and brass of the Nazi theme.
When Indy throws the truck's front passenger out onto the dusty trail and enters the truck to do fisticuffs battle with the driver
A few horn notes over a POV shot when Indy is dispatching Nazis using palm trees.
Most notably missing is the entire opening rythm (bump...bump...bump bump bump BUMP) that Spielberg describes as a "furious heartbeat" when Indy is shot in the arm by a young Nazi, the young Nazi is being dragged through the rough terrain hanging onto the loose truck door, which finally dislodges, the remaining Nazi in the back sees this and spouts "Sheista", then climbs up onto the roof of the truck.
In this release, like in the 1981 version, the music cuts right from the moment when the young Nazi shoots Indy in the arm to, an octave higher, the moment when the senior Nazi is already on the roof of the truck. If you're trying to recall this scene in your head through this music, it doesn't make sense.
Desert Chase is also missing a few bars when Indy is thrown out of the truck's windshield and tries to hold onto the hood ornament, which bends, breaks off and causes him to grab onto the collapsing grill. From there, the music continues, on this CD, as in the film, in its entirity, to its logical conclusion, when Indy returns, from what seems certain death, to dispatch the senior Nazi, side-slam Belloq and his entourage, and retreat, with the Ark, to the safety of a nearby town, driving his truck into a small shop that, on Sallah's request, is quickly covered by a canopy and fruit stand by waiting, helpful Arabs.
Thankfully, the missing bars of Desert Chase DO exist in the earlier 1995 DCC release, available here at Amazon (light beige cover, artwork of Indy cheerfully cracking his whip)!
John Williams and the musicians of the London Symphony Orchestra appear to be more on-their-game in terms of musical performance synchronicity with each other here in this 2008 truncated version, but the 1995 DCC release has the all the notes of the complete movie version. Therefore, if you're feeling ambitious, and have some sound editing software, inserting the missing bars from the take used in the 1995 DCC release into this truncated 1981 version fill the bill, and restore this track to its full glory as heard in the film!
The music for "Ride to the Nazi Hideout", the scene inside the German U-boat, also requires some editing to "conform" the music to as it is heard in the film. This music, on this CD, even includes a brief, glorious burst of Indiana Jones fanfare, that was designed to score a brief shot of Indy hanging onto the sub's periscope, which was cut from the final version of the film.
"The Miracle of the Ark", when the Ark is opened and the spirits come out to destroy everyone, also requires editing in several key spots, to create a note-perfect version of how the music is heard in the film, most notably when the beautiful angel transforms into a hideous corpse to Toht's screaming horror and the subsequent mightmarish mayhem that ensues, as Toht's face melts, Dietrich's face gets the meat sucked out of it, and Belloq's head explodes.
Overall, the music from this CD, combined with "Uncovering the Ark" from bonus disc 5 of the Indy quadrilogy set, presents the Raiders score in as close to complete as we've ever heard it! Given the proper editing and re-sequencing of particular bursts of notes, it appears the only pieces of music missing are when Marion is thrown into the pit, and when she encounters the mummified corpses...not bad, but, unfortunately, just shy of complete.
One more minor technical shortcoming of this 2008 release: Left and right stereo channels appear to be reversed, swapped, flip-flopped; left is right and right is left. If you plan to mix yourself an "ultimate" edition of this soundtrack, that includes the missing bars from the 1995 DCC release (which is correctly right-to-left justified), add a channel swap filter, from your sound editing software, to restore strings to the left and brass to the right, as they should be.
A 2-CD set of Raiders of the Lost Ark would allow space for all cues. Until Lucasfilm releases such a 2-CD set (if ever), this is the de-facto version of John Williams' masterpiece score for the first in what would become a series of remarkable films. It's a source of rich musical diversity that, as Spielberg says, in the 1981 liner notes, "tells our hero whether to kiss the heroine or smash the enemy".