Saturday, January 16, 2016

A Guided Tour to the Works of John Williams (Part 4: 1987-2005)

Before we move into the bulk of the post, let me offer a quick justification for why I've chosen the specific years I'm covering here.

Part one covered the period during which I would argue Williams was finding himself as an artist.  Part two covered a transitional period, during which he'd found his mature voice and was in the process of finding just the right vehicle to properly express it.  Part three covered the years during which he first found that precisely-right vehicle, and then (amazingly) kept finding it again and again and again.

In that third part, I argued that the years 1975-1986 were a period of nearly unparalleled excellence from Williams, not only in relation to his own career but in relation to most artists' careers.  If that's the case, then it would be natural for you to assume that the reason why I broke off in 1986 last time and we are picking up with 1987 this time is because there was a drop in quality.

And there was, I guess.  But as steps down go, this one doesn't take you very far.  After all, if you look at what Williams accomplished in that '75-'86 period, you have to agree that there was simply no way for him to continue to work at that incredible level.  I'd argue he didn't.  But he worked at a remarkably high level nonetheless, and did so for the better part of two decades.

I wanted to split this section into two separate eras, but I could really see where to do it.  What we've got here is a sustained run of excellence, with occasional flights into brilliance.  I guess you could be disappointed by that if you only use '75-'86 as your measuring stick.  If you do, you're nuts, and I pity you.  There is a TON of great music from '87-'05, so strap in and let's get to it.




  

Let's begin with:


1987 -- New England Time Capsule



  
New England Time Capsule is a short film that was shown in the Omnimax theatre at Boston's Museum of Science.  Williams wrote a piece called "A Hymn to New England" for the short film, but did not record it himself (it was arranged and adapted by someone else for the film accompaniment).
  
He finally did so in 2002, however; here's that version.
  
It's a nice piece of Americana that wouldn't sound out of place in a Spielberg movie.
  

1987 -- The Witches of Eastwick


  
  
Do people remember The Witches of Eastwick?  Seems like that might be a "no," and if so, that's a shame; it's a George Miller movie, it's got a terrific performance from Jack Nicholson, it's got a trio of excellent leading ladies (Cher, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Susan Sarandon), and it's based on a John Updike novel.  Not to mention the Vilmos Zsigmond cinematography!
  

Or the John Williams score, which is a lot of fun.  It contains "The Dance of the Witches" (also known as "The Devil's Dance") which is a good enough theme to rank alongside his classics; but for whatever reason, it never seems to do so.  Another standout piece: "The Seduction of Suki and The Ballroom Scene," which is a lush and powerful piece that does not get enough love for my liking.  This may have to do with the fact that only a tiny fragment of it was used in the movie; the majority of it was replaced with a Puccini piece.
  
Bad move, George Miller.
  
The soundtrack was out of print for years, and the image I have used above is from a bootleg I found one year at Dragon*Con.  Dealers' rooms at cons are good for that sort of thing; that same one also sold me The Sugarland Express on bootleg; that soundtrack has still never been released, and may never be.
  
As for The Witches of Eastwick, it has since been rereleased on CD.  I bought it so as to make my collection that much more complete, but the bootleg is by far superior: it's the full score (I think), and contains a few alternate tracks (such as an even-better version of "The Ballroom Scene").  For me, that's the superior release, so I thought I'd show it a little love here.
  
By the way, the score was nominated for an Oscar, but lost to The Last Emperor.  I'd do my normal complaining about it, but Williams wrote a better score that year that should have taken the gold; we'll get to it in a bit.
  

1987 -- Superman IV: The Quest for Peace


  
  
It would be an understatement to say that Superman IV: The Quest for Peace is not fondly remembered.  In point of fact, the movie was a flop of the highest order.
  
Its heart was in the right place, though, up to and including the music.  John Williams was not available to fully score the film, but he did compose three new themes, which he then handed over to Alexander Courage, who integrated them (along with the existing themes from the first film) into his own score.
  
As I've hopefully made very clear by now, I became a Williams fan early in life, and a Williams collector during my high-school years.  As my fandom increased, so too did my desire to know more about the man's career; but for years, it escaped my attention that Williams had composed music for the fourth Superman film.  It's not surprising, really.  The Quest for Peace did not receive a soundtrack release of any sort, nor did any of the three themes ever appear on any compilations.  In the pre-Internet days, how else would one know?
  
One certainly wouldn't know by watching the movie.  It does credit Williams, but it would be very easy -- logical, even -- to assume that the credit was only for his 1978 themes, not for anything actually present in The Quest for Peace.  Most of the cues that include those new themes are mixed fairly low, so unless you really knew your shit, you wouldn't hear them and think "John Williams composed that!"  Especially since they were filtered through the talents of Alexander Courage.
  
Cut to 2008, when Film Score Monthly stepped up and made this happen:
  
  
  
  
  
That, friends, is an eight-disc box-set that contains every note of music written for the first four Superman films.  Two discs of Superman: The Movie?  Check.  One disc for Superman II?  Check; that score consists of Ken Thorne's adaptation of Williams's music for the first film, which makes it an odd case, but it's still nice to have it.  There's one disc presenting Thorne's Superman III score, one disc devoted to Ron Jones' scores for the 1988 Superman: The Animated Series, and a disc that rounds up various odds-and-ends from the four movies.
  
For many collectors, though, the highlight of this set was the two-disc presentation of music from Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, consisting not only of the full Courage score, but also a number of pop songs that had been intended for the never-released soundtrack album.  With this -- and with the book-length liner notes as a guide -- it was possible for the first time for Williams fans to find out what Johnny's contributions had been.
  
They consisted of the following:
  
"Someone Like You (Lacy's Theme)" -- a romantic theme that represented Mariel Hemingway's character;
  
"Jeremy's Theme" -- a wistful piece for the young boy who sparks Superman's titular quest;
  
and "Nuclear Man Theme" -- the music for the Luthor-created supervillain.
  
You can hear the three themes here; they are in the reverse order from which I've listed them above, which begs the question of why don't I go back and reorder what I wrote?  Because I'm lazy, that's why.
  
None of these three themes is what I'd call essential Williams; if anything, they feel a bit like the composer engaged his autopilot and took a nap.  But are they bad?  Certainly not.  They are just fine, and it's nice for them to be properly represented in the soundtrack world.
  
That set from FSM is still available, by the way; it'll set you back over a hundred bucks, but if you're a fan of Superman music, it is worth every penny.
  

1987 -- Empire of the Sun


  
  
If one were writing a survey of the career of director Steven Spielberg, one might very easily come to the conclusion that the year 1985 had been a year in which one phase ended and another began.  Spielberg, during the decade that spanned 1975-1985, was responsible for Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, all of which ranked among the most popular films ever released.  In 1985, he attempted to further that strain of mass-appeal whimsy by creating the NBC television series Amazing Stories . . . but he also, for the first time, put his considerable skill to use in directing a film that was purely for adults: The Color Purple.
  
In that scenario, the 1987 film Empire of the Sun represents an even further step away from the child-focused fantasy that typified his earlier successes.
  
Problem is, that reading of Spielberg's career doesn't work.  It evades the fact that his first theatrical feature, The Sugarland Express, is a grown-up movie.  It also ignores the fact that most of his "child-focused fantasy" films have very deeply-felt adult emotions and themes bubbling just below their surfaces.
  
That said, it is certainly possible to see a newfound maturity from the director in Empire of the Sun.  It's a powerful, disturbing, and subtle film, and the music by John Williams complements it wonderfully.  It's a marvelous score.
  
Thing is . . . because the film is a bit more restrained and withdrawn than the sorts of films that helped make John Williams famous, the music is not quite as rewarding a listening experience as, say, Superman.  We've been covering a LOT of music in this post, and a great deal of it works just as well when played on its own as it does when viewed/heard in the context of the film for which it was created.
  
Parts of Empire of the Sun's score certainly stand up to outside-the-film scrutiny: "Cadillac of the Skies" and "Exsultate Justi" rank among the composer's best works, for example.  Much of the rest of it is a bit harder to wrap one's arms around (unless one is watching the movie, of course, at which point one might fairly notice that Williams' music fits so well that it's difficult to imagine the movie existing without it).
  
All of which is a long-winded way of suggesting that taken as a film score, the music for Empire of the Sun is superb. It might not be immediately apparent if you listen to it divorced from the film; but remember, that's often not how film music is best appreciated.
  
The score was nominated for an Oscar, but lost to The Last Emperor, which for some reason was the big movie at the Academy Awards that year.  It's a good movie, but it's no Empire of the Sun.
  
Since we're speaking in a somewhat reflective mode for the moment, let's talk about when we should date the prime years of Williams' career.  [UPDATE: I've already done a bit of this above, so really, I ought to edit this next bit out.  But I'm not going to, simply because I like what I wrote.]  By this, I mean to ask what specific span of time would we consider to be THE prime of his creative life?  We've already discussed that he produced a nearly-unparalleled number of masterpieces within a relatively compact span of time; so what I'm asking is, what are the boundaries of that span?
  
I believe most people would feel that it began with Jaws in 1975, and that the earliest possible time one would date its ending would be 1982 with E.T.  But for my tastes, that is absurdly early to say it was over; I would say that Return of the Jedi in 1983, Temple of Doom in 1984, and the Olympics would also have to be included.  However, I think you can easily include 1985's NBC News theme(s) and the 1986 Liberty Fanfare in that Golden Age of John Williams music, and can persuasively argue that those pieces achieved a comparable amount of notoriety to, for example, E.T.  Nothing in 1987 fits that bill, though, so I think that's where you have to date the break in the chain.
  
Which means that for the record, I am claiming that period to be 1975-1986.  This is not to say he was done crafting masterpieces; I can think of quite a few more that we have yet to cover.  But I would say that the Golden Age of John Williams perhaps culminated with that day in front of the Statue of Liberty.
  
Which is not to downplay what came after; if something as great as Empire of the Sun falls outside the bounds of a composer's "Golden Age," then that must be one hell of a composer.
  

1987 -- By Request...The Best of John Williams and the Boston Pops


  
  
Let's touch base briefly with the Boston Pops again for a look at By Request...The Best of John Williams and the Boston Pops, which was a compilation of newly-recorded themes and suites.  In essence, this functioned as a John Williams Greatest Hits album, and boy oh boy, what some hits.
  
Here's a tracklist:
  
01 Olympic Fanfare And Theme
02 The Cowboys Overture
03 Excerpts From Close Encounters Of The Third Kind
04 March From Midway
05 Flying Theme From E.T.
06 Luke And Leia Theme From Return Of The Jedi
07 March From Superman
08 Liberty Fanfare
09 March From Raiders Of The Lost Ark
10 Yoda's Theme From The Empire Strikes Back
11 March From 1941
12 Theme From Jaws
13 Imperial March From The Empire Strikes Back
14 Mission Theme (Theme For NBC News)
15 Main Theme From Star Wars
   
You're going to be hard-pressed to convince me that any film composer has a better Greatest Hits album than that.  (The easiest way to argue it would be to argue that a much better one could be made for Williams himself nowadays.  But you can't use John Williams to beat John Williams, so I both approve of your argument and object to it.  Case dismissed!)
  
By the by, I'd have removed "March from Midway" and the "Luke and Leia" theme and subbed in Family Plot, The Towering Inferno, Dracula, The Fury, or Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, but that's just me.
  
This was one of the first Williams CDs I ever bought, by the way; I must have listened to it a gazillion times over the years, so there was no way I wasn't going to talk about it here.  And for my money, it still contains the best versions of the Olympic Fanfare, the Cowboys suite, and the NBC News theme.
  

1988 -- "The Olympic Spirit"


  
  
Writing a new theme for the Olympics must have been a hell of a thing to do have to do if you're the guy who'd already composed 1984's "Olympic Fanfare and Theme," but that's precisely what John Williams was asked to do for the next Games.  They took place in Seoul, and this new theme was commissioned by NBC for its broadcasts of the game.
  
The result was "The Olympic Spirit," a terrific piece of music that, like most, sequels, doesn't quite measure up to the original.
  
But how could it?  Nah, no way; and expecting it to is insane.  Don't worry about it not being as great; focus on the fact that "The Olympic Spirit" IS great, and let that be sufficient.
  

1988 -- The Accidental Tourist


  
  
The Accidental Tourist seems almost like an accidental John Williams score: he was, in 1988, associated almost exclusively with blockbusters or would-be blockbusters; rare was the Williams-scored project that wasn't swinging for the fences.
  
This movie from director Lawrence Kasdan (who co-wrote The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark) was a more modest affair than something like The Witches of Eastwick or Empire of the Sun.  It's a very good movie, one which won Geena Davis an Oscar.  She plays a dog trainer who has her work cut out for her trying to establish a relationship with William Hurt, who is grieving over the death of his young son and is debating whether to return to his ex-wife.
  
Williams was brought in at the last minute when the film's originally-hired composer, Bruce Broughton, was let go by Kasdan.  This is a fairly common occurrence in the world of film-music; nearly every major composer has on their resume a "lost score" of that nature.
  
Know who doesn't?  John Williams.  Or if he does, I don't know about it.
  
His music for The Accidental Tourist consists largely of a single theme, which is used in varying arrangements to support the film's emotion.  This is somewhat atypical of Williams at the time; his scores tended to be more expansive and varied.  However, the approach benefited the film greatly, and is not at all out of keeping with certain films the composer scored earlier in his career (Pete 'n' Tillie and The Paper Chase come to mind).  Williams earned yet another Oscar nomination for his efforts, but lost to Dave Grusin's The Milagro Beanfield War.
  
By the way, there are several Stephen King connections with this movie: director Lawrence Kasdan would later direct Dreamcatcher; William Hurt would star in the television adaptation of "Battleground" (and would also co-narrate the Hearts In Atlantis audiobook); and Ed Begley Jr. would appear in Kingdom Hospital.
  

1989 -- Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade




Williams (and Spielberg) returned to blockbuster-land with 1989's Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, which brought Sean Connery into the fold as Indy's father and sent the two of them off on a preposterously entertaining adventure.
  
I like the movie, but I would rank it significantly below the first two films in the series.  I'd say almost exactly the same thing about Williams' score, which is one that I've historically had a hard time wrapping my arms around.  I don't know why that is, but I sense in this score some sort of a shift in Williams' style of composition.  I don't have the musical vocabulary to even begin to try to express what I'm hearing, though, so I won't even try.
  
That poorly-stated concern out of the way, this is still a terrific piece of work.  Some of the highlights:
  
"Indy's Very First Adventure" -- A rollicking epic cue that underscores the film's prologue, in which young Indiana Jones goes on an adventure.
  
"Scherzo for Motorcycle and Orchestra" -- I think some of my mild objections can best be hinted at by merely pointing at this cue.  It's a good piece of music, but there is something about it that is a bit more restrained and overly formal than is typical of much of Williams' work.  Does that make it bad?  Heck no.
  
"Escape from Venice" -- Comparatively, this action cue feels like the composer was having a blast; and consequently, this sounds a lot more like my idea of "Indiana Jones" music.
  
"Belly of the Steel Beast" -- An intense piece representing the tank chase through the desert.

"The Penitent Man Will Pass" -- Arguably the film's standout cue, this one presents the Grail theme in its fullest expression except maybe for the end-credits suite.
  

1989 -- Born on the Fourth of July


  
  
Born on the Fourth of July was directed by Oliver Stone, who tends to be a divisive figure among film lovers.  He'd had a couple of big hits in the mid-to-late eighties with Platoon and Wall Street, but had followed that up with a flop, Talk Radio.
  
He had a lot riding on Born on the Fourth of July, then; and it certainly re-established him as a force in Hollywood.  The movie was a box-office success, and earned eight Oscar nominations (including one for Tom Cruise, who just might have won if not for Daniel Day-Lewis starring in My Left Foot).
  
The film also marked Stone's first collaboration with John Williams.  The music fits like a glove: patriotic yet conflicted, haunting yet rousing.  Williams was nominated for an Oscar (competing with himself for Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade), but lost to Alan Menken for The Little Mermaid.  Even I won't argue with that one (although I would note that it is the songs moreso than the score that make that Disney film a classic).
  
By the way, if you want a good overview/ranking of the films of Oliver Stone, Dog Star Omnibus has you covered.
  
Final note: there is a mild Stephen King connection in that the movie co-stars both Ed Lauter and R.D. Call, making this a partial Golden Years pre-reunion (it happened prior to the airing of Golden Years).
  

1989 -- Always


  
  
Always was Williams' third score of 1989, and his second for director Steven Spielberg.  A remake of the 1943 Spencer Tracy / Irene Dunn romance A Guy Named Joe, Always was a box-office disappointment that today ranks as one of Spielberg's least-seen films.
  
It's not a bad little flick, though.  Good lord, it's got Richard Dreyfuss, Holly Hunter, and John Goodman in it!  That makes it worth seeing, especially with the customary Spielbergian technical mastery that is evident.
  
The Williams score works well within the context of the movie, but as presented on disc it is a bit of a bore.  It's certainly -- with the arguable exception of Lincoln decades later -- his least vibrant score to a Spielberg film.  Guess what?  That's okay!  I neither expect nor need every score -- even Williams scores for Spielberg movies -- to be E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.  Sometimes, they can be what this one is: atmospheric, gentle, and relatively non-thematic.  It's neither the first time nor the last Williams used an approach like this: you can hear hints of it in other scores such as Heartbeeps, Far and Away, and A.I. Artificial Intelligence.
  
I would also add as a negative that much of it is hard to listen to, by which I mean that the volume on the soundtrack album is mixed so low that unless you are listening to it with headphones (or at full-blast) you are likely to not quite be able to hear it.  Low-key is great; low-key to the point of near-nonexistence is less great.
  

1990 -- Stanley & Iris


  
      
  
I've never seen Stanley & Iris, but Wikipedia informs me that it is a 1990 film starring Jane Fonda and Robert DeNiro, and that it is a romance about illiteracy.  
  
It was directed by Martin Ritt, for whom Williams had scored Pete 'n' Tillie and Conrack in his pre-Jaws days of the seventies.  His work here is subdued and charming, with a couple of lovely themes that would not make the cut for a John Williams Greatest Hits album, but might make the cut if that album were two or three discs long.
  
Stephen King connection: the film co-stars Jamey (The Stand) Sheridan and Stephen (Golden Years) Root.
  

1990 -- Universal Studios E.T. Adventure


  
  
Listing this is dubious at best, but I'm going to do it just in case somebody out there knows more about it; if you do, by all means, chime in via the comments.  
  
Universal Studios opened their E.T. Adventure dark ride in Hollywood in 1990 and Orlando in 1991, and if you've never been on it, know ye that it includes a visit to E.T.'s homeworld.  There, you meet Botanicus, a sage alien representative of all that grows and flourishes.  Or something like that.
  
Evidence seems to indicate that Williams may have composed a new theme to represent Botanicus.  I've done a small amount of research online about this, and most Williams fans who are in the know agree that he did.  Trouble is, nobody seems -- so far as I can tell -- to have any definitive proof.
  
As of the time I write this, there is a video on YouTube consisting of a piece of music titled "Botanicus" that does indeed sound to my semi-knowledgeable ears like a genuine John Williams composition.  So did he write this for the ride?  If so, what else might he have written?
  
Hopefully we will find out for sure one of these days.
  
As for "Botanicus," it's pretty good.  It's either Williams or somebody who was so good at pastiching Williams that he/she should be put on retainer by Lucasfilm and by Steven Spielberg.
  

1990 -- Presumed Innocent


  
  
There were few, if any, stars bigger circa 1990 than Harrison Ford, and his legal thriller Presumed Innocent was a hit for director Alan J. Pakula.  John Williams came along for the ride, and wrote a fantastic main theme for the film...
  
...which he repeats over and over for the entirety of the score.  The soundtrack album is forty-three minutes long, and I swear to you, it's just the same theme in slight variations over and over and over again.  Not in the fun Long Goodbye kind of way, but in the "is that all that there is on this fucking album?!?" kind of way.  I mean, if you've got to have that happen, there are worse ways for it to happen than with this theme; it's terrific.  But it makes for one of the more tedious Williams albums in existence.
  
Stephen King connection: the movie co-stars Bonnie Bedelia, a decade or so after Salem's Lot and a few years before Needful Things.
  

1990 -- Home Alone
 

  
  
I'm not sure people who weren't grown-ups during its release remember how massive a hit Home Alone was.  Take it from someone who remembers: it was a monster.  
  
Let's all finally come out of our fugue state and admit something: the success was inexplicable.  Utterly inexplicable.  Is it a charming little Christmas movie?  Yeah, sure it is.  But is it more so than any number of other movies you can think of?
  
If so, it's lost on me.
  
Regardless, the film was an absolutely massive hit.  It made $285 million in 1990 dollars in America alone.  Box Office Mojo tells me that that equates to roughly $568 million in 2015 dollars, which puts it in the top forty movies of all time.
  
I suspect the John Williams music was a massive part of that success.  A movie like Home Alone only becomes a hit because of tremendous word of mouth, and a movie like that only has tremendous word of mouth if people form an emotional connection to it.  Given that the movie is mostly a slapstick comedy (and not an especially graceful one, at that), it relied on John Williams to help form the emotional connections.  
  
He did so like a champ.  I can't honestly call this (or its sequel) one of my favorite scores, but every single year, between Thanksgiving and New Year's, I listen to the Home Alone scores of Williams probably half a dozen times.  They fit the season perfectly.
  
The standout track from the score is probably the song "Somewhere In My Memory," which -- as far as I'm concerned -- immediately became one of the essential Christmas songs.  "Star of Bethlehem" is nearly as good, if not better; and the orchestral versions of both songs are terrific bits of scoring.
  
Another cue I'm fond of: "Setting the Trap," which is surely the most ominously exciting Christmas music out there.
  
The score was nominated for an Oscar.  Guess what?  It lost.  To be specific, it lost to John Barry's Dances With Wolves.  And it's a good thing it did, because if it hadn't then I'd be ripping the Academy apart right now for getting that award wrong.  They got it very, very right.
  
Less so in the case of Best Original Song, where "Somewhere In My Memory" lost to a Madonna song written by Stephen Sondheim for Dick Tracy.  I'm aware that Sondheim is no chump, but Williams (along with lyricist Leslie Bricusse) deserved this one.
  

1991 -- "Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra"
 

  
  
Williams did not score any feature films released during the first eleven months of 1991, but he did premiere a significant piece for the concert hall: his "Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra" was written for Michelle Zukovsky, clarinetist for the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
  
I could only find the second movement of the concerto on YouTube, and it's probably the least enjoyable of the piece's four sections (first movement, cadenza, second movement, third movement).  But it's not bad; it's very Stravinsky-esque and has a sort of under-water feeling, which means that it reminds me a bit of something you might see/hear in Fantasia.  I'm all for that!
  
Of the various Williams concertos I have heard, I would rank this as one of the best.  This may merely be because I have it on CD and have actually listened to it numerous times.
  
Alternatively, it may be because it's good.  You be the judge!
  

1991 -- The Spielberg/Williams Collaboration
 

art by Drew Struzan (I think); I want a poster of this so bad I can taste it
  
  
To this day, one of my favorite CDs is this set of Boston Pops rerecordings of Williams scores for Spielberg films.  I got a copy when it was released (or soon thereafter), and I loved it not merely from a Williams standpoint, but also from a Spielberg standpoint.  It's easy to take for granted just how much great music has been put into the world by way of those movies; and it's also easy to take for granted the fact that very nearly all of that music has come from one composer.
  
Even for an album that is nearly 25 years old, this one barely scratches the surface; but (with one exception) it's hard to argue against any of it being there; if you had to boil this collaboration down to a single disc, you'd have been hard-pressed to do much better than this in 1991.
  
A track listing:
  
01  "The Raiders' March" from Raiders of the Lost Ark -- Essential, and while this performance is maybe a hair less good than the one from the original soundtrack, it's only by that hair I just mentioned.
  
02  Theme from Always -- Thing is, I'd argue that Always has several themes, none of them singularly important enough to be considered THE theme of Always.  Also, none of them are quite good enough to have demanded inclusion here.  I'd have gone with something else from Raiders or Last Crusade instead, or maybe even something from Amazing Stories.  But from a completist standpoint, I guess it makes sense for Always to be represented.
  
03  "Adventures on Earth" from E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial -- Essential.
  
04  Theme from Sugarland Express (they forgot the "The") -- The movie is badly underrated, and the score is, too.  Even by Williams, who supposedly is not a fan and will not allow it to be issued on disc by the specialty labels.  He rearranged the music for a three-minute-thirty-six-second inclusion here, though, and it sounds fantastic.  He even brought back Toots Thielemans to play the harmonica section!
  
05  Theme from Jaws -- Essential.
  
06  "Out to Sea / The Shark Cage Fugue" from Jaws -- Essential.
  
07  "Exsultate Justi" from Empire of the Sun -- Essential, and possibly better than the original soundtrack version.
  
08  "Parade of the Slave Children" from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom -- Essential.
  
09  "Over the Moon" from E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial -- Essential.
  
10  March from 1941 -- This is a superb performance, although personally, I prefer the original-soundtrack version with the cheesy cannonfire.
  
11  "Cadillac of the Skies" from Empire of the Sun -- Like "Exsultate Justi," I think this version might be even better than the original-soundtrack version.
  
12  "Scherzo for Motorcycle and Orchestra" from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade -- I'd have gone with the Grail theme, personally, or even the tank-chase cue.  I'm just not as wild about this as some people seem to be.  Not that it's bad; it certainly is not.
  
13  Excerpts from Close Encounters of the Third Kind -- This suite clocks in at just under ten minutes, and that's a pretty good way to end a disc.
  
A sort-of sequel would follow in 1995: Williams on Williams: The Classic Spielberg Scores.  We'll cover that when we get to it, but I may as well tell you now that there is a critical need for a third such volume covering everything post-'95.  It has not as yet materialized.  Get on it, Johnny!
  

1991 -- JFK


  
  
Williams reteamed with Oliver Stone for JFK in late 1991.  The movie was a firebrand of controversy, and achieved sufficient notoriety that an episode of Seinfeld parodied it to amusing effect.
  
Is the movie full of shit?  Well, yeah, probably.  Does that make it a bad movie?  Ah, now there's an interesting question.  I'd ask a follow-up question: is a movie like this one obliged to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?  
  
I think answering that question is a very complicated proposition, and also a largely irrelevant one.  After all, let's face facts: human nature is to mythologize events.  We all do it; we do it in our personal lives, telling ourselves stories about things we have done and the people with whom we did them, and I think it is possible to argue that -- at least within our own consciousness -- the myth ultimately outranks the "facts" in importance.  I'm not 100% sure I buy into that notion; but I buy into the possibility of that notion, if nothing else.
  
And if that IS true, then why wouldn't it be just as true for a nation as for an individual?
  
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you JFK.
  
The score is exceptional, nowhere more so than its stirring-but-haunted "Prologue."  As with his main theme for Born on the Fourth of July, Williams somehow manages to convey a strong sense of patriotism that has been badly wounded but is soldiering on regardless.  Amazingly, neither piece sounds anything like the other except in terms of the emotion it is seeking to convey.
  
Another exceptional piece is one called "Arlington," which is appropriately funereal and distressed.
  
I'm also particularly fond of "The Conspirators," a metronome-like piece that sounds like danger and shadows.  You've heard it ripped off in a bajillion other scores, including by Williams himself in Jurassic Park  a couple of years later.
  
Williams received his 5678th Oscar nomination for the score, and did not win.  He lost to Alan Menken yet again; Menken had scored a little movie called Beauty and the Beast, and probably deserved the statue (although, once again, it was the songs moreso than the score that made that movie).
  
Stephen King connections: Sissy Spacek (Carrie), Michael Rooker (The Dark Half), Laurie Metcalf (Broadway's Annie Wilkes), Donald Sutherland (Salem's Lot), and Bob Gunton (The Shawshank Redemption) are all on hand.  And if you really want to, you could think of this as a sequel to 11/22/63, you weirdo.
  

1991 -- Hook


This La-La Land Records presentation of the complete score is the edition to own.
  
    
I've got a complicated relationship with Hook.  It came out when I was a senior in high school, and I loved it, which tells me that my taste in movies was not very well developed in 1991.  And yet, I can still sort of summon up that late-childhood enthusiasm for the movie when I think about it.
  
When I watch it?  Not so much.  This only happens about once a decade, to be fair; so maybe when I get to it again, I'll feel differently.  The last time, though, I felt it was an overstuffed turkey that has poor performances, awful sets, and an inconsistent tone.  Among big-budget Spielberg films, I still think I'd say The Lost World is worse; but not by much.
  
It's hard to find anything bad to say about the John Williams score, though.  In my heart, I imagine him sitting down to see a rough cut, probably with Spielberg in the room; his heart begins to race as he tries to figure out how not to show any outward signs of how much he dislikes it, and he decides to try -- almost certainly to fail, but to at least try -- to write the best score in the history of cinema, so as to salvage whatever can be salvaged from this mess.
  
He failed.  But what an effort!  From the music for Granny Wendy to the flight to Neverland to the Lost Boys banquet and feast, Williams really gave this one his all.  If I've got a criticism, it's that it does sound at times as if he's trying a bit TOO hard; in some ways, this score, marvelous though it is, is a bit like perfume on a barnyard hog: inadequate to the task at hand, and so doomed to failure that it seems like a waste of perfectly good perfume.
  
Another criticism: there is some lousy music near the front of the film.  The song "We Don't Wanna Grow Up" is handily one of the worst things he's ever composed.  It, apparently, was a leftover from the musical version of Peter Pan he and Spielberg developed with Leslie Bricusse.  I get that (as it appears in Hook) it is intended to be sort of crappy, what with it being a song sung in a kiddie show; but even by those standards, it is dreck.  Another song, "When You're Alone," is significantly better (and earned Williams and Bricusse an Oscar nomination, which they rightly lost to Beauty and the Beast); but it, too, is hampered by being sung by a child.  Rare is the occasion when I will answer "yes" to the question "Should we let children sing this song?"

  

1992 -- Far and Away


  
  
Williams has only scored one movie for director Ron Howard: Far and Away, a sumptuous old-Hollywood-style star vehicle for husband-and-wife team Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman.
  
It's almost a shame that Williams and Howard haven't worked together more, as their sensibilities seem perfectly in alignment.  Howard leans toward archetypes and big emotions, and Williams does both of those things well.  You could argue that Howard's style has become more subtle over the past decade or so, but then again, so has Williams'.  In any case, Howard has not exactly been hurting for great film scores over the years: from James Horner's sublime work on Cocoon and Willow and A Beautiful Mind and Apollo 13 (etc.) to Hans Zimmer's excellent Backdraft, Thomas Newman's lovely Cinderella Man, and Burt Bacharach's memorable Night Shift (which included the instant-classic song "That's What Friends Are For"), Howard's directorial career has been filled with crackerjack film scores practically from the beginning.
  
Even among that sort of company, I'd rank Far and Away as a highlight.  The movie is a Western of sorts with an Irish-immigrant emphasis, and if you don't succumb to its charms from the very first frame, you are apt to find it hackneyed, cornball, pedantic, and trite, and you might find a few adjectives of your own to add to that list.  Me...?  I find it romantic, involving, inspiring, funny, and exciting.  Or, at any rate, I did the last time I watched it, which has been probably a decade and a half ago.  I might change my mind with a fresh viewing.
  
However, I can say with no hesitation that the film's score possesses all of those qualities in abundance.  If you want to hear them, you can find them all in the "End Credits" suite, one of the best of its type Williams has ever composed.  It's pure Irish glory for awhile, but becomes lush Americana after awhile; a rather nice encapsulation of the characters' journey, in my opinion.
  
The score failed to land an Oscar nomination, possibly due moreso to the film's chilly reception from critics than to its own qualities.  However, it must also be said that 1992 was a good year for film scores: the Oscar went to Alan Menken for Aladdin, but probably could also have been justifiably taken by fellow nominees Basic Instinct (Jerry Goldsmith) or Chaplin (John Barry).
  

1992 -- Home Alone 2: Lost In New York

 


Home Alone was a colossal hit, so you can't blame the studio for wanting to find out if there was any more of that cash lying around waiting to be scooped up.  As it turned out, there was; the sequel only made about two-thirds what the original made, but two-thirds of a shitload of money is still a shitload of money.  I'm not sure what the exact math is, but I know for a fact that you have to divide a shitload a LOT thinner than that for it to cease being a shitload.

Williams was invited back for the sequel, and accepted.  The movie itself is a grimly silly redux of the first movie's plot, but transposed to a big-city setting; the score, however, is a bit of a marvel.  Because the movie itself is a retread of the first, the score can't help but follow its lead in some places.  However, Williams also contributes a number of very strong cues, a smattering of orchestral seasonal classics, and two terrific new songs ("Christmas Star" and "Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas") which fit very comfortably alongside the first film's instant-classic songs "Somewhere In My Memory" and "Star of Bethlehem."

Neither of the new songs landed an Oscar nomination; they were muscled out by Aladdin (understandable) and The Bodyguard (considerably less understandable).  But don't let's let Oscar's shortsightedness sway us: it's great work from Williams, as is the score itself (which, if anything, is superior to the first film's).
  

1993 -- Jurassic Park


 

There's no arguing with the fact that Jurassic Park is iconic.  I mean, sure, you could argue it isn't; but you can also argue that the sun is cold and the moon is hot, just like you can argue about all sorts of things if you're willing to be incorrect.

It's a great movie, and the score is pretty great too.  But if I'm being honest, I have to confess that the music doesn't resonate with me.  I like it; I never mind hearing the theme, and never will.  But it does nothing for me emotionally the way other iconic Williams scores do.  I'm not entirely sure why that is; the logical assumption for me to make is that something like Superman got me when I was young, whereas I was 19 when this music first hit my ears.  But I was 31 when I heard Memoirs of a Geisha for the first time, and there are parts of it that move me greatly.  So it's not that; it's something else.  I just don't know what.

In any case, you've heard this theme before, and the odds are good that you love it whereas I merely like it.  If so, I'd love to hear a spirited defense of it in the comments, so by all means, do so.

My favorite tracks from the score are "Incident at Isla Nublar" (the opening scene) and the gentle "My Friend, the Brachiosaurus."  Those are vintage Williams; as, indeed, is the entire score.

Stephen King connections: the film was written by David Koepp, who would later write and direct Secret Window; and its cast includes Samuel L. Jackson of 1408 and Cell.

  

1993 -- Schindler's List


  
  
  
I might be a wee bit indifferent to the otherwise-iconic score for Jurassic Park, but there's no indifference in me when it comes to Schindler's List: it is superb through and through.
  
The movie itself is a landmark, and deservedly so, but the score has proven to be just as enduring.  The main theme is a classic, the secondary theme ("Remembrances") is a classic, and at least a few of the other cues are classics as well.  These include "Jewish Town (Krakow Ghetto: Winter '41)" and "Auschwitz-Birkenau."  Virtuoso violinist Itzhak Perlman contributes to the score greatly, and his presence almost certainly helped legitimize Williams even further within classical circles.
  
Williams won his fifth Academy Award, which was richly deserved even in a field that included the eminently-worthy Elmer Bernstein (The Age of Innocence), Dave Grusin (The Firm), and James Newton Howard (The Fugitive).  The only surprise is that he didn't have do defeat his own Jurassic Park to make it happen; the fifth nomination went not to that score, but to Richard Robbins, who did  admittedly great work on the see-it-if-you-haven't The Remains of the Day.
  
Amazingly, Williams has not managed to win another Oscar since.  What does this mean?  (A) that he's way overdue and (B) that you, dear reader, are going to have suffer through many complaints from me about it during the remainder of this series.
  
After Schindler's List, Williams took a two-year break from scoring movies (which was an impoverished time for fans, but less severe than the four-year break director Steven Spielberg took from making films).  He wasn't a recluse during that time, though; he composed "Song For World Peace" (an instrumental anthem), "Variations on Happy Birthday" (which is exactly what you'd think it would be), and two new concertos.  I'm going to save discussion of them for later, when I talk about the albums on which they were eventually released.
  
Also released in 1993 (in November, meaning this was a hella-fine Christmas present for yours truly):
  
  

  
  
If you were looking for the moment when I went from being a movie-soundtrack appreciator to being a movie-soundtrack lover, this was possibly it.  It's all about that phrase "previously unreleased music."
  
There were versions of the (first) three Star Wars scores released a few years later that were even more comprehensive than this one, but this was the one that really began the craze for me.
  
Among the scenes represented in this box set that had not at that time been released commercially:
  
  • the destruction of Alderaan
  • the arrival at Mos Eisley
  • the second song played by the cantina band
  • the arrival at Cloud City
  • Han being dropped into the carbon-freeze unit
  • Boba Fett escaping with Han's body
  • Luke losing his hand
  • Luke versus rancor
  • Yoda's passing
  • the Emperor versus Luke (!)
  
And so forth.  So yes, this box set was -- and is -- gold.  My favorite podcaster, Bobby Roberts (formerly Fatboy Roberts of the Cort & Fatboy Show), once mentioned this as being his favorite piece of Star Wars memorabilia.  I'm right there with him.
  

1995 -- Williams on Williams: The Classic Spielberg Scores




This album was an all-but-in-name sequel to 1991's The Spielberg/Williams collaboration, and the fact that a followup appeared a mere four years later is (in my mind) probably due less to a need for an expansion than to the fact that the first one sold like hotcakes.  I have no idea if it actually did, of course; I'm merely speculating.

There had been three new films in the Spielberg/Williams collaboration since that first album, though, so material certainly existed to justify the new album.

Let's go through it track by track:

01  "Flying" from E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial -- This theme had been present on The Spielberg/Williams Collaboration within the lengthy cue "Adventures on Earth," but it serves quite well here as an album leadoff in a more succinct format.  The performance is fulsome and fine, which is what you'd expect of the Boston Pops.

02  "Theme" from Jurassic Park -- The track on the original album titled "Theme from Jurassic Park" runs about two minutes less than this track does, so obviously, the rerecorded version has some differences.  I'm not quite canny enough to hear them, though; and I'm too lazy to do a side-by-side comparison.  I will say that this new version sounds like the tempo is a touch too fast in comparison.  I will add further that I don't entirely mind.  But if you want the real deal, you might not want to rely on this album to give it to you.

03  "Remembrances" from Schindler's List -- The big difference here is that Itzhak Perlman is out and Tamara Smirnova is in.  Smirnova doesn't have the power of Perlman, but she's fine; this is a thoroughly acceptable version of "Remembrances."  It's longer than either of the versions on the original soundtrack album, too; and once again, I've no clue what the differences are.

04  "Flight to Neverland" from Hook -- This actually begins with the Hook prologue before transitioning into "Flight to Neverland," so it's arguably more of a suite than it is "Flight to Neverland."  It's fine, but I think the original outclasses it by a substantial margin; this one sounds a bit busy and rushed.

05  "The Battle for Hollywood" from 1941 -- I'm always pleased to see 1941 getting some love.  This is certainly one of the score's standout cues, and this new performance of it is pretty great.

06  "Smee's Plan" from Hook -- Really?  No room for Amazing Stories, but room for "Smee's Plan"?   Nothing from Temple of Doom or The Last Crusade, but this makes it?  Not on board with that.

07  "The Barrel Chase" from Jaws -- Great cue; this version of it is inferior to the original in every way, so far as I can tell, but it's not bad.

08  "My Friend, the Brachiosaurus" from Jurassic Park -- I've been somewhat rough on this album so far, but I think I might actually prefer its version of this cue to the original soundtrack's.

09  "Jim's New Life" from Empire of the Sun -- Not so this one, which seems a bit too slow compared to the original, a bit too stately and bit too lifeless.  Again, this is not to say it's bad; it isn't, it's just not up to the original.

10  "The Dialogue" from Close Encounters of the Third Kind -- Why the title change from "The Conversation"?  Beats me.  This version is wholly inadequate compared to the one on the original soundtrack.  The performances simply don't have that touch of inspiration.

11  "The Lost Boys' Ballet" from Hook -- Pretty good version of one of my least-favorite cues from that score.

12  "Theme" from Schindler's List -- Following up "The Lost Boys' Ballet" with the theme from Schindler's List was probably not a great programming decision; sandwiching it between that and the next track is disastrous.  It would have felt okay coming after "My Friend, the Brachiosaurus" and leading into "Jim's New Life," but it probably ought to have been the album-ender.  The performance is fine; Smirnova continues not to be Perlman, but she does a good job.

13  "The Basket Chase" from Raiders of the Lost Ark -- A good performance hampered by its poor post-Schindler's placement, in comparison to which it seems entirely too jaunty.

14  "The Face of Pan" from Hook -- The most dramatic cue in the Hook score.  If you heard it with no knowledge of what movie it had come from, you would probably assume it was from something genuinely epic and moving.  Great piece of music; arguably too great for the movie that spawned it, which in turn arguably makes it a bad piece of score.  This performance is quite good, though.

15  "The Banquet" from Hook -- As is probably the case with "The Face of Pan," I think I like this cue more when divorced from Hook's score than I do as a part of it.  It's a robust, jaunty tune, but the BPO doesn't do a hugely wonderful job with it.  As an album-closer, it's a disaster; I'd have ended with "Flying" or with "Theme from Schindler's List," personally.

So there you have it.  As is the case with many sequels, this one is not even vaguely as good as the first one.

  

1995 -- Sabrina





Williams ended his two-year film-scoring hiatus by providing the music for Sabrina, an ill-advised remake of the classic Audrey Hepburn / Humphrey Bogart / William Holden movie.  This one starred Julia Ormond, Harrison Ford, and Greg Kinnear.  Not a bad cast, but it's no Hepburn / Bogart / Holden, is it?

Williams' music is lovely, and is best described as a more mature and refined version of the sort of thing he did in some of his sixties comedy scores.  It's pretty good, as is the Sting-performed / Williams-composed song "Moonlight."  Both score and song earned Oscar nominations, possibly just because the Academy was afraid Williams would go away again if they didn't honor him.  The score nomination was made possible due to the Academy having split the category in two: one for dramas, one for comedies and musicals.

Williams lost both in both categories to the more-deserving Pocahontas (though both should perhaps have lost to Toy Story in both categories).

Stephen King connections: Becky Ann Baker (Storm of the Century) and Margo Martindale (one episode of Golden Years) have small roles.  Had to dig deep for that one, guys!

  

1995 -- Nixon



  
  
Late 1995 also found Williams' work accompanying Oliver Stone's movie Nixon.  I haven't seen this movie in a long time, but I remember loving it on first viewing; and Dog Star Omnibus ranked it at #2 when a worst-to-best post about Stone movies appeared there.  Those two facts combine to assure me that I would still love the movie today were I to watch it again.
  
And if I didn't, it wouldn't be because John Williams failed to give it his all.  This is a very good score, much more bombastic than you might expect from a Williams score for a non-genre drama.  The main theme sounds almost like it could have come out of a Star Wars movie.  In case you're wondering: yes, that's a compliment.
  
Williams earned his third Oscar nomination of the year for Nixon, in a terrific year that also saw nominations for James Horner (both Apollo 13 and Braveheart) and Patrick Doyle (Sense and Sensibility).  All three lost to Luis Bacalov's Il Postino.  Should have been Braveheart, Oscar; ya fucked up another one.
  
Stephen King connections: Anthony Hopkins (Hearts In Atlantis), Joan Allen (A Good Marriage), Ed Harris and J.T. Walsh (Needful Things), E.G. Marshall (Creepshow), James Woods (Cat's Eye), and John Stockwell (Christine) all make appearances.  So a lot.

  

1996 -- "Summon the Heroes"


  
  
Williams returned to the Olympics-scoring duty a third time for the 1996 summer games in Atlanta, and once again rose to the task, providing a terrific theme, "Summon the Heroes."  It's good enough to be well-placed on any Greatest Hits retrospective of Williams' career, but not as good as his theme for the '84 Los Angeles Olympics.  This is a compliment to that theme, not a slight against "Summon the Heroes."
  
The theme appeared commercially on an album of the same name, which also included Williams-conducted Boston Pops performances (all newly-created for this album) of Olympics-themed music.  This includes pieces that were created with the Games in mind (Leonard Bernstein's "Olympic Hymn"), pieces that were not but may as well have been (Vangelis's Chariots of Fire), and classical pieces that serve well when played against footage of athletes being awesome (Orff's O Fortuna, Shostakovich's "Festive Overture," etc.).  It's a damn good album, one of the best Williams and the Pops have done together.


1996 -- "Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra"


This 2002 recording also includes the early concert piece "Essay for Strings," as well as a few pieces by Kevin Kaska.  You probably read that on the cover, didn't you?  Why am I still typing?  I'm just typing and typing and typing and saying nothing new...

Worth at least a brief mention, though I have little of essence to say: 1996 saw the premiere of a trumpet concerto by Williams.  It was later recorded by Ronald Feldman and the London Symphony Orchestra with Arturo Sandoval on trumpet, and it's solid.  I wouldn't say it's as easily embraceable as most Williams music (i.e., his film scores), but it's not bad.



1996 -- Sleepers


  
  
I could be wrong about this next thing I'm going to say; any time I try to speak cogently about music, I'm on shaky ground, so let's not assume that I have any idea what I'm talking about in the upcoming sentence.  However, at some point in time it seemed as if Williams' composition style changed somewhat and his film scores became -- at times -- much less thematic and much more __________.  I don't know how to fill in that blank; something to do with tonality?  Chord progressions?  Orchestration?  Melodic intervals?  (I'm bluffing so hard here; I have no idea if "melodic intervals" even exist, and I'm afraid to Google them and find out.)
  
My vocabulary and my musical knowledge are simply not sufficient for me to explain it much better than that.  All I can say in clarifying the matter is that what it means for me is that at some point, Williams' film scores began to be a bit less approachable, a bit more complex.  (If "complex" is the word; I can't be sure of that.)  I think I'd point to Last Crusade's "Scherzo for Motorcycle and Orchestra" as being a mild example; it's the first one I noticed, certainly.
  
What it comes down to is that Williams, as he began to grow older, seemingly began composing music that was less thematic and more . . . uh . . . more __________.
  
I just don't know.
  
What I do know is that Sleepers is probably his first score to fully exist in that mode.  Whatever it is I'm talking about, I'm talking about Sleepers.  If none of that made any sense, I apologize.  These are the perils of me trying to write about music.
  
I was not at all fond of the Sleepers score when it was released.  There was simply nothing for me to latch onto in the way there typically is with Williams scores.  If you want to hear what I mean by this, look no further than the album's opening track, "Sleepers at Wilkinson."  This stuff is a far cry from "The Imperial March," or even Far and Away.
  
It's grown on me over the years, though, as has the score overall.  I would not rank it in the top seventy-five percentile of JW scores for my own personal tastes, but I do enjoy it when I revisit it every year or two.  The standout tracks for me are "Hell's Kitchen," "The Football Game," and "Reliving the Past" (which sounds like Williams doing a John Carpenter / Ennio Morricone mashup, which is to say that it sounds like The Thing).
  
I saw the movie when it came out, but I don't remember much about it.  It made only a moderate impression on me at the time, and that impression has entirely faded.  
  
The score received an Oscar nomination, but lost to Gabriel Yared's The English Patient.  It should have lost to Patrick Doyle's Hamlet; that Oscar blunder ranks among the greatest.
  
Stephen King connection: Brad (Apt Pupil) Renfro is on hand playing young Brad Pitt.



1997 -- The Hollywood Sound




I've mentioned only a few of these conducted-by-Williams albums heretofore, and that was out of simple necessity: he recorded so many of them with the Boston Pops that including them would have swelled these posts to an even-more-unmanageable length.

However, I'll probably talk about them regularly during the post-Pops period.  Why?  Beats me.  Just because, I guess.

I don't have a heck of a lot to say about The Hollywood Sound, except that it's very, very good.  There are a few Williams compositions (Jaws, Star Wars. E.T.), but the main attractions for me are everything else: the overture to Lawrence of Arabia kicks things off, and that's a fine piece of music.  There's a suite from The Wizard of Oz, the main title of John Barry's gorgeous Out of Africa, Barry's "John Dunbar Theme" from the equally-gorgeous Dances With Wolves, et cetera.  The Godfather Part II is here; Spellbound (a top-notch Miklos Rozsa score for Hitchcock) is here; The Last Emperor, The Best Years of Our Lives, The Adventures of Robin Hood, A Place in the Suni, The Devil and Daniel Webster.  Good, good stuff.

Two of my favorite tracks: the Disney songs "Beauty and the Beast" and "Colors of the Wind" (from Pocahontas) are given lush orchestral treatments, and the latter in particular is just wonderful.  I love the song, and this version is a terrific variant on it.

So in case you were wondering, that's a big thumbs-up on The Hollywood Sound.



1997 -- Sketches on Star Wars
(The Trotter Trio)




I haven't discussed any cover albums of Williams material here, but The Trotter Trio's Sketches on Star Wars is well worth a mention.

This piano-based jazz trio's album is exactly what you'd expect: jazz reworkings of the themes of the Star Wars trilogy.  I stumbled across this album in a Barnes & Noble one day in the late nineties, and just sort of gaped at its existence for a few moments before shrugging and deciding to buy it.

It was a good decision.  The album is excellent, and I'd love to link to a couple of the better tracks, but a cursory search on YouTube turned up nothing.  So instead, just imagine what the Imperial March might sound like if it were accompanying a scene of Charlie Brown walking down the sidewalk; that ought to give you the right idea.


1997 -- Rosewood

 
Get the 2-disc edition from La La Land.


Williams stepped in as a last-minute replacement for composer Wynton Marsalis on this project from director John Singleton.  Singleton had hired Marsalis to provide a traditional-blues score, but thought the results were a bit too low-key for a movie that ended up being more of an old-Hollywood-style adventure epic.  Singleton had been a Williams fan for years, and knew the composer could do both epic AND bluesy/folksy, and convinced him to come onboard.

It's a very good score.  The movie itself is a pretty good mix of racial-tension drama with Western-archetype-tinged action, but it failed to make a dent in the box office.  As such, the score is by no means one of the better-known Williams efforts of this era, and that's a shame.  It's understated in comparison to some Williams scores, and hearkens back a couple of decades to the sort of folk-tinged music Williams was providing for movies like The Missouri Breaks and Conrack in the seventies.  If you like Williams in that mode, you'll love Rosewood; if you primarily like his heroic marches, you might be bored.

The best-known piece of music from the score is almost certainly "Look Down, Lord" a wonderful gospel-tinged choral piece that pops up several times during the course of the movie.  I've been unable to find a credited lyricist for the song, which apparently means that Williams himself wrote the lyrics (and those for the movie's other two songs, "Light My Way" and "The Freedom Train," the latter of which appears only on the soundtrack and not in the movie itself).

Stephen King connection: Michael Rooker of The Dark Half is on hand playing a cracker.  He does so capably.


1997 -- Return of the Jedi: The Special Edition

 
   


The original Star Wars trilogy was given "special edition" treatment by Lucasfilm in 1997, and made a pile of money in theatres all over again.  The movies included some artistic decisions that would prove to be controversial and divisive among Star Wars fans, but John Williams was more or less exempt from the shenanigans.

There was one exception: since the ending of Return of the Jedi was changed a bit, with new footage incorporated, the finale cue "Ewok Celebration" was thrown out and Williams was asked to write a new piece.  The resultant cue, "Victory Celebration," was the first new piece of Star Wars music by Williams in nearly a decade and a half, and because of that, I decided it merited mention here.

It's okay, I guess, and seemingly introduces a new theme into the canon of Star Wars music.  But I'll take "Ewok Celebration" any day of the week, any hour of the day; those "yub-nubs" are, to my ears, vastly preferable to the "yah yah yah-yah-yah yuh"s of this piece.



1997 -- The Five Sacred Trees


  
  
The album The Five Sacred Trees was released in March of 1997, and its main attraction for me was the titular concerto for bassoon and orchestra.  "The Five Sacred Trees" had been composed by Williams in 1993 for the 150th-anniversary celebration of the New York Philharmonic, but did not debut publicly until the NYP and bassoonist Judith LeClair performed it in 1995.  LeClair returned for the 1997 recording, but with the London Symphony Orchestra backing her.
  
In his liner notes, Jamake Highwater says that "Somewhere in a forgotten land and a forgotten time, the wind mingled with the leaves of sacred trees.  Dumbfounded by a melodious sound, humankind paused in amazement to listen.  Out of silence music was born."
  
Later, he continues:
  
     Composer John Williams has heard this rustling music of the leaves.  Startled into his own awakening by stories about the mythic Five Sacred Trees, he created an exceptional musical tapestry for orchestra and bassoon, and instrument that Williams believes is "haunted" by the spirit of the tree from which it is made.  His music reflects the composer's profound veneration of of the forest.  "Within the tree community," he tells us, "there lies more music than anywhere else in the Western world.  It is impossible to stand under the high arching boughs of ancient trees and not wonder if the architecture of cathedrals was not born of just such an experience."
     The Five Sacred Trees, in the form of a Concerto for Bassoon and Orchestra, consists of five contrasting movements that eloquently evoke each of the legendary trees of Celtic myth: Eo Munga, a symbol of the sturdy oak, begins with solo bassoon, a deep throated voice that lends a somewhat solemn mood to this lyrical homage to the enduring oak.  Tortan is John Williams' tribute to the mythic tree associated with witchcraft, which he interprets with a spritely dance tune for fiddle and bassoon.  Eo Rossa, or the Tree of Ross -- the yew, which summons the rhapsodic powers of destruction and recreation, begins with a delicate theme for solo harp followed by a long, lean line for bassoon over harp accompaniment.  Craeb Uisnig, the Celtic name for the ash, a tree that is often a symbol of strife, brings on an agitated theme, punctuated by drum beats, glissandos, and a rousing series of plucked rhythms in the strings.  Finally, there is Dathi, a tree that is the music of poets and, significantly, is also the last tree to fall in the legendary forest of Celtic mythology, expressed as a lyrical, somewhat melancholy duet for bassoon and flute.
    
It's a very good concerto, and I enjoy it even without the benefit of those explanatory notes.  But with the notes in mind, the concerto gains in stature appreciably in my mind.  That shouldn't surprise me at all, but somehow does: the notion that a concert work like this has a story to tell, despite not being featured in a Harrison Ford movie, seems almost like a revelation.  This is almost certainly a sign that I am a very poor listener of music, but it's also a sign that I can still learn.
  
The album also contains Williams-conducted pieces by Toru Takemitsu, Alan Hovanhess, and Tobias Picker.  All of them are very good, especially the Hovhaness symphony; and all explore the theme of "the world of nature that lies beyond human frailty."  It makes for a cohesive and appealing entry in the conducted-by-Williams canon of albums, and the presence of such a major Williams composition makes it an essential album for fans.
  
Stephen King connection: Picker would, years later, write an opera based on Dolores Claiborne.  Oh how I wish there was a recording of it that I could buy!  Anybody out there got a bootleg?  If so, do get in touch and help a brother out.



1997 -- The Lost World: Jurassic Park




Pity the poor composer tasked with writing a score that serves as a sequel to Jurassic Park; that music was instantly iconic, so if your job involves you having to go to work and write the followup, you'd better be having a good day.

That's what it might be like for mere mortals like us, at least.  For a demigod like John Williams, it's just another day at the office; if he's having a good day, then that's just a bonus.

He'd thrived in similar situations before, of course: Jaws 2, The Empire Strikes Back, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and even Home Alone 2: Lost In New York were, as scores, highly successful return visits to familiar territory.  Part of what made them such was Williams' willingness to mostly stay away from the themes that made their predecessors so effective.  That's not particularly true of Home Alone 2, it must be admitted; but its sameness is part of the movie's joke, so the music fits the film, and even so veers into new territory in some places.

The Lost World is very much in the mode of Jaws 2: it has fleeting moments in which it trots out the theme of the predecessor film, but it mostly steers clear of it.  In its place: a sweeping, intense theme that sounds a bit like you'd imagine a Williams-scored King Kong theme to be.  I worked at a movie theatre at the time The Lost World was in release, and never got tired of hearing that music during auditorium-cleanup duties.  That's a fairly good measuring stick for a theme's effectiveness, I'd say.

I'm also fond of "The Stegosaurus," which has lovely ethereal moments as well as propulsive action music.  Even better: "The Hunt," a marvelously exciting action cue for one of the movie's major setpieces.  It's a good enough cue that most composers would probably eat their shorts -- or your shorts, or my shorts -- to be able to write a main theme as awesome, much less a secondary one.

I've never been a fan of the movie, alas.  It's one of the worst Spielberg films, in my opinion, although it's not without its virtues.  Chief among them: this score.


1997 -- Cinema Serenade
 



Their collaboration on the score for Schindler's List had been a considerable success both commercially and within the realm of concert-hall culture, so it made sense for Williams and violinist Itzhak Perlman to team up for an entire album of newly-recorded material.  That happened in 1997 with Cinema Serenade, which included Perlman and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra playing a bevy of Hollywood classics under the baton of Williams.

Williams himself contributed many of the arrangements, including the album's opening track: the Main Title of The Color Purple, which (at that time) was the only movie directed by Steven Spielberg that Williams had not scored.  That makes this track an especial favorite for the Spielberg/Williams nerd in me, as it represents a twelve-years-late quasi-appearance by Williams at that particular Spielbergian party.  It's a lovely version of the Quincy Jones theme, played marvelously by Perlman; and Williams' flourishes come through nicely without straying far from what Jones composed.

The rest of the album consists of:

"Tango (Por una Cabeza)" by Carlos Gardel from Scent of a Woman -- Perlman knocks this one out of the park.  I'm not hugely enamored of the music itself, but Perlman's playing is strong enough that it elevates the composition, in my opinion.

"Papa, Can You Hear Me?" by Michel Legrand from Yentl -- Good, but not one of my favorites on the album.

Theme from Il Postino by Luis Bacalov -- This is the score to which Williams's Nixon lost the Oscar a couple of years previously, and given how lovely this particular piece -- arranged by Williams himself -- is, it's not hard to see why he'd hold no ill will toward it.  This is another Perlman showcase, on an album that is itself entirely a showcase.

Theme from The Age of Innocence by Elmer Bernstein -- This is a wonderful theme by Bernstein, and I'd argue that this particular performance of it is weaker by far then the original.  Perlman's playing is solid, but I feel as if his style makes the theme wistful whereas it should be haunted.  This is almost certainly a case of bias (in favor of the original recording) on my part, though; on its own, this is good stuff.

Theme from Far and Away -- This is a Williams score, of course, and he is represented relatively sparingly on the album.  I love the score to Far and Away, and it's intriguing to hear it in this new guise.  It doesn't entirely work for me, though: I love some of what Perlman is doing, and dislike some of it rather intensely.  Another case of bias on my part?  Perhaps.  It won't be the last time.

"I Will Wait For You" from The Umbrellas of Cherbourg by Michel Legrand -- Legrand makes a second appearance, and it's okay.  I appear not to be particularly a fan of his.

Theme from Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse by Andre Previn -- This music does not sound like what you'd expect from a movie of that title.  I've never seen it and don't know what it's about.  I like this bit of music fairly well, though.  It's another one of the standout Perlman performances of the album.

Theme from Sabrina -- Another Williams composition, this one is dynamite with Perlman providing the lovely melody.  If anything, this is better than the original, and that's saying something.

Main Title from Out of Africa by John Barry -- I've never spent much time thinking about it, but it might well be the case that John Barry is my second-favorite film composer.  In fact, I'm almost certain that he is.  His competition for that title would be folks like Bernard Herrmann, Jerry Goldsmith, Michael Giacchino, and Howard Shore.  But I think Barry -- who practically invented the James Bond sound for those films (arguably my favorite series of movies) -- probably takes silver by a decent margin,  And while I personally prefer several of Barry's Bond scores, I think Out of Africa might be his best music overall.  Therefore, you'll be unsurprised to learn that I think this particular cover version is a bit of a washout.  Perlman plays some of it too up-tempo, and it doesn't have the rich emotional impact of Barry's original recording.  But it's not bad.

"Manha de Carnaval" from Black Orpheus by Luis Bonfa -- Perlman is in very fine form with his mournful playing here.  I've never heard the original, though, so I've got nothing to which to compare it.

Theme from Schindler's List -- Well, this was a foregone conclusion, I guess.  I don't hear many differences between this and the original recording; if you made me choose, I'd choose the original, because I hear no compelling reason not to do so.

Love Theme from Cinema Paradiso by Andrea Morricone -- This is a smashingly beautiful piece of music, and Perlman does exceptionally well with it.  It's a fine track to end an album on.



1997 -- DreamWorks SKG logo music
   



A big part of Steven Spielberg's time in the nineties was taken up by (alongside Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen) founding DreamWorks SKG, a movie studio that has been chugging along -- not always smoothly -- ever since.  I don't think it was worth it; the time investment seemingly reduced the number of movies Spielberg directed over the years, so for me that's a loss.

One very minor good thing to come out of it: Williams provided the logo music.  You can hear his contribution in this compilation video (it's the first logo, which debuted in front of the George Clooney / Nicole Kidman thriller The Peacemaker).  It's a lovely little piece of music.  Hard to do much better in a mere twenty seconds, I'd say.


1997 -- Seven Years In Tibet
   

  
  
Williams drafted cellist Yo-Yo Ma to perform solos on the Seven Years In Tibet score, and the result was a thoroughly gorgeous main theme (titled "Seven Years In Tibet") that ranks . . . well, I was about to say that it ranks among the composer's finest, but I'm bringing myself up a bit short by considering just how fine the finest are.  So let's settle for saying that at the very least it ranks favorably among the second tier of Williams themes.
  
As for the rest of the score, it's okay, but very forgettable.  That's an apt description of the movie itself, though, so it's no real surprise that even Williams failed to find a way to soar above with this one.  After all, he did manage to craft a terrific main theme, which is more than most mediocre movies get.


1997 -- Amistad
     
 


If you've been paying attention, you may have noticed that 1997 was quite a busy year for John Williams: four film scores, three major albums as conductor, and two minor film contributions (the new Jedi music and the DreamWorks SKG logo).  By any standard, that's a heck of a year.  Amistad was the finale, and the score earned the composer yet another Oscar nomination.  It would end up losing to James Horner's Titanic; no shame in that, and Williams can console himself by knowing that his co-nominees who also lost included Danny Elfman, Philip Glass, and Jerry Goldsmith.  Elite company indeed.

I like Amistad just fine, but I'd say that it's in much the same boat (no pun intended) as the score for Seven Years In Tibet: there's a marvelous main theme (titled "Dry Your Tears, Afrika") to recommend, but much of the rest is a bit on the bland side.  John Adams (Anthony Hopkins) and Cinque (Djimon Hounsou) both have fairly good secondary themes, but I have a hard time remembering what they sound like as soon as they finish playing.  Hey, not even Williams can hit a home run every time he's at bat!

Stephen King connections: Morgan Freeman and Anthony Hopkins have both had notable King-movie roles, obviously, and Matthew McConaughey has been rumored for a couple that have yet to pan out.



1998 -- Saving Private Ryan
     



Steven Spielberg had an unprecedentedly successful 1993.  He directed two films released that year: Jurassic Park, which rewrote box-office records and became the top-earning film in Hollywood history, and Schindler's List, which did quite well at the box office in its own right and then also went on to win seven Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director.

After that, he took a four year break, returning in 1997 with another double-feature year that, on the face of things, seemed just as promising.  The Lost World was the sequel to Jurassic Park; and Amistad was a Schindler-esque foray into obscure but inspiring real-life history.

Didn't work out.  The Lost World was a bloated mess that performed far below the level of its predecessor; Amistad was better, but was a modest earner that got only middling reviews and which lost all four of the Oscars that it was nominated for.  What looked like a banner year ended up being a bummer year.

He came roaring back with Saving Private Ryan in 1998, though.  It's a deeply-felt war movie that takes what seems to be a more honest look at the ravages of the battlefield than had typically been the case in Hollywood before.  It made a crapload of money at the box office and won Spielberg a second Best Director award from good old Oscar.

Unsurprisingly, the John Williams music is a big part of the success.  It's one of his least enjoyable works from his mature era, if you use how it plays as an album as a standard of measurement.  It's not dissimilar to some of his scores of 1997 in that regard, but it's a more pronounced version of the same thing.

You might be thinking, Wait, didn't he just say the score was part of what made the movie successful?  I did indeed.  It serves the movie beautifully, and what Williams is doing is adding texture to the scenes.  The music playing well outside the confines of the movie is the last thing on his mind; he's there to support what Spielberg, Hanks, and company are doing, and he does so brilliantly.

And then, when the end credits roll, Spielberg steps off the stage and lets Williams take over.  What he does then is "Hymn to the Fallen," which is handily one of the best pieces of music he's ever written.  It's devastatingly good, and it serves as a release for the entire film.  The music up to that point has been restrained, and that restraint has served to make "Hymn to the Fallen" more impactful.

Holy moly does that tactic work.

The soundtrack places "Hymn to the Fallen" as track #1.  Do yourself a favor and don't listen to it that way.  It goes at the end, and that's how I'd recommend listening to it.

Saving Private Ryan won five of the eleven Oscars for which it was nominated.  John Williams was not among the winners; he lost to Nicola Piovani's Life Is Beautiful.  Look, here's the thing: Life Is Beautiful is a very good movie, but are you fucking kidding me?  If so, you must also be yanking my chain on the subject of Roberto Benigni having beaten Tom Hanks for Best Actor.  And don't even get me started on the fact that Shakespeare In Love won Best Picture.  We'll be here for a while, because I'm angry about that to this day.  Fucking Shakespeare In Love.  Art thou shitting me?  Shitteth me not, thou fuckups at the Academy, thee!

Anyways, Saving Private Ryan is great, and so is its score.  Stephen King connections: Tom Hanks would star in The Green Mile the next year, alongside his Private Ryan co-star Barry Pepper.  Also: co-star Tom Sizemore would appear in Dreamcatcher a few years later; and Ted Danson had previously appeared in Creepshow.  Not bad!


1998 -- Stepmom
   



Stepmom probably does not appear at first glance to be the sort of movie that would have a John Williams score.  However, it was directed by Chris Columbus, for whom Williams had previously scored a couple of stupendously successful Home Alone films.  So his presence here actually makes perfect sense.

I've never seen the movie, so I can't speak to the score's efficacy within it.  On its own, it's low-key and occasionally charming.  The standout cue is probably "The Days Between," which I guess is the movie's main theme.

I wish they had gotten this guy to play the guitar solos.  That would amuse me.

Stephen King connection: Ed Harris, formerly of Creepshow and Needful Things and The Stand, is the male lead.

Stephen King (non-)connection unrelated to this movie: I'd forgotten about it until writing this section of the post, but Stephen King had an editor named John Williams circa 1982!  He edited Different Seasons for King, in fact.  Same year as this Williams composed E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.  Pretty good year for John Williamses.



1999 -- Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
 



I don't believe any movie in history has ever been quite as eagerly anticipated as The Phantom Menace was.  It's certainly got to be it in terms of movies released during my lifetime (i.e., after 1974).  As I write this, it is December 30, 2015, and The Force Awakens is not merely breaking box-office records, but destroying them; it's defiling them.  Defining them, even.

Take it from someone who was around for it: it was nowhere near as highly-anticipated as The Phantom Menace was.  Discussion of the topic in any detail greater than that is outside the purview of this post.

However, I do want to share a couple of anecdotes, simply because they amuse me.  We'll start with this: one night, maybe a year or so before the summer 1999 release, I had a nightmare in which I went to see the movie and it sucked.  I kid you not, an honest-to-goodness nightmare.  I have very few of those, and when I do have them, they typically involve spiders or the planet Jupiter.  This one involved a movie that I hadn't even seen yet.  I woke up in a disoriented state, figured out I'd been dreaming, and heaved a sigh of relief.  "Oh thank goodness," I said (probably not aloud, though I can't remember for sure and would not rule it out); "it was only a dream!"

This seems to have been my one and only precognitive dream, but I'm going to give myself credit for having been a psychic on at least that one occasion, because boy, that movie really did end up sucking, didn't it?  You can find lots of people who'll defend it, and some of them will even get mad at you for "buying into the overhyped narrative that people don't like The Phantom Menace" and for "bullying real fans."

Give me a fucking break.  And your lunch money too, you pussy.  I'll give it back to your mom when she's blowing me later.  She can give it back to you again and we'll do it all over tomorrow.

Anecdote the second: I worked at a theatre at the time the movie was released, and I've got an amusing memory of the day the music video for "Duel of the Fates" (the major new theme from the score) premiered on MTV.  It happened during the middle of the day, and me and two of my co-workers who were big fans of the movies were working.  We knew the premiere was happening, and were desperate to see it.  So we talked another co-worker who was off into taping it -- on VHS! -- and bringing both it and his portable TV/VHS player to the theatre.  We all huddled in the office and watched it, rapt like no nerds have ever been rapt before or since.  (That particular bit of hyperbole is almost certainly not true, but it's true-ish.)

Based on how good that music was, we were convinced the movie itself was going to be the greatest thing we'd ever seen.

Ah, well.  It wasn't to be.

But let's not focus on that.  Let's focus on the fact that "Duel of the Fates" was, in that moment, good enough -- great enough -- that it made us feel as if all the hype was justified, and that The Phantom Menace was going to be the greatest cinematic spectacle of our lives.  Some of that tremendous feeling of excitement was due to the visuals that accompanied the music; but I'd say at least half of it was due to the music itself.  This was music that convinced us that a great experience was imminent.  This was music that made us believers; it didn't make us want to believe, it made us believe, and there is a vast ocean of difference between those two things.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is the power of John Williams.

I've been bullying it, but the truth is, The Phantom Menace does have its virtues.  Not that many of them, but they do exist: great costumes; terrific sets; Liam Neeson; Ewan McGregor; Darth Maul's lightsaber.  Chief among the virtues is the score, which is almost certainly one of the best scores ever written for a bad movie.  It's not much less good than the scores for the original Star Wars trilogy, if at all.  "Duel of the Fates" is probably the standout track, but there is also some great music for underwater monsters, stadium entrances, robot fights, Liam-Neeson-inventory reductions, and so forth.  The theme for young Anakin Skywalker is a canny "foreshadowing" of the eventual Darth Vader theme, and the music that scores the scene leading into the end credits is a killer reworking of the Emperor's theme.  That last was lost on me until years later; when somebody pointed it out to me, I (A) was delighted and (B) felt dumb for not having noticed it.  The music itself annoys me; it's cloying, cheesy, and grating.  But with the knowledge that this is the Emperor's master plan at work in mind, I think all of those elements work for it rather than against it.

Anyways, yeah, great frickin' score.  It failed to earn an Oscar nomination, which is no surprise given the film's icy critical reception.

Stephen King connection: Samuel L. Jackson is on hand in a small role as Jedi Master Mace Windu.  He doesn't have a heck of a lot to do here, but he'll be back for future episodes.

By the way:




This two-disc set (which contains what I assume to be the complete score) is worth having for fans.  It's not without its own problems: I mean, yeah, it contains WAY more music than the standard edition, but the editing is sloppy in several places, so much so that it sounds amateurish.  This is because Lucas re-edited some sections of the climax without giving Williams a chance to rescore; so what you hear is literally a cut-and-paste job.  Another problem: many of the cues are divided into individual tracks that run right into one another, which means that if you rip your discs to a digital format and then listen to them, you'll get a LOT of those annoying microsecond gaps between the tracks that sounds as if your device stopped working briefly.

Funny story: my web browser stopped working the second I finished typing that sentence.  Spooky.

Anyways, I'm enough of a nerd that I used Audacity to splice the run-on tracks into seamless tracks.  That's how I roll.  For those of you not quite so committed, a potential solution is: just own this AND the one-disc version.  That way, you'll get the tight editing and album-quality presentation of the one-disc soundtrack, plus all the extra music of the two-disc version.  (Don't do so without being aware that nobody ever got around to issuing Ultimate Edition soundtracks of Attack of the Clones or Revenge of the Sith, however.  I keep hoping, and they keep not putting it out.)

All of that causes me to remember something: I haven't been doing a particularly good job of detailing the various alternatives consumers have when it comes to buying some of these soundtracks.  Man, that'd be a tall order; and it's one I'm simply not up to.  I just don't the resources to be thorough, and if I'm not going to be thorough, what's the point?

However, I think some Star Wars issues of that nature merit mention.  For example, these:






These two-disc presentations of the original trilogy scores were released at the same time as the Special Editions of the movies in 1997.  They contain the full scores, and are presented marvelously.  THESE are the editions you want (although the Jedi release contains the annoying changes to the score made for that edit of the movie, so there's no Ewok singing at the end).

I believe those editions are still in print, but look like this now:






I don't actually have the editions with those new covers, so I can't swear that they are otherwise the same.  Buyer beware!  But assuming they are, then those are absolutely the editions of the original trilogy scores that you want to own.


1999 -- Cinema Serenade 2: The Golden Age
 
  
  
  
Like The Phantom Menace, this one is a sequel to a popular success.  You could even say it's a prequel.
  
Luckily, it's a classier and more competent product by far than is The Phantom Menace, and while it doesn't scale the heights of the first Cinema Serenade album, it's a perfectly enjoyable disc.
  
The contents:
  
Theme from Laura by David Raksin -- You probably won't be surprised to hear that Perlman does well with this one.  So does the orchestra, which -- hey! -- is the Boston Pops this time, and not the Pittsburgh Symphony.  I wonder why the switch?  I'd speculate that the Pops Orchestra was not available at the time the first one was recorded.  The Pittsburgh Symphony did an admirable job on the first album, so it's kind of a shame Williams didn't use them again.  Hard to deny the appeal of a gettin'-the-band-back-together sort of endeavor, though.
  
Theme from Now, Voyager by Max Steiner -- Steiner is unquestionably one of the all-time greats.  I say that not being an expert on his work; but I know enough to know that I'm not wrong.  I mean, jeez-Louise, he wrote both Gone with the Wind and King Kong, so that's enough right there.  This arrangement is by Williams, and it's another winner.
  
"Smile" from Modern Times by Charlie Chaplin -- Chaplin wasn't merely a genius movie star, he was also a genius director and writer, and just for an extra layer of envy on the rest our parts, he was a hell of a composer, too.  This is another Williams arrangement, and it's pretty great.  The Pops do very well with this one.
  
Love Theme from Lost Weekend by Miklós Rózsa --  Rozsa was another of the all-time greats.  Perlman kills this one (and I mean that in the good way).
  
"St. Patrick's Day" from The Quiet Man -- Williams used a bit of this movie's score, which is credited to "Traditional" (meaning nobody knows WHO in the hell wrote it), in his score to 1941, and Spielberg used a clip from it in E.T..  I don't blame them; it's a marvelous movie.  This version of the music is a lot of fun, though I'd argue that Perlman seems ever so slightly out of place.
  
"Marian & Robin Love Theme" from The Adventures of Robin Hood by Erich Korngold -- Korngold is one of those guys who I wish I knew more about.  I know he's a big deal, and his music for this movie is wonderful.  But I've never delved any deeper than that.  Someday, maybe.  I might have felt Perlman was slightly miscast on the previous tune, but here, he's totally in his element.
  
"As Time Goes By" from Casablanca by Herman Hupfeld -- This one is a bit of a cheat, considering that "As Time Goes By" was written for a stage play, and was not original to Casablanca.  Ah, who gives a shit?  Casablanca made it what it is, so we'll let it stand.  I'm not that crazy about the way Perlman plays this one.  It's one of the tracks you'd predict would be a can't-miss, but for me, it's a miss.  It's a Williams arrangement, too, which makes it doubly surprising.  It's not bad; it's just not great.
  
"Touch Her Soft Lips and Part" from Henry V by William Walton -- Good stuff, but composer Patrick Doyle (who scored the Kenneth Branagh film of the play) owns Henry V scores, as far as I'm concerned.
  
"Stella By Starlight" from The Uninvited by Victor Young -- It's a very good song, and Itzhak Perlman does quite well by it.
  
Theme from My Foolish Heart by Victor Young -- I don't know this movie even by reputation, but this is one of the album's better tracks, so it must have something going for it.
  
"Tara's Theme" from Gone with the Wind by Max Steiner -- Perlman turns this into something more intimate than is typically the case for the movie's score, which is certainly one of the grandest of grand epics.  But it works quite well, and the Pops backs him up very nicely.
  
"Cathy's Theme" from Wuthering Heights by Alfred Newman -- You know that percussion-heavy music that accompanies the 20th Century Fox logo in front of the first six Star Wars movies?  That was an Alfred Newman composition.  He was no chump, and he fathered both Thomas Newman (composer of numerous movies you may have heard of, including The Shawshank Redemption and 1999's own American Beauty and The Green Mile) and David Newman (Heathers, The War of the Roses, and Galaxy Quest, among others).  Randy Newman is his nephew, and Randy Newman has done all sorts of songwriting, and his film-score credits include all three Toy Story films.  Alfred's brother Lionel was a noted film composer as well.  So yeah, Alfred Newman would be worth crowing about if only for his lineage.  He did quite well in his own right, though, including this lovely bit of music.
  
You know, I typed above that this album isn't as good as the first one, but listening to it again, I think I might be wrong about that.  Where's my Cinema Serenade 3, doggone it?
  
  
1999 -- Angela's Ashes
 



Williams wasn't able to secure himself an Oscar nomination for The Phantom Menace, but he definitely claimed one for Angela's Ashes.  He lost to John Corigliano's The Red Violin.  Whatever.

The theme to Angela's Ashes is magnificent, and that's good enough for me.  The rest of the score is pretty good, too; it doesn't quite scale the heights of the main theme, but my lord, why would you expect it to?  The answer to that question is: because you're a John Williams fan, and you're accustomed to him doing it.  Anyways, there are some solid tracks, but hoo-boy, that theme...!

The soundtrack is marred -- in my opinion -- by occasional interjections of narration.  This is perhaps not surprising; Angela's Ashes had been a phenomenally successful bestseller of a memoir, so the soundtrack was probably aimed at fans of the novel, who would have probably loved the narration being there, and, one suspects, could have done with more of it.  Me?  I'm sitting there thinking "Who is this asshole talking over my John Williams music?"

Eleven tracks are disturbed in this fashion!  It's not too bad in some cases, but it's flat-out heinous on the track "Back to America," which is seemingly the climax and emotional resolution of the entire score.  The narrator steps all over it, like he's never even heard of John Williams.

An alternative version of the score exists without the narration.  It was never released commercially; it was released that way only on For Your Consideration promo discs, meaning the discs that were sent to voting Academy members in the hopes of earning the score an Oscar nomination.  It might be that digital rips of that -- and other such FYC promos -- can be found online in some places by those determined enough to go looking for it.  I can't say for sure; but it might be true.

This is the sort of shit you worry about if you're a hardcore film-score nerd.


1999 -- The Unfinished Journey
   



Steven Spielberg was commissioned to create a presentation for the 1999 New Year's Eve celebration at the Lincoln Memorial, and what he came up with was The Unfinished Journey, a combination documentary and live performance.  It combined a series of film montages with voiceovers (by people like Bill Clinton and Edward James Olmos) with a live orchestral performance and live poetry/prose readings.

The music for the twenty-minute presentation was supplied by John Williams, who came up with a six-movement suite of music that seemingly knicks bits from Aaron Copland here and there, and also knicks bits from John Williams film scores (and concert works, I think) here and there.  It ends up feeling a bit as if somebody is doing a Williams pastiche; a passable one, but a pastiche nonetheless.
 
The end result is fine, though.  I'm underselling it a bit.  If you want to hear/see it for yourself, a fifteen-minute chunk of the original presentation -- which has never been repeated -- is currently on YouTube.  Based on that, it seems like the whole thing works considerably better as a whole than as merely a piece of music.

Nevertheless, a rerecording of the six-movement suite -- retitled "American Journey" -- can be found on the 2002 American Journey album that accompanied a new Olympic Theme from Williams.  (More on that later.)


2000 -- The Patriot
  



Williams teamed for the first (and, so far, only) time with director Roland Emmerich on this valiant attempt to create an American Braveheart.  It's not a great movie, but it's a decent one, and it's aided immensely by the John Williams score.

That score almost didn't happen.  Emmerich's regular collaborator at the time was composer David Arnold.  Arnold created a demo score, but Emmerich rejected it and Arnold departed the project.  In looking for a replacement, the name "John Williams" came up, and the timing was right.  Thus, we have John Williams' The Patriot.

As with many Williams scores of the latter half of this post, much of the music is a bit of a slow-burn: not always embraceable, certainly not immediately.  Like those, it also improves with repeat listens, though few apart from hardcore fans will have enough interest to do so.  The music becomes more vigorous as the movie progresses, and there are definitely some good cues in there.

However, the main theme is the standout.  It's a bit reminiscent of Amistad, which is fine by me.  It's a lovely, patriotic bit of Americana.  I'm liable to finish this series of posts by recommending a series of Williams mix tapes along themed lines; if so, "America By John Williams" will absolutely be one of them, and this piece will absolutely be on it.  I might get lazy and not do that, though, in which case this has been a cocktease.  Sorry about that!

Stephen King connections: one of Mel Gibson's daughters is played by Mika Boorem, later of Hearts In Atlantis; Chris Cooper, later of 11/22/63, plays a Colonel; and Leon Rippy, who appeared in Firestarter, Maximum Overdrive, and Under the Dome, plays Mel's neighbor.

Williams earned an Oscar nomination for the score, but lost to Tan Dun's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.


2000 -- Masterpiece Theatre American Collection theme
  



Williams was commissioned to write the theme music for the PBS series Masterpiece Theatre's "American Collection."  I don't know what that is, exactly, and I've not found a great deal of info on it.  Admittedly, I haven't looked all that hard.

In any case, Yo-Yo Ma evidently took part in this endeavor, and his album Classic Yo-Yo contains a version (presumably an expanded rerecording, but I'm not positive of that) of the theme.  You can hear it here.  It's lovely, and for that reason, I thought it merited a mention.


2001 -- A.I. Artificial Intelligence


This is the original soundtrack.

This is the three-disc release La-La Land put out in 2015.  It was limited to 3000 copies, but you might still be able to find one.


A.I. was a project that director Stanley Kubrick nurtured for years, and hoped to eventually make.  He died before that could happen, however, and his friend, Steven Spielberg, took on the project in his memory.  An alternative narrative goes like this: Kubrick had actually, prior to his death, decided to produce the film with Spielberg directing.  Spielberg contends that this is the case.

Personally, I believe both stories.  It feels very much like a movie that Kubrick would have wanted to make personally, but it also rings true that he would have decided to give it to Spielberg.

Regardless, I love the movie.  Why wouldn't I?  Spielberg is my favorite director, and Kubrick is forever jockeying with Alfred Hitchcock for my silver-medal-level affections.  I find A.I. to be a near-perfect melding of their philosophies: David, the mecha boy, is every Spielbergian wanderer who felt things that were beyond his ability to understand (and yet felt them anyways and caused us to feel them right along with him), and he exists in a world that is cold and cruel and difficult the way most Kubrickian worlds are.  Does this mean that Kubrick felt coldly toward the Davids of the world?  Don't you believe it for a second.  Does it mean that Spielberg is incapable of taking the same God's-eye view of things in which Kubrick specialized?  Don't you believe that for a second, either.

A.I. is a controversial movie; you can't read an opinion about it online without tripping over the idea that "it would have better if it had ended with David looking at the Blue Fairy underwater," which is an arch and philosophically-bereft misunderstanding of the film's intent.  Despite this, it's a widespread opinion.  And desite that, the film has its defenders, whose ranks will only increase as time passes.  In this respect, A.I. has experienced roughly the same sort of shifting appraisal that most of Kubrick's movies themselves have experienced.  Neat, huh?

Nevertheless, the movie's reputation remains uncertain in a broad sense.  One element of it seems immune to that uncertainty: namely, the score by John Williams, which has been praised since its debut.  It was the composer's first film score of the new millennium, and I think one has to go back to 1993 and Schindler's List to find its equal; going forward in time, I think I'd say it might theoretically have been surpassed in quality by Catch Me If You Can.  I don't believe that to be the case, personally, but I think there's room for one to make an argument I'd give the time it took you to make it.  Otherwise, not so much.

Which means that I'm saying this is almost certainly going to go into my personal record books as the finest Williams score of its decade, and -- depending on what other tricks he might have up his sleeve -- possibly of the final era of his career.  That era is not fully defined yet, of course; but if he can manage to do better than A.I., I will be deeply impressed.

Some of the best cues:

  • "Hide and Seek," which accompanies Monica and David getting to know each other prior to his imprinting.  It is an awkward scene, in which David is at his most fully robotic and unemotional.  Meanwhile, Momica -- man is that a great typo; I'm leaving it in -- is conflicted and frantic and, one might argue, eventually self-delusional.  The music, on the other hand, is charming and personable; it's a sort of a duet between electronic and organic instruments, and seemingly represents the potential for harmony between the two.  If you accept that description, then you are accepting the idea that you, as an audience member, are standing outside the perceptions of either David or Monica; in essence, you don't have a point-of-view character for this scene.  You have to bring your own point of view.  This is a Kubrickian flourish indeed.
  • "Abandoned in the Woods," which accompanies Monica abandoning David in the woods.  Of course!  This is a gut-wrenching scene, and the music is right in there pulling your entrails out along with Spielberg and his actors.  The music is imperious and terrifying, and I'd say that it represents not what Monica actually feels, but what she forces herself to think she feels in order to accomplish her task.
  • "The Moon Rising," which accompanies David's capture by robot-hating spectacle enthusiasts.  This piece exists in two rather different versions.  On the original soundtrack, under the title "The Moon Rising," it is awkwardly -- and not very effectively -- combined with a piece of electronica that represents the pursuit of a group of "biker hounds."  This is certainly not the film's high point.  For years, I thought that Williams had simply decided to stretch himself and work, albeit briefly, with a different style of music.  I thought, "Well, this doesn't work, but give Williams credit for trying to see what the new sound is all about."  As it turns out, the electronica was composed by Williams' son Patrick and then grafted onto the rest.  The La-La Land edition of the score removes the Patrick and replaces the John that was dialed out; this track is titled "The Moon Rising / The Biker Hounds," and it is a welcome improvement.  The "moon rising" music is fantastic on both tracks, though: large, imposing, terrifying.  Here, you are 100% in David's perspective, seeing things as he sees them.  This style of subtly shifting perspective is almost certainly one of the elements of the movie that has caused it to fail with many viewers.
  • "Rouge City," a jubilant and exciting piece of music that accompanies David and Gigolo Joe getting a ride into the big city.  This, according the La-La Land liner notes, includes a quotation from Der Rosenkavalier, a Richard Strauss work that Kubrick's notes indicate he would have used if he had filmed the movie.  
  • "The Search for the Blue Fairy," which underwrites David's quest for the "Blue Fairy," the figure from Pinocchio who can and (he hopes) will turn him into a real boy.  The nonexistent Blue Fairy is represented by a lovely female vocalist, whose yearning but not-fully-sympathetic strains tell us that something here is not quite right.  We know what David doesn't know, of course; the music is playing both the emotion of his plight and the detached and impersonal objectivity of that plight's doom.  If you are not up to the challenge of feeling two contradictory emotions simultaneously, it's understandable; but that's what much of this movie, and its music, is demanding of you.
  • "Where Dreams Are Born," which is the end-credits music.  It's a fully-developed version of "Monica's Theme," sung (wordlessly) with enormous impact by Barbara Bonney, who invests this piece in fully-emotional tones in a way that she did not in her "Blue Fairy" vocals.  The music demands it; it is a culmination, a rich fulfillment of longing; or, if you prefer, an elegy commenting upon a tragic dissolution.  You can pick one or the other, I suppose.  Or you can see it as both, which is probably the truth.  It's one of the best pieces Williams has ever written.
  
Williams earned yet another Oscar nomination for the score, and his fellow nominees included James Horner (A Beautiful Mind), Randy Newman (Monsters, Inc.), Howard Shore (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring), and John Williams (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone).  This may be the single finest year for Oscar-nominated scores in history; every single one of those is a masterpiece.  The award went to Shore, who probably deserved it; even I would have given him the nod over Williams this time.
  
But don't let that sentiment obscure my assessment: this is a masterful and awesome piece of work.

Stephen King connections: there's the obvious one, which is that the director of The Shining spearheaded the project's development; but also, King alumnus William Hurt (of the "Battleground" episode of Nightmares & Dreamscapes, but also co-narrator of the Hearts In Atlantis audiobook) is on hand in a small but pivotal role.



2001 -- TreeSong / Violin Concerto / 3 Pieces from Schindler's List




Sometimes, it's difficult to figure out what the title of a classical-music album is.  Here are several different titles under which you will find this album listed:


  • TreeSong
  • Treesong / Violin Concerto / 2 Pieces from Schindler's List
  • Williams: Treesong * Violin Concerto etc.
  • John Williams: TreeSong; Violin Concerto; 3 Pieces from Schindler's List
Naming conventions can be a sticky and confusing subject, and I'm a stickler for a thing having a definitive title.  This is an issue of clarity: I don't want to have to run the risk of somebody thinking I'm referring to one thing when I'm actually referring to another.  For example, part of this album consists of "TreeSong," a three-movement orchestral work.  The album also contains several other pieces, so there needs to be some way for me to distinguish referentially between the three-movement piece of music and the album that shares (?) its name.
  
It's possible that nobody in the entire world gives a flying fuck about this except for me.  But I care, god damn it!  And so I'm complaining about it in this venue.
  
The album's liner notes seem to be titled Shaham Plays Williams: Works for Violin and Orchestra.  That seems like a perfectly good title to me, and I wish the album was called that.  But it isn't, and that means I've got to settle on a name.  The name I'm settling on is TreeSong, so if you see it italicized, know that I'm referring to the album and not the piece.
  
That's out of my system now, so let's move on and discuss the album's contents.
  
We begin with "TreeSong," the three movements of which are titled "Doctor Hu and the Metasequoia," ""Trunks, Branches and Leaves," and "The Tree Sings."  Williams wrote a note about the piece for its premiere in July of 2000, which the liner notes replicates.  And now I replicate it for you:
  

For quite a few years it’s been my habit to walk in the Boston Public Garden as often as I can, and it has been during these walks that I found myself stopping before a particular tree and pausing to admire it. The tree is a beautiful specimen of the Chinese dawn redwood, or metasequoia, and over time my fascination with it grew into a full-fledged infatuation.  I later learned that the dawn redwooddates from the Mesozoic era, and until as recently as the 1940s it was thought to be extinct.  Fossils of its presence in the deep past did exist, but when live specimens were discovered in China, the tree became referred to as the “living fossil.”  Standing before the tree one can sense its age and feel its wisdom. I kept this affair of the heart very much to myself for several years until one day when I was walking in Boston’s Arnold Arboretum with Dr. Shiu-Ying Hu, the Harvard-based botanist, to whom I’d been recently introduced. During our stroll we casually paused in front of a large tree that I hadn’t looked at closely enough to recognize immediately.  Pointing to the tree, Dr. Hu explained that this tree was the oldest metasequoia in North America and that she had planted it in the late 1940s using seeds she had brought with her from China. I was thunderstruck by this coincidence, and when I told her of “my” metasequoia in the Public Garden, she informed me that the younger tree I loved so much was also one of her children. Recently, when I was given the opportunity to write a piece for Gil Shaham, I thought of Dr. Hu and her tree.  The result is TreeSong for violin and orchestra.  The piece doesn’t aspire to “describe” the tree per se, but it does attempt, in my mind at least, to connect, to the degree possible, the great beauty and dignity of this magnificent conifer with the elegance and grace of Gil Shaham and his art.
  
  


  
Always nice to have some context for these classical works.
  
"TreeSong" itself is a lovely piece.  It's going to be best for me to allow Robert Kirzinger's liner notes describe it for you:
  
The extramusical inspiration for "TreeSong" lends a "sylvan atmosphere" to the work, with a delicate, shimmering orchestral backdrop to the solo part, suggesting the twilit interior of a forest.  The piece is not programmatic or specifically descriptive, however, and is laid out in three movements like a traditional concerto, though with the usual fast-slow-fast pattern inverted.  The first movement, "Doctor Hu and the Metasequoia," marked "Dreamily," opens with a gentle pulse (subtly orchestrated with marimba, celesta, harp and piano) leading to the violin's entrance, the first four notes of which serve as a motivic building block.  The broad, chromatic intervals and flexible phrasing immediately suggest the violin's potential, its singing quality.  A faster pulse and dancing motion suffuse the second movement, "Trunks, Branches and Leaves," in which the orchestra takes a more active role.  After a dramatic high point in the orchestra and a written-out cadenza, accompanied lightly or not at all, the movement ends with a return to the dream-mood of the work's opening.  The final movement, "The Tree Sings," is both a recapitulation and a culmination of the piece's lyrical energy.
  
The album also contains the revised version of Williams' Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, which was composed in 1974-1976 and was previously discussed in this series via the 1983 recording by Leonard Slatkin.  I like the concerto, but it fails to stick in my brain.  Therefore, I could not begin to tell you what marks the 1998 version as distinct from the 1983 recording of the 1976 version.  As I've said before, I tend to assume this is a failure of listenership on my part.
  
The album is rounded out by "3 Pieces from Schindler's List," consisting of the Theme, "Jewish Town (Krakow Ghetto - Winter '41)," and "Remembrances."  Together, these three pieces form what could easily be referred to as a violin concerto in its own right (as is also the case with "TreeSong").  That means that for all intents and purposes, TreeSong consists of three Williams concertos for violin and orchestra.  Might it have been easier to refer to them in that capacity?  I don't know.  Clearly, the world of classical music has its own preferences when it comes to naming things.  If they need my input, I'm sure they'll ask for it.
  
Anyways, it's interesting to hear a different violinist play pieces that are so thoroughly identified with Itzhak Perlman.  Shaham does a very good job with all three pieces, so far as my ears can distinguish.  Layman that I am, that may not mean much; but it means that I enjoy these versions, which is good enough for me.  I'd still choose the Perlman originals, but Shaham's versions are the silver-medal winners among the various cover versions I've heard.
  
All in all, TreeSong is a very fine album.  It's probably best appreciated by those whose admiration for Williams also includes a bit of musical vocabulary, and that's not me; but even so, I like it fairly well.


2001 -- Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone




Isn't it strange to think that there was a time -- and not that long ago -- when Harry Potter wasn't a thing?  One day it wasn't there; the next, it was.  I was an adult when it happened, and I still scarcely believe that it hasn't always been present.

And I'm only a fan to a moderate degree.  I suspect that for hardcore fans, or for people who grew up with it, it must be a bit more amazing still.

The books came to my attention sometime around the turn of the century, as a result of the fact that Steven Spielberg was considering directing the first movie.  As I recall, this did not end up happening either because Spielberg decided to instead direct A.I. or because he clashed with Potter creator J.K. Rowling over the Americanization of the character (including casting Haley Joel Osment as Harry).  If it's the former, then I call that a good trade; and if it's the latter, then I say it's good riddance, because Americanizing these books would have been a damn shame.  I love you, Steven, but that would have been a misstep.

However, despite Spielberg pulling out, I remained intrigued by the novels, especially as the sales continued to go through the roof.  I decided to go buy the first one and see how I liked it, and I liked it just fine.  It reminded me a bit of Roald Dahl (and of some other book I remembered reading as a child, though not well enough to actually remember the title, the author, or even the plot), which is always a good thing.  By the time the movie came out, I'd read the first four books in the series, and was firmly hooked.  I remember taking Goblet of Fire with me on a trip to Universal Studios in Orlando and finishing it in the airport on the way home; Universal Orlando is currently home to a Rowling-inspired theme park, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.  I've never been, but will be going soon; should be fun!

Anyways, like I say, I was around for the beginning of Potter mania.  I didn't join in for a while, but I was current on the novels by the time the movies came out.  Why do I mention this?  I don't quite know.  Just felt like it, I guess.

I don't remember at what point I became aware that John Williams had been signed to score the first movie, but when it was announced that he'd be working with director Chris Columbus again, it seemed like great news to me.

And frankly, I don't know how anybody could argue that it turned out to be anything but magic.  I was 27 by the time that score appeared in the world, and it seemed like magic to me.  What must it seem like to someone who was 3, or 6, or 9?  I can only assume that it must have had the same sort of impact on them that the Star Wars score(s) had on me at the equivalent ages.

In other words, it wasn't enough that Williams had defined the sound of childhood in musical form once already; by late 2001, he'd done it a second time.  Think what a staggering achievement that is.  (And set aside that Potter might actually be a third time, if you count the first two Jurassic Park films as a second.)  There are very few creators working in any medium who will be able to pull off such a feat once; to do it a second time, if not more, is simply astonishing.

This is not to say that I think The Sorcerer's Stone (or The Philosopher's Stone, as I perhaps ought to be calling it) is his best work, or even a top-ten work.  I don't.  But my lord, how could it be?  That's a top ten that is tough to crack.  Regardless of such considerations, though, I think it's a tremendous piece of work.

Favorite tracks:

  • "Prologue," a gentle and beautifully-orchestrated way to kick things off.  It's reminiscent of both Debussy and Fauré, and some wags will tell you that it's a direct lift from the latter.  I don't buy it, and we'll discuss it no further.
  • "The Quidditch Match," a tremendous action setpiece that lasts over eight minutes.  When you think about it, the early Potter books and movies give a lot of time to quidditch, which ends up not being particularly important to the overall story.  So what?  As much as anything else, I think the Potter series is about building a compelling fictional universe in which to live, and the quidditch scenes are a major element of that.  And this music by Williams was a major element in allowing that to happen.  Therefore, this track is a big win.
  • "The Chess Game," a percussion-heavy setpiece that recalls some of the best Indiana Jones action cues.  Not in terms of the themes, but in terms of the impact the music has.  One thing Williams helped do was keep the first few movies grounded; his music helps all the characters and situations seem realistic enough that the many flights of fantasy don't cause the entire endeavor to sail off into the clouds.
  • "Harry's Wondrous World," the marvelous end-credits suite.
  • "Hedwig's Theme," the major theme of the entire series.  It's an expanded and developed version of the "Prologue."
  
As mentioned earlier, this one lost the Oscar to Howard Shore's The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.  Good call, Oscar; I approve.  That said, the thought that a score as good as The Sorcerer's Stone failed to win an Oscar seems like a low-down shame, doesn't it?

[UPDATE:  As I read through this looking for typos, it is January 15, 2016.  Yesterday, Alan Rickman -- who played Professor Severus Snape to utter perfection in this series of films -- passed away.  I saw the headline and thought, "Well, that's just stupid.  Why would Alan Rickman be dead?  What a load of bullcrap!"  But apparently, it was true.  Adios, muchacho; your work was excellent, and therefore a portion of you will live forever.]




2002 -- American Journey




The 2002 Winter Olympics were held in Salt Lake City, and Williams was coaxed back to provide his fourth Olympics theme, "Call of the Champions."  That piece was released on the album American Journey, which served as an occasion not merely to put out an album of inspirational achievement- ad/or patriotism-themed Williams music, but also to put out a sort of "b-sides and rarities" collection of various Williams-composed pieces that had not been released in a major way heretofore.

Let's have a look:


  • "Call of the Champions" -- as already mentioned, this was an official Olympics theme.  A choir punctuates the music with a repeated cry of "Citius! Altius! Fortius!" ("Faster, Higher, Stronger," the Olympic Motto of Baron de Coubertin, who founded the modern Games), and to be honest, I could live without that being there.  It's a little cheesy.  Still, this is a solid piece of music, performed by the Utah Symphony and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
  • "American Journey" -- the six-movement score to The Unfinished Journey was recorded for this album by the Recording Arts Orchestra of Los Angeles.  The six movements are: I. Immigration and Building; II. The Country at War; III. Popular Entertainment; IV. Arts and Sports; V. Civil Rights and the Women's Movement; VI. Flight and Technology.  This is good music, but I still can't help but feel that it's a bit less than what it could and should have been.
  • "Song for World Peace" -- Originally known as "Satellite Celebration," this piece was composed for a special that was broadcast in multiple cities (including Tokyo) on New Year's Day in 1995.  It's a terrific piece that probably ought to be a bit better known.
  • "Jubilee 350" -- This one was written for the 350th anniversary of Boston, and premiered in 1980.  It's great, too.
  • "The Mission Theme (Theme for NBC News)" -- Another great piece of music, and it fits on this album just fine . . . but I'm not entirely sure why it was included.  The NBC connection to the Olympics, perhaps?
  • "For New York (Variations on Themes of Leonard Bernstein)" -- Great music, and Bernstein is a quintessentially American composer, so I guess that's why this is here.  Bernstein's "Olympic Hymn" is not among the themes varied by Williams here, however: they include "America," "New York, New York," and "Lonely Town."
  • "Sound the Bells!" -- This was composed in 1993 and was premiered in Tokyo as a wedding gift to Princess Masako.  Good stuff, highly celebratory.  Imagine how big a deal you must be for John Williams to write a piece of music for your wedding!
  • "Hymn to New England" -- Previously discussed in Part 3 of this series, this piece had been created for the IMAX film New England Time Capsule.  It had been released on the 1997 Boston Pops album American Visions, conducted by Williams' BPO successor, Keith Lockhart.  This was the first time a Williams-conducted version was released, however.
  • "Celebrate Discovery" -- This 1990 piece commemorated the 500th anniversary of Columbus arriving in America (or "discovering America," if you prefer).  It's damned good, and would get my vote for the best track on the album.  One suspects that some film director is eventually going to license the rights to use it in a movie, and give it a big burst of sudden fame.
  • "Summon the Heroes" -- This is the same recording as appeared on the 1996 album of the same name.  I can't blame anyone for putting it here too much, I guess, but the runtime might have been better devoted to a proper recording of "We're Lookin' Good!"
  
All in all, a very strong album indeed.


2002 -- Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones




Some people will tell you that Attack of the Clones is the worst movie of the series, but I say balls to that.  It's certainly got weak elements, but I don't think it's a bad movie overall, and it's certainly a step up from The Phantom Menace.  Samuel L. Jackson has a purple lightsaber, for the love of Mike!  And uses it!

No, there's actually quite a lot to love about Attack of the Clones, as far as I'm concerned.  One of the lovable things: the John Williams music.  A great deal of the score is action-setpiece music (such as the frantic and exciting "Zam the Assassin and The Chase Through Coruscant" and "Jango's Escape," both of which I love).  That's rarely a bad thing for a Williams score, and it isn't bad here at all.

The major new element of the score, however, is "Across the Stars," a drop-dead gorgeous love theme for Anakin and Padme that does in musical form what the actors could not (i.e., make you believe in this love story).  One of the highlights of the entire series for me is the end of the film, in which an especially forceful rendition of the Imperial March transitions into "Across the Stars," which itself then leads into the end credits.  Hate on the prequels all you want (and I've done my fair share), but that sequence is sublime.

Stephen King connection: Samuel L. Jackson, motherfucker!


2002 -- Minority Report




I'm writing the entry for this score immediately after watching the sixth episode of Amazon's series based on The Man in the High Castle; this fact seems Dickian in some way.  By Dick, I mean Philip K. Dick, of course, who wrote High Castle as well as the short story upon which Minority Report was based.

The movie was the second consecutive sci-fi flick from director Steven Spielberg, and his first collaboration with Tom Cruise.  Cruise was possibly the world's biggest movie star at that time (though you could have made a case that Will Smith topped him), and his presence in a Spielberg-directed sci-fi/action thriller meant that everyone expected Minority Report to make approximately ALL the money at the box-office.  It didn't happen.  The movie was a respectable-sized hit, but it didn't measure up to expectations.

In searching for a reason why, I'd say that, like A.I., it offered artfully-rendered philosophy moreso than entertainment; and audiences rarely embrace that sort of sci-fi at the movies.  It might look like a box-office disappointment from a standpoint of it being a Spielberg/Cruise movie, but I think the fact is that without them, it would have made about $10 million rather than the $100 million it actually made.

And anyways, it is an entertaining movie, just not in the same sort of mass-appeal way that something like Attack of the Clones is.  Minority Report ends up being a bit like Spielberg's version of a classic Hitchock-wrong-man movie, told through a science-fictional prism.  That's entertaining as hell to me; to Average Joe, not as much.

John Williams was there to supply the music, of course, and he straddles the line between the distinctive setpieces of his more embraceable scores (as seen in "Anderton's Great Escape" and "Spyders") and the more slippery qualities of something like Sleepers (as seen in much of the rest of the score).

Let's talk a bit about the end of the movie.  Anderton (Tom Cruise) is captured, arrested for a couple of murders he has not committed, and is put in stasis where he will be alive but unconscious for the remainder of his days.  He's busted out by his wife, and is ultimately able to clear his name and bring the real killer to justice.

This ending failed to satisfy some people.  You know what movie I blame for this?  Blade Runner, also based on Dick's work.  Many people were so gratified by the time they learned, or figured out, that Deckard in Blade Runner is supposed to be a Replicant that they immediately began thinking of movies as all having codes that had to be cracked: every movie has a plot twist, if only you're paying enough attention to figure it out.  Hence, the idea that what transpires in Minority Report is this: Anderton never gets out of stasis, and the rest of the movie represents a "dream sequence" in which his dreams are (mostly) fulfilled.

I guess you can believe that if you want to.  You can also believe that The Godfather is set on Jupiter, and that the plot represents the actions of terraforming colonists in the far future who are attempting to honor the way their forefathers lives on ancient Earth.  You can believe whatever you want to about whatever movie you want to.

And given that the work of Philip K. Dick is uniquely well-suited to open-ended interpretation, Minority Report can bear this particular reading.  However, this is a Steven Spielberg movie, and that sort of thing simply isn't what he does.  With only a few exceptions across the entire span of his career (The Sugarland Express, Munich, arguably Empire of the Sun and/or Saving Private Ryan), Spielberg movies always trade in optimism in the end.  It would be nearly unthinkable for his Minority Report to end in the manner the critics of its ending suggest.  These are almost certainly the same people who did so poor a job of reading A.I. the year before.

If you want an example of the degree to which I am correct about this, look no further than the Williams score.  Just as he did with A.I. (in which the ending feels, musically, like a summation and a resolution), Williams tells you what you need to know: the movie ends with the track "A New Beginning," which is a fully-elegiac development of the theme -- played in minor modes through the film -- for Sean, Anderton's deceased son.  To some extent, Minority Report is all about Anderton coming to grips with and accepting this horrific loss, so that he can proceed with the rest of his life (including having another child with his wife).  Via his themes, Williams gives Anderton -- and us -- permission to move on.

How would that work if the last part of the movie is simply a wish-fulfillment dream of Anderton's from deep within his permanent stasis?  You're telling me that his dreams being fulfilled consists of him accepting that his son is dead and is never coming back?!?  Get the fuck outta here with that shit.  This music is the sound of a real man feeling real emotions, not that of a dreamer experiencing the illusions of morphia.

Sorry, hipsters.  You got it wrong again.  You almost always do; will you never learn?

As for John Williams: he got it oh so right, as is also almost always the case.

Stephen King connection: a very prominent supporting role is filled by ol' Leland Gaunt himself, Max Von Sydow.


2002 -- Yo-Yo Ma Plays the Music of John Williams





The contents:
 
"Concerto for Cello and Orchestra" -- One of the more accessible and thematic of Williams' concertos, in my opinion.  This is a lovely work, one which was written expressly for Yo-Yo Ma and premiered way back in 1994, during that two-year period after Schindler's List in which the world was without a Williams film score.

"Elegy for Cello and Orchestra" -- This piece was written by Williams in memory of the deaths of a colleague's two young children.  It was based in part on a short melodic fragment from Seven Years In Tibet, although I don't detect it, personally.  The piece was performed at the memorial service for the lost children, and it's lovely without being maudlin.  Ma, unsurprisingly, does very well with it.  The orchestra accompanying Ma on this album is the Recording Arts Orchestra of Los Angeles; one of the violinists playing on the recording is the colleague who lost her children.  This is why liner notes are worth having, y'all.

(Sidebar: if I were a friend of Yo-Yo's and he asked me how I was doing, I would tell him, "Top of the world, Ma!" and then I would laugh and laugh and laugh and he probably wouldn't want to be my friend anymore.  I'd have to apologize, so I'd say, "Sorry, Ma, you know I love you!"  At that point, I'd have simply embarrassed myself.)

"Three Pieces for Solo Cello" -- Those being:
  • (1)  "Rosewood" -- As Williams says in the liner notes, the idea behind these three pieces was to "musically reflect something of the powerful and historic African-American experience."  Given that the film Rosewood -- to which this piece, "Rosewood," has ZERO connection -- is also about at least a portion of the African-American experience, the shared title is bewildering and counterproductive.  I guess I should be thankful that Ma didn't play on the film score!  In any case, Williams says in his liner notes that "the cello groans under the crack of the work-gang whip an imitates the old steel-fronted guitar played by some of the early workers as they tried to ease the pain of their long hours in the field."  I like the piece; Ma plays it very well.
  • (2)  "Pickin' " -- Williams says that the title "refers both to the art of banjo pickin' and the act of picking cotton itself."  The shortest and most lively of the three pieces, it's probably also the most inconsequential, though it's just fine in its own right.
  • (3)  "The Long Way North" -- That title doesn't need much explaining, I guess.  Williams does mention that the piece was inspired by the Rita Dove poem of the same name, and explains further that the music "partly takes the form of a lullaby in which we might imagine a mother singing...hush now child - don't cry...someday...someday!"  If so, it's a rather depressed and depressing lullaby, which is probably appropriate.  Ma is very much in the groove on this piece, which is terrific.

"Heartwood" -- This elegant and dreamlike piece is another concert-hall work by Williams that derives its inspiration from the composer's love for trees.  In this case, it was inspired partially by a book called Heartwood that consisted of photographs of the live oak by William Guion.  For my money, this is one of the very best pieces the composer has written for the concert hall.
  
  


You probably won't dig this album if you only think of Williams as the Star Wars guy.  An understandable sentiment, but it's your loss, because Yo-Yo Ma Plays the Music of John Williams is top-notch classical music, at least from where I'm sitting.


2002 -- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets




2002 was quite a busy year for John Williams.  In fact, it was so busy that his scoring duties on the second Harry Potter film had to take a bit of a backseat.  William Ross was brought in to adapt and conduct Williams' score.

What exactly does this mean?  Well, your guess is as good as mine, but I suspect that it means exactly what it says.  The soundtrack album specifies that all music was composed by Williams, so there's that.

If I were an outside observer who had neither seen the movie nor heard the music, I'd probably assume that this was a similar situation to Superman II, for which the John Williams score to Superman was repurposed, reorchestrated, and rerecorded for use in the sequel.  However, I have seen the movie, and I have heard the score, which feature several major new themes that were obviously Williams compositions.  Dobby the house elf has a theme; Fawkes the phoenix has a theme; Gilderoy Lockhart, the new Defense Against The Dark Arts professor, has a theme; the titular chamber has a theme.  Plus there are setpiece sequences that are clearly built from new Williams material ("The Flying Car," "Meeting Aragog," "Cornish Pixies," etc.).

It's worth remembering that Williams himself occasionally served as a musical adaptor (adapter?) back in the day.  He worked on four films in that capacity: Valley of the Dolls, Fiddler on the Roof, Tom Sawyer, and Goodbye, Mr. Chips.  I struggle to hear much of him in the former, and I hear only a bit of him in Fiddler; but in the latter two, his musical voice shines through quite clearly at certain points, especially if you're familiar with his body of work circa those films.  With that in mind, it's almost certainly true that in adapting Williams' music to fit the needs of Chamber of Secrets, Ross's musical voice can be heard.  I'm probably just not familiar enough to recognize it as such.

In the end, I don't know where Williams leaves off and Ross begins in this project.  Perhaps Williams wrote material based on a screenplay, or on early footage, and Ross then adapted it to fit the film?

Beats me, but my ears tell me that this is a Williams score through and through.

A good one, too.  "Fawkes the Phoenix" is the best of the new themes, and it stands comfortably alongside the themes from the first movie.


2002 -- Catch Me If You Can




The year for John Williams drew to a close with the release of Catch Me If You Can, his second Spielberg-directed film of the year.  It's a great movie, and the composer did his best work of the year in crafting its score.

The standouts tracks:


  • "Catch Me If You Can," the opening-credits music.  Jazzy, playful, mysterious; this is a great theme, and it's even better with the Saul Bass homage of the credits.  Those "shh" sounds you hear?  That's the orchestra saying "shh."  That sounds that you think sounds like people snapping their fingers?  That's the orchestra snapping their fingers.  Awesome.
  • "The ''Float'' " -- This is more than fun than any music about a federal crime has any right to be.  In recent years, Williams has turned the Catch Me If You Can score into a three-movement suite called "Escapades," and this cue is the central movement.  You can probably guess what the two bookend pieces are.  If you can't, deduct points accordingly.
  • "Recollections (The Father's Theme)" -- A moody piece for saxophone and orchestra that sounds like improvisation but was actually entirely written out.
  
This score earned Williams an Oscar nomination, the sole entry from his four 2002 scores to yield such an honor.  It was a year filled with great composers: the other nominees included Elmer Bernstein (Far From Heaven), Philip Glass (The Hours), Thomas Newman (The Road to Perdition), and eventual winner Elliot Goldenthal (Frida).  Not among the honorees was the one who should have won: Howard Shore, who was ruled ineligible by the Academy for The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers on the grounds that too much of the score was carried over from the first film.  This is a ridiculous claim, and if I remember correctly, Williams' Attack of the Clones was ruled ineligible for the same reason.  Also ridiculous.
  
Stephen King connections: The Dead Zone alumni Christopher Walken and Martin Sheen are both on hand, though they share no scenes.  Also, Tom Hanks, of The Green Mile.  I almost forgot to list him!



2003 -- "Soundings"




The Walt Disney Concert Hall -- named for the man (as opposed to being owned by the company) -- opened in October of 2003, and for that opening season, John Williams composed "Soundings," an eclectic piece designed to...

Well, allow me to let John Williams tell you what the piece was designed to do, by way of quoting his notes in the program:

     In writing Soundings, I’ve tended to think of it as an experimental piece for Walt Disney Concert Hall in which a collection of colorful sonorities could be sampled in the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s new environment. The piece is in o­ne extended movement and is divided into five sections.     In the first section, “The Hall Awakens,” I decided to begin with four measures of silence in order to, symbolically at least, capture the Hall in its quiescence. The flutes then break the silence by murmuring softly in their lowest register. Horns and brass sonorities follow, and an unaccompanied section of unison strings allows us to test the Hall’s friendliness to that magnificent group.     This is followed by “The Hall Glistens,” in which a full battery of percussion and fully scored shimmering effects suggest glittering flashes of light that might emerge as the sun is reflected off of Frank Gehry’s great exterior “sails.”     Earlier, as I admired the Hall and studied its interior, I wondered what it might be like if the building’s brilliant exterior surfaces could be sounded and the Hall actually “sang” to us. These thoughts suggested the third section, “The Hall Responds,” in which the Hall itself becomes a partner in the music making. The orchestra sounds a vibrant low D, and the Hall reverberates and responds. Three other great sails are sounded as the orchestra, led by the solo flute, sends messages which are returned to us from various locations in the Hall.     In the fourth section, “The Hall Sings,” the four great sail notes – D, E, C#, and B – reach their maturation and freely move about the Hall as the orchestra supports them. They eventually ascend and vanish above us as these vibrating units of sound return to take their fixed molecular place in the building structure? at least, in our imaginations.     The piece closes with the fifth section, “The Hall Rejoices,” and here the orchestra celebrates with its full voice.     The motivic material for this finale comes from the suggestion of Los Angeles Philharmonic President and Chief Executive Officer Deborah Borda that I write a sequence for carillon bells that would be sounded in the lobby to announce the end of intermission. To accomplish this I’ve suggested the five “call” notes F#-D#-F#-G#-F# and a six-note group – G-G-F#-A-D-B – that gently remind us that it’s time to conclude our conversations and return to our seats. These sequences of notes form the basis of the finale and the piece closes with the Hall itself “chiming in” at the celebratory conclusion.     I feel honored to have been asked to write a work for o­ne of the inaugural concerts in the Walt Disney Concert Hall and a more inspiring subject for music can’t be imagined.


"Soundings" was performed on October 25, the night after the opening-night gala.  As a card-carrying* John Williams fan, (* -- note that no card of this nature actually exists) I was aware that the piece existed, that it got good reviews, and that no recording of it was forthcoming.  For years -- years, I tell you! -- the existence of that piece taunted me.  Every few months, I'd check bootleg sites to see if I could find a copy.  No luck.  Every few months, I'd check torrent sites to see if somebody had uploaded the purported "radio broadcast" recording.  No luck.  I sent a few blind emails to Williams fans with Internet presences in the hopes of obtaining a copy of some sort.  No luck.  Once YouTube became a thing, I'd check it occasionally to see if someone had uploaded the piece.  No luck.    
Eventually, I forgot to check.  And that seems to be about the time this video appeared on YouTube.  Don't listen to that, by the way.  It's missing the first few minutes of the piece.  Don't worry, I've got another link coming up soon; I put that one in merely to round this story out.

Anyways, by the summer of 2015, I'd kind of forgotten that "Soundings" even existed.  But then, a Blu-ray called A John Williams Celebration came out.  This was a recording of the concert given in 2014 by the Los Angeles Philharmonic under the direction of Gustavo Dudamel.  They'd played nearly two hours' worth of John Williams music, and not only had somebody had the good sense to broadcast it on PBS, but somebody else had had the good sense to put the fuckin' thing out on Blu-ray!

AND IT HAD "SOUNDINGS" ON IT!!!!!

Now, that Blu-ray is the sort of thing that I would have bought anyways, but its containing "Soundings" was icing on the cake.

Here's the video.

Was it worth the wait?  Yessir, I believe it was.  In fact, I think this is probably my favorite concert-hall work by Williams, and I'd rank it favorably in comparison to many of his best film scores.  I love the whole thing, but that final movement -- "The Hall Rejoices" -- is pure gold.  Somebody needs to make a third Fantasia movie so that "Soundings" can be one of the segments.  Lookin' at you, Pixar.  Get 'er done!

More on that Blu-ray when we get to the 2014 section of these posts, by the way.


2003 -- Concerto for Horn and Orchestra





First off, you can't get this on disc.  The only recording that is commercially available was the above-pictured digital release of 2010.

Williams apparently had this to say via program notes for the 2003 premiere:

When I've tried to analyze my lifelong love of the french horn, I've had to conclude that it's mainly because of the horn's capacity to stir memories of antiquity. The very sound of the french horn conjures images stored in the collective psyche. It's an instrument that invites us to 'dream backward to the ancient time.'     
Most cultures have had some form of horn in their histories. We remember the ram's horn Shofar, calling us to battle or prayer . . . or the conch, "fabled shell instrument of the Titans," or one can imagine the huge Viking horns that must have struck terror in the hamlets of northern Europe as the great ships were brought into the estuaries to begin their attacks. The horn stirs memories of fearful things, of powerful things, of noble and beautiful things!   
In the first movement or section of my concerto, I begin with the distant pealing of the 'Angelus Bell', while the horn joins in, sending calls and signals to complete the picture.     This is followed by 'The Battle of the Trees', suggested by the famous Celtic poem of that name, which describes groves of trees transforming themselves into warriors and led in battle by the brave oak. The horn enters the fray, as the percussion section creates sounds of trunks, branches, and twigs all colliding in the struggle.     
Nostalgia has been described as 'laundered memory' but our modern horn and oboe possess the power to produce it truly. They conjoin to 'dream backward' of a pristine glen in the third movement, 'Pastorale'. 
In 'The Hunt', the horn plays its traditional role, getting the blood up, exhilarating the spirit and animating the chase.
Finally in 'Nocturne', the day's end grants repose and a simple song is offered.
With each movement title I've included a poetic quote, none of which is medieval, but simply chosen from writers that I've enjoyed, and in the music I have not deliberately adhered to, or purposely avoided, the modalities and grammar of medievalism. Instead I've written freely and with a sense of privilege and joy at working with the legendary horn player Dale Clevenger, who for so many years has been an inspiration to lovers and students, myself included, of the french horn.

The links are mine, by the way.  Just in case anyone thought he'd included YouTube links in his program notes.  Those of you concerned that I failed to link to the fourth movement, chill out: the third and fourth movement are part of the same track.

By this point in our sojourn, I feel certain that you know whether or not you enjoy the concert works by Williams.  I (mostly) do, and I definitely enjoy this one.  If you don't, I suspect this one will not change your mind.


2004 -- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban




The third film in the series was an interesting time for the Harry Potter films.  Director Chris Columbus, who'd helmed the first two, stepped aside; in his place, celebrated auteur Alfonso Cuaron became perhaps THE most hifalutin' director to ever enter a series of blockbusters after it has already begun.  I can't think of many comparable instances of such a thing happening.  Sam Mendes on Skyfall is about as close as I can get.

With Cuaron came a shift in tone away from relatively light kiddie-style fantasy to . . . well, look, this still wasn't exactly The Seventh Seal or nothin', but it was artfully-made entertainment at worst, and had occasional flashes of inspiration.  That was the space the remainder of the series would occupy; and, happily, J.K. Rowling's books are good enough to permit for it.

As one of the charter Potter-film creative artists, John Williams was asked back, and he said yes.  He shifted his own approach to mesh seamlessly with that of Cuaron: this is music that has stepped up in sophistication a degree or two.  Could you argue that a bit of the magic of the first two scores went missing in the process?  Yeah, I guess you probably could.  But there's still a good bit of magic on hand, so if this a somewhat lesser score than the first two Potters, it's not by much.  And you may like it more, for all I know.

This was the final film of the series for Williams.  I would have liked to see him tackle all eight, personally.  However, the fourth film in the series (Goblet of Fire) came out in 2005, and, as we will see, 2005 ended up being a jam-packed year for Williams.  He must have had to bow out due to prior commitments, and once he bowed out, he must have figured it was best to let other composers have the films.  Seems like a bit of a loss, though; it would have been a unique achievement for one composer to score an entire series like that one.

In any case, Prisoner of Azkaban was a good score to exit on.  The standout tracks from my point of view:

  • "Aunt Marge's Waltz," a playful piece that scores an early-film gag in which a Muggle gets real fat via magic and goes flying into the ether.
  • "The Knight Bus," a comedic piece representing a magical night bus that shows up to whisk young Mr. Potter off to a reunion with his friends.
  • "Double Trouble," which one might think of as a Halloween carol.  It's a brief song, but the melody is memorable.  The first teaser trailer used it, and to great effect.  The melody pops up elsewhere in the score, but -- and this is a bit of a shame -- never quite gets developed into a full-blown Williams-style showpiece.  Until the end credits, that is.
  • "A Window to the Past," a touching piece that serves as a lament of sorts, presumably for Harry's lost parents.  It's a much sadder piece of music than one expects to find in what is ostensibly a children's movie, and if you want to get the best look at the approach Williams and Cuaron took to aurally progress the series in sophistication, here it is.
  • "Mischief Managed!" is an end-credits suite that runs twelve minutes and encompasses virtually all of the significant new thematic material Williams wrote for the movie.  If you've just listened to the entirety of the soundtrack album, you might feel that this track is redundant.  If you sit down and listen to it on its own, you may feel like it's slightly overstuffed and perhaps a bit rough around the edges in some of its transitions (or lack thereof), but that otherwise it is genius.  In either case, you are probably correct.
  
The score earned Williams an Oscar nomination, but he lost to Jan A.P. Kaczmarek's Finding Neverland; a laughable decision, Oscar, you fool!  Williams' fellow nominees: Thomas Newman for Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, John Debney for the Passion of the Christ, and James Newton Howard's sublime score for The Village.  I'd have given it to Howard; that score is phenomenal.



2004 -- The Terminal





For his second score of the summer of 2004, Williams reunited with director Steven Spielberg and star Tom Hanks for The Terminal, a fluffy and whimsical film that in its heart probably wants to be another Forrest Gump, but can't quite get there.

This is one of a trio of Spielberg movies I've only seen once, the others being Lincoln and Tintin, and what it shares with them is that I was entertained by them but was left essentially unmoved.  Are they bad movies?  Certainly not.  They're good; I just don't know that they are much more than that.  And for a guy who holds Spielberg up as his #1 favorite director, good isn't good enough.

I'm, WAY overdue for a run through all of Spielberg's movies, though, and I'm hoping that when I next undertake that task, I'll develop a real fondness for one or all of these underseen-by-Bryant films in his canon.

Williams brought his A-game to The Terminal, and contributed a wonderful main theme ("The Tale of Viktor Navorski") that gets put to frequent use through the film.  But that's not where the excellence ends: he also dialed up a tour-de-force eight-minute romantic-dinner cue, "Dinner with Amelia," as well as a crackerjack national anthem for the fictional nation of Krakozhia.  All of these efforts went unnoticed by Oscar at the end of the year, which is almost certainly a reaction more to the movie than to the score itself.


2005 -- Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith




Just a few paragraphs ago, I was bemoaning the fact that Williams didn't stick around to score all eight Harry Potter films, on the grounds that scoring an entire series like that would have been an impressive achievement.

The 2005 release of Revenge of the Sith marked an end to the Star Wars saga (or so we all thought at the time), and while Williams might have abandoned the opportunity to see Harry Potter to its conclusion, no such dereliction of duty was at hand with the second Skywalker-saga trilogy.

As far as I'm concerned, Revenge of the Sith is a perfectly acceptable movie.  I've had times when I even considered ranking it above Return of the Jedi.  Crazy talk, right?  Well, so be it.  I like the movie.  I'm not going to get into it any further than that (that'll be an eventual task for me to undertake at Where No Blog Has Gone Before), but that's my opinion on the matter.

Williams kicked off his 2005 with this grand-finale score, and it's a good one.  Is it up to the standard he set with the previous five films?  Yeah, I think so, more or less.  If I were ranking the six scores, this one probably would come in last; but what of it?  It's still got a terrific new theme ("Battle of the Heroes"), plus a solid secondary one ("General Grievous").  There's some creepy atmospheric music for Senator Palpatine, as well ("Palpatine's Teachings," to which you fans of The Force Awakens might want to pay attention).  And so forth; it's pretty much all good.

All in all, it was a solid way for things to conclude.

Of course, as it turned out, it wasn't a conclusion so much as it was an intermission.  We'll discuss that in ten years or so, recap-time...


2005 -- War of the Worlds




A lot of people shit on Spielberg's War of the Worlds, but I'm here to tell you: I'm not one of them.  I don't think it's a perfect movie, by any means.  I think the aliens-defeated-by-flu plot twist is bungled; I think the reappearance of a particular character during the coda is unearned and ineffective; and I think the mechanism by which the aliens arrive on Earth is muddled, and that it changes the Wells novel's original conceit to no good purpose.

Those are serious complaints, and yet, I think the movie approaches genius everywhere else.  Tom Cruise is stupendous in the role of an obliviously-aging man with a child's sense of responsibility who is suddenly forced into being responsible for his two children in circumstances that might fairly be described as tense.

Some scenes of the film rank favorably with the best sequences Spielberg has ever directed.  Yessir, I dig this movie.

Which makes it all the more surprising that the score by John Williams ranks for me as a disappointment.  It isn't bad.  It serves the film well, meaning that it mostly gets out of the film's way.  This is perhaps a byproduct of Spielberg bringing the tone and sensibility of Saving Private Ryan to bear on a film that, earlier in his career, would likely have been a bit more of a Raiders-style crowdpleaser.  In other words, Spielberg doesn't leave Williams all that much room to have fun with the music.  That's probably a good thing for the movie, and if it's a bad thing for the soundtrack album, well, that's fine by me.

But as I said, it isn't a bad score, and it's one that I enjoying listen to when its spot in the listen-queue rolls around.  My favorite track is either "The Intersection Scene" or "The Attack on the Car," or perhaps "The Ferry Scene."  The latter two are wham-bang action-music cues that are a lot less thematic and melodic than is typically the case with Williams; but whatever they lack in hummability, they make up for with intensity and drive.

Complaint time: the tracks "Prologue" and "The Reunion" (which, as you might imagine, bookend the album) include the Morgan Freeman narration from the film.  It's not AS egregious an annoyance as on the Angela's Ashes album, but it's also not a trend that I'd like to see continue.  And indeed, this seems to have been the end of it, so at least there's that.

Stephen King connection: both Andy and Red from The Shawshank Redemption are on hand, in the form of actors Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman.  The former has a pivotal role toward the end of the film, and the latter is, as previously mentioned, the narrator.  Additional connections can be found via the screenplay by Josh Friedman and David Koepp.  The latter wrote and directed Secret Window, while the former wrote the teleplay for the never-aired pilot episode based on Joe Hill's Locke & Key (Hill being the son of a certain writer we all know and love).


2005 -- Memoirs of a Geisha




Memoirs of a Geisha was one of the big misses of 2005.  Based on the novel by Arthur Golden (which had sold approximately 29 trillion copies), the film was helmed by Tony- and Oscar-nominated director Rob Marshall, and was largely seen as an awards-season shoo-in as well as a worldwide box-office phenomenon.  Neither of those expected results came to fruition; the film was instead a modest commercial success, a moderate critical failure, and a minor awards-season player.  A decade later, it feels to me as if nobody even remembers it exists.

Except for John Williams fans.  John Williams fans remember.

Williams had always been a likely choice for composer.  After all, Steven Spielberg bought the rights to the novel early on, and spent several years as the presumptive director.  He ultimately tapped out, but his regular collaborator John Williams stayed onboard.  Williams had read and been hugely impressed by the novel, and when the film actually got made, he did something he says he'd never done before: he campaigned for the job.

Needless to say, he got it.  And his score is a marvel.  In a bit of Avengers-style superhero-team-building, he got both Itzhak Perlman AND Yo-Yo Ma to sign up to play on the score, which is rather an achievement.  The end result puts both of them to fairly good use, and also makes lush use of various traditionally-Japanese instruments and orchestrations.  It's a white American man doing Japanese music for a female Japanese character, and I guess that bothers some people.  Their loss.

Speaking of losses, the score suffered one at the Oscars.  It did manage a nomination, but lost to Brokeback Mountain and Gustavo Santaolalla.

Pardon me while I go on a rant.

First: Brokeback Mountain is a great movie, a heartbreaking piece of work that is simultaneously a love story, a civil-rights ballad of progress/protest, and a modern Western; AND, in being all those things at once, it's its own thing entirely, which is almost always a welcome thing for Hollywood.  Should it have won the Best Picture statue that year?  I still say Munich was the better film, but Brokeback Mountain was deserving, and was certainly better than what actually won (Crash, ugh).  Santaolalla winning Best Original Score feels like some sort of makeup offering.  It's not a bad score, but it's a mostly inconsequential one, and giving it an Oscar over Memoirs of a Geisha ought to disqualify anyone who voted in that fashion from ever voting again.  Not merely for this award, but for anything.  This is a person who cannot be trusted with a vote.

Listen to "Going to School" or "Becoming a Geisha" or "The Chairman's Waltz" and tell me that that isn't infinitely better music than the plinkety-plinking guitar of Brokeback Mountain (to which I reluctantly link for comparison's sake).  I like a good plinkety-plink as much as the next guy, and I like this particular plinkety-plink, but give me a fuckin' break.  "Sayuri's Theme" (especially in its end-credits iteration) rips that to shreds; it's one of the best things Williams has ever written, which is a heck of an honor.  Giving Santaolalla the Oscar over Williams this particular year is a crime against art.

I probably wouldn't be bitter about it -- and make no mistake, I am VERY bitter about it to this day -- if not for two additional factors: (1) the sheer number of times Williams has been robbed of an Oscar he ought to have won (Giorgio Moroder beating Superman, for example); and (2) the fact that Santaolalla won a second consecutive Oscar the next year for Babel.  Again, a great movie.  But it used at least some Santaolalla music that had been written years previously, including the very piece of music THE OSCARS PLAYED AS SANTAOLALLA WALKED TO THE PODIUM TO RECEIVE HIS AWARD.  I knew the piece well, as it had by 2006 appeared prominently in episodes of both Deadwood and 24.  In this particular case, Santaolalla didn't turk John Williams out of an Oscar, so at least there's that.  Instead, he turked Javier Navarrete's sumptuous score to Pan's Labyrinth out of the gold.  Mercifully, Santaolalla has since more or less disappeared, at least so far as Oscar is concerned, so perhaps I am done living under the threat of the Academy squandering further awards on his hack ass.

Sad but true: this is what I think of when I think of Memoirs of a Geisha.

Unless I'm actually listening to the music, of course, and then I'm thinking only of how great the music is.


2005 -- Munich




For his final score of 2005, Williams had another Steven Spielberg movie up his sleeve: Munich, the based-on-real-life story of a team of Israeli assassins who traveled the globe executing people responsible for the 1972 PLO massacre of Olympians.  This is a far cry from E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, or even War of the Worlds, and Williams responded by crafting a score that is conflicted and tangled, but intermittently beautiful in a haunting sort of way.

Not as embraceable as many another Williams score, but if you've been following along with the trajectory of these posts, you probably know by now that this had, by 2005, become a common mode in which he worked.  Williams fans who want everything to be Raiders of the Lost (i.e., the type of fans who are most likely to be found commenting on film-music messageboards [which are places you should never, ever visit]) mostly have nothing good to say about this.

More Munich for me, I guess.

This is not to imply that Munich is one of my favorite Williams scores.  It isn't.  It ranks #3 (if not #4) among his 2005 scores, actually.  But that doesn't mean I dislike it.  I don't need a Williams scores to be one of my favorite Williams scores in order for it to be a Williams score that still works for me.

The centerpiece of the score is probably "A Prayer for Peace," which is in part a gorgeous arrangement of the Israeli national anthem, "HaTikvah" ("The Hope").  It was composed by Samuel Cohen with lyrics by Napthali Herz Imber, although that is a gross simplification of things.  Curiously, the album's soundtrack makes no mention of it having been composed by someone else; this is perhaps a case of oversight and not of deceit, but it nevertheless strikes me a bit funny.

Williams also supplies a great theme for Avner (Eric Bana's character), which pops up in numerous guises throughout the score (including one arrangement for guitar and one for orchestra and female vocal solo) but is possibly at its most effective in the track "Avner and Daphna."

Williams earned an Oscar nomination for the score, which (along with Memoirs of a Geisha) made two for 2005.  I console myself by thinking that the only reason Gustavo Santaolalla won for Brokeback Mountain was due to voters not knowing which Williams score to choose and consequently splitting the vote.

Regardless of the Oscar debacle, 2005 immediately went into the record books as a banner year for Williams.  But it also marked the end of an era in some ways, as the composer unofficially retired from regular film composing.  In fact, the world would not hear another film score from him until 2008, and if you tally up his entire output of scores post-Munich you only get six.

We'll talk about those six, as well as some of the non-film compositions that followed 2005, in the next -- and final -- post in this series.

14 comments:

  1. First time commenting here. I've been a fairly casual Stephen King fan for a while, have only really started getting into him over the last year and a half or so, and that's when I discovered your blog.

    But there ain't nothing casual about my film score fandom, which passed by "obsessive" long, long ago and has since reached a level which Annie Wilkes would probably consider going a wee bit too far. Which is why, when I saw the first part of this John Williams retrospective, I had to pick my jaw up off the floor. For two seemingly disparate interests of mine to cross wires in such spectacular fashion is just super uber cool.

    And this has been a simply fantastic series. I thought I knew a lot about Williams, but your coverage in particular of his early jazz years and concert/conducting work has taught me tons of stuff, and I'm sure to use these posts as a reference frequently in the future. And hearing you slag off the Best Score Oscar often and loud is like, ahem, music to my ears. Especially the Santaolalla thing. I mean holy Christ. Also, you probably won't mention this one, but How to Train Your Dragon (by John Powell, who is the Paul Sheldon to my Annie) losing out to The Social Network inspired some very lengthy rants from yours truly on a number of those film music messageboards you so fervently anti-recommend.

    Yeah, about that: I had to smile at the jab considering the entirely unhealthy amount of time I spend in exactly such places (the Filmtracks Scoreboard and Maintitles, mostly). I gather you used to frequent such places, and from the above remark, I can only assume it was the FSM messageboard, which is indeed an awful cesspit which I stay away from as much as possible. I am curious as to whether our paths might have crossed at some point, though - where else (and under what name) did you used to hang around?

    Thanks so much for this - can't wait for part 5! Oh, and if you want to do, say, a James Horner tour (can't believe we lost him last year...), that would be perfectly jake in my books. :D

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    1. The world of film-music fandom really does seem to breed obsessiveness, doesn't it? Probably not much more so than most other types of fandom, to be fair; but it does seem to be somewhat prone to its constituents being more vocal. I suspect it's like that in any real niche fandom, though, which is what this particular one is.

      I appreciate the kind words! I've had a lot of fun writing this; I've been a massive Williams fan for . . . oh, depending on when you date the start of it . . . I'm going to say thirty years. My knowledge of his work is tiny compared to some other fans', though. I'm sure most of them would read this and tear their hair out at how incomplete it is.

      I am very glad to have company in the hating-the-Oscars camp, at least as it regards the award for Best Original Score. I love the Oscars, actually; I literally skipped an exam in college one time so I could watch them, and I haven't missed a show since the early nineties when I began watching them. But BOY do they get that award wrong almost every year. (Sidebar: I feel like it won't be Williams again this year. If they give it to Giacchino, I can live with that, and if they give it to Morricone I will at least understand that. Anyone else, I will be updating this post in furious anger.)

      I liked the score to "The Social Network" on its own terms. But Oscar-worthy? No sir.

      I have to confess that Powell is a composer whose work I don't know very well at all. I know his fans are numerous and VERY devoted, though, which tells me I'd probably like his work. Once upon a time, I'd have made myself familiar with his scores based purely on that. Now, I simply don't have the time.

      I never spent much time at FSM, actually. A bit, and enough to tell that it wasn't for me, but mostly my experience comes from JWFan.com, which has a lot of really great and knowledgeable and helpful members, and also a lot of cockadoodie brats. (Had to keep the "Misery" theme going!) I still go there from time to time, but mostly stay away. I always used my own name, so if you ever ran across me, it'd be as Bryant Burnette.

      To be fair, though, my experiences with King-centric messageboards were even worse. By, like, a factor of 5. I blame some of that on the specific boards, but I blame most of it on me. I have a tendency to be argumentative, and I have a tendency to think I'm right about everything, and when you put me on a messageboard, I become fairly intolerable. So for the most part, I've stopped taking part in that sort of thing.

      Man, I'd LOVE to do a James Horner series. I'm not familiar enough with his body of work to do it justice, though (although it'd be a great excuse to get familiar with it). I doubt it will ever happen, but never say never. Other composers I'd consider for treatment of this nature: Goldsmith, Barry, Herrmann, Giacchino, Poledouris,Shore, and Elfman.

      Dadgummit, Edmund, you're makin' me want to begin a film-music blog! Cut that out!

      ;)

      I'm glad a few people are getting some enjoyment out of this; I thank you greatly for commenting on it!

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    2. Ah, yes, JWFan. Another place I generally try to avoid - I kind of mentally lump it and FSM together in my brain. The Scoreboard and Maintitles are much smaller and friendlier, and I've made some good friends there. Made a few enemies too - your messageboard vices are ones shared by yours truly, but from what I can tell, we have pretty similar tastes, so I doubt we'd have locked horns too much. ;)

      Re: Oscars this year, my gut tells me it'll go to Morricone, if only because it's probably the last chance the Academy will have to make up for fifty-plus years of completely ignoring one of the most legendary composers of all time. I'm fine with it more because Morricone deserves more than just a lame "personal achievement" award than because I think The Hateful Eight is a particularly great score; I'd probably have difficulty finding room for it in a Morricone Top 100, and how many composers can you say THAT about? The Force Awakens is handily my pick of the five nominees, but none of them are outright terrible (well...Sicario's not much for album listening, but it's certainly good at what it does). That's about the best you can hope for from the Oscars.

      From Powell, y'all absolutely have to listen to the two How to Train Your Dragon scores immediately. Masterpieces, both, and probably the two best scores of the decade so far from where I'm standing.

      I assume we're on the same page that The BFG is pretty much the score to anticipate in 2016. I'm intrigued to hear Alexandre Desplat's take on Star Wars too (Rogue One), but he's a composer I more respect than love, so I'm a tad apprehensive as well. His finale to the Harry Potter franchise was, well, all right...but he's no Williams. Then again, who is?

      I'd bookmark a film music blog from you in a heartbeat! ;)

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    3. Thankee-sai!

      I'm a big Tarantino fan, and so I loved "The Hateful Eight." My problem is, a lot of the music in the movie -- a LOT -- is from "The Thing." Great music, and Tarantino uses it expertly. But is there honestly enough new music to warrant an Oscar? I don't know. I do love the main titles music, though, so if he wins, it won't upset me too much. I suspect he probably will; what you say feels totally right, and I wasn't aware he'd never won one. Fuckin' Oscar, man.

      We do indeed agree that "The BFG" is A-#1 on the anticipated-scores list, although I'm a huge fan of Thomas Newman's "Finding Nemo" music, so assuming he'll be back for "Finding Dory," that piques my interest. Desplat scoring "Rogue One," too, although that's more just to hear a Williams-less "Star Wars" score than a Desplat score. He's good, but I've got no investment in him. That could change someday, though; I liked what he's done with Wes Anderson, for example.

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  2. I’ve tried with “Witches of Eastwick” many times. Susan Sarandon’s hot as hell in that one, and I like the general idea. But, I never last long. Something about it just pushes me away. Ditto with the book. (Actually, I thought the book was kind of awful. Updike is really hit or miss with me.) I don’t recall the score at all, though.

    And ditto for the score for“Always” though I really loved that one at the time. I don’t really recall why. I mean, it’s a fine little movie and all, but I can’t account for why I watched it so many times back in the day. In fact, I walked away from Spielberg for a good long while after that, so “Always” is the last peak of a childhood mountain range of Spielberg movies for me. (I later went back to him, I just took the 90s and most of the 00s off. Ditto for King, actually. Of course, I’ve made up for lost time since!)

    I like “Botanicus.”

    I’m with you on “Home Alone.” I was that way back when it was huge, too. Just a big “huh?”

    I will never not defend “JFK.” My cousin once lambasted me for basing opinions off “Oliver Stone’s fantasies.” Uhm – what the hell else is Oliver Stone supposed to make? It’s not a documentary – it’s pointedly a “counter-myth.” (It said so right on the back of my Laser Disc copy!) In fact, when he DOES do documentary, I don’t really enjoy it – but you’ve heard all of this from me before. (Another friend told me I’m hypocritical for liking both “JFK” and 11/22/63. How so? People are nuts. There’s only one “official” version of events, and people should be critical of that one before they get around to sorting out my hypothetical hypocrisy regarding these completely separate works of fiction. I digress.) But score-wise, yes, I love this. It adds so so much punch to this movie for me. Ditto for “Nixon” (and thanks for the link!)

    It somehow never occurred to me that the Dreamworks logo music would be Williams, but of course it is. Beautiful. Like you say, hard to improve on that for the length or purpose.

    Hear, hear on those “A.I.” thoughts. (And your "Minority Thoughts," for that matter.) I had not reflected on just how many Oscars Williams has been robbed of over the years. Amazing. The Academy Awards are always silly, but it certainly seems a case of pointedly (and pointlessly) punishing a man for his success.

    I really have to listen to these non-soundtrack John Williams CDs! I’ve queued up quite a listening pile from these posts…

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    1. I saw "The Witches of Eastwick" years ago, probably at some point after "Batman" and my first viewing of "The Shining." I liked it, I think, but I don't recall that much about it.

      That's very interesting that "Always" called to you in that manner. I can see it. It's got a very engaging tone, it's got a great cast, it looks great. What's not to like? It's not a personal favorite, but I do believe it's way better than its reputation.

      In some ways, it's a shame that Williams and Stone didn't work together more. Stone made a lot of movies that wouldn't have benefited from Williams scoring them (imagine how out of place he would have been on "Natural Born Killers," for example), but Williams on something like "Alexander" can only have helped.

      The DreamWorks logo is maybe bettered only by the Fox logo (Alfred Newman) and the modern Universal logo (Jerry Goldsmith). The Disney one is good, too, of course, but that's pre-existing music.

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  3. I think 1999 - 2002 was one of Williams's great runs. I love so much about those three years. And hey, it covers when King published On Writing, possibly my favourite book of his, so win-win! "Call of the Champions" has to be my favourite of his Olympic themes. Maybe it's the choir? "Soundings" is great, I thrived on that 8-minute Youtube video for years. Now Dudamel is my saviour, for he hath brought forth the full version, available for download and easy lsitening. It's so cool he and Williams are friends. (And he likes John Adams too!) I know it's a little pastiche, especially in the first and fifth movements, but I love American Journey. I listened to it a lot in my late teens, which was... oh, three or four years ago. History indeed.

    "In recent years, Williams has turned the Catch Me If You Can score into a three-movement suite called "Escapades," and this cue [The Float] is the central movement". Slight quibble: I think The Float is the third and final movement of Escapades. Recollections comes in the middle, IIRC.

    On Treesong: "For quite a few years it’s been my habit to walk in the Boston Public Garden as often as I can, and it has been during these walks that I found myself stopping before a particular tree and pausing to admire it." No joke, I had to be in Boston for a few days recently and spent a couple of nights there camping under one of the trees in the Public Garden. I don't think it's the tree Williams and Shaham are standing next to; wouldn't that have been something!

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    1. It certainly would have!

      You are 100% correct -- "Recollections" is indeed the middle movement of "Escapades."

      I think I became a fan of "American Journey" during this project. I've listened to it a couple of additional times since writing the little bit about it here, and while I still hear moments of pastiche, they are nowhere NEAR as numerous as I thought. I distinctly recall listening to it and thinking the entire thing was existing material that had been reshaped into a new form. And that's clearly not the case at all. Not sure what I was thinking on that one.

      You are right. '99-'02 is a heck of a run. I might even be willing to say that 2002 is worth considering for the title of best single year of his career. In the end, I think I'd pick '77, or maybe even '78; but '02 wouldn't be far behind, if so.

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  4. Was waiting for this to come up:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=itG7nR3923I

    Paul McCartney/John Williams - Theme From The Honorary Consul.

    ..But just now realized that its not THE John Williams…didn't realize that there were 2 John Williams!!

    I always thought that Macca was working with the same guy who wrote the Star Wars theme!

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    1. I bet a lot of people thought exactly the same thing.

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  5. Listening to "Five Sacred Trees" this morning. really wonderful music. I had the 5th part cranked at my desk, and that slow fade out is just wonderfully moving as closure for the whole piece. Great stuff.

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    1. It really is. Not as instantly-accessible as most of his film work, but plenty rewarding in its own right.

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  6. After finishing these posts, I'd told myself that I'd keep them updated with new Williams releases by using the comments sections, and realized last night that I'd kind of failed at actually doing so. So let's make up some ground today.

    Last December, La La Land released a four-disc set that includes the complete scores to "Jurassic Park" and "The Lost World." This was a pretty big deal for Williams fans, obviously.

    I remained mildly non-enamored of "Jurassic Park." As I mentioned about it within the body of this post, it's a good score, but one that just doesn't grab me the way other works by Williams do. Hearing it in its entirety doesn't really change that. But I'm not complaining; this is still an important and worthwhile score. The twenty or so minutes that are added for this release are hugely welcome, not so much because they are knock-your-socks-off cues, but because they fit in well and provide additional context.

    The best of them, in some ways, is "Stalling Around." This is the piece of music Williams wrote for the animated film Hammond shows the scientists as a brief orientation to the park. Williams wrote the music in the style of Carl Stalling, the house composer for "Looney Tunes." Williams does a convincing job of aping his style, and it's a fun little piece. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ERhVGPnKSwE)

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    1. As for "The Lost World," I've got to tell you: this release increased my appreciation of that music by a substantial margin. I don't know that I think it's a better score than "Jurassic Park" in a quasi-objective sense, but I can tell you that I personally prefer it. This had not been the case prior to this La La Land release.

      Adding about 50 minutes' worth of music that wasn't on the original soundtrack, this new version is pretty close to being a revelation. I'm not well-prepared enough to say what tracks add the most value to the score; it's more of a cumulative-effect sort of thing. But not only are they great in their own right, they make the cues we already knew and loved -- "The hunt," for example -- seem that much stronger. There's also an alternate version of the "Lost World" theme that is paced a bit differently with some instrumentation changes; it's pretty cool.

      The set also includes a lengthy book with liner notes by Michael Matessino. They are terrific. See, you THINK you think the music is good; but you (if you're like me) need a guy like Matessino to really spell it out for you.

      I can only hope all Williams scores will eventually receive this sort of treatment.

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