Raiders of the Lost Ark (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

Raiders of the Lost Ark (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

What’s surprising about listening to John Williams’ 1981 score for Raiders of the Lost Ark outside the context of the movie is hearing just how dark it is. There are still moments of heroism (“The Raiders March”) and romance (“Marion’s Theme”), but for listeners adjusted to the black-and-white epics of Star Wars, Williams’ work on Raiders can feel evasive (“In the Jungle“), dissonant (“Flight From Peru”), and unsettling (“The Miracle of the Ark”). Of course, in a way, that was Williams’ job: While the world of Star Wars was unambiguous and out in the open, Raiders brought its audience into dense jungles, obscure conversations, and dark temples set with hidden traps—scenes whose drama derived from their uncertainty. (Williams himself said that part of his goal was to lure the audience into what at first might seem like a beautiful experience, only to turn it into something terrifying—a technique borrowed from opera, but one Williams almost single-handedly assimilated into the vocabulary of modern-day action movies.) Like Williams’ work on Star Wars, though, his score for Raiders managed to percolate both up into the sanctum of proper classical music and out into a world separating after the movie left the theater. Harrison Ford even said he’d once seen a fire truck roaring down the street, only to realize as it passed that it was playing “The Raiders March.” You could get amped by worse.

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