Way back in 1981, maestro composer John Williams created yet another one of his timeless film themes. Steven Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark was intended as a throwback to the 1930s film serials he and co-creator George Lucas had enjoyed growing up, and Williams’ score follows suit. Having made the Golden Age, Korngold sound fashionable again with Star Wars, Williams let rip with Raiders, composing a central theme (the Raiders March) that would define adventure in the years that followed. It’s impossible to envisage Harrison Ford’s weather-beaten hero Indiana Jones without also humming along to the theme.
However, as is often the case with film scores that have classic themes, the rest of the soundtrack is frequently overlooked. This is a pity as Raiders is a masterpiece in leitmotivic complexity, with several themes and motifs allocated to various characters and objects in the story. These include the swooning, string-led love theme for Indy’s squeeze, Marian (Karen Allen) and the chilling, ominous theme for the Ark of the Covenant at the centre of the narrative. The latter reaches terrifying heights during the infamous, head-melting climax, Williams venturing into the sort of horror territory for which he is not known, but at which he excels.
Below are three selections of Williams’ magnificent score, pieces that embody the heroic, romantic, adventurous and horrific sides of Indy’s first cinematic outing. Shamefully, Williams lost the Oscar to Vangelis’ naff Chariots of Fire score. Pish. This is proper film music right here.