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Can you imagine Jaws without its soundtrack? Or Star Wars? Whether it’s aliens, world or space wars, adventure stories, monsters, witches, wizards or superheroes, nothing could equal the fantastic energy of John Williams compositions. Thanks to the lucky collaboration with Steven Spielberg, Chris Columbus and George Lucas, the composer redefined the rules of the fantasy movies and re-elaborated the blockbuster standards. Most of all, thanks to the bold use of the leitmotiv, Williams compositions catch on the memory of the audience, that hardly can’t forget them, becoming the direct link to the movie or saga.
The friendship with Lucas reaches its peak with the realisation of the first three chapters of the Star Wars saga. Differently from the Leone-Morricone duo, the Lucas-Williams couple organises the soundtrack on the development of the script simultaneously: in both cases, the strength of the film is given by the music, but the difference consists – besides the treated genre – in the general force of Williams leitmotiv, which becomes the main soundtrack of the whole franchise. With a total of eight chapters, the symphony orchestra directed by Williams, presents a selection of fifty musical themes, mostly born along with the first two chapters, which portray the main characters or the most classic dynamics. The scores are repeated, following different shades, from the combination of Richard Strauss late-romantic style and the Golden Age music of Erich Korngold and Max Steiner, to the homages to Sergei Prokofiev and Igor Stravinsky. What is the reason behind this choice? The desire of George Lucas was to represent a fantastic setting, instead of a sci-fi one, and it happened to be necessary to recreate this illusion just through the sound. The result was an outstanding emotional performance: whether is a character, a location, an element of the plot or mood, Williams digs deep in his peculiarities, composing ad hoc unforgettable melodies, like in the well-known case The Imperial March for Darth Fener. Not only that. The musical suggestions also emerge in unexpected moments, like for the Anakin theme in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, that hints his next obscure future. One thing’s for sure: imagining this saga without its soundtrack is impossible. Can you imagine the beginning of any chapter without the Main Title Theme?
The collaboration between Lucas and Spielberg takes a new turn in the 80s with the Indiana Jones saga. The idea shows an archaeologist as the main character whom events takes inspiration from adventurous teenage movies, evolved through the collocation of funny, romantic and action spirits. Therefore, even the Williams compositions change: if in Star Wars the goal was to fortify the fantasy level, here is to accentuate the hero’s personality and the location characteristics. You can feel the connection with the last saga in the themes related to female characters and to the protagonist perception both heroic and ironic, coupled with a sense of suspense. The leitmotiv of Indiana Jones is indeed growing and feeds the waiting sensation, till exploding once it reaches the peak with the rumble of the instruments. The result is a great entertaining product, with a light and fine humour, capable of catching every kind of target.
The theme park created by Micheal Crichton in 1993 shows its film adaptation in 1993 thanks to Spielberg, who couldn’t distance himself from the collaboration with the talent of Williams: only his compositions would have been able to fortify the sense of astonishment and surprise of the visitors as soon as they enter in contact with the creatures of the past. The soundtrack dominates the dark atmospheres that highlight the dramatic and action scenes, melting horror and adventure together. Williams replies to this mixture with the music versatility: the orchestral rhythms guided by the arches give strength to heroic and action moments, but they are also useful to mark Isla Nublar out, while the electronic rhythms lend suspense. The main theme has a fantastic and sentimental finish but, in order to fortify the horror sense – as in Jaws — grows by taking advantage of the arrangements.
No, it’s not about an epic saga like its predecessors, at all. Instead, it’s essential quoting it as a generational transfer. Its ancestors, like Goonies or Stand By Me, identify in the boy a new model of a main character, that, however, never plays the role of the hero, more reserved to the adolescents or kids in the animation movies, either directly defeats the enemy. In Home Alone instead, Kevin McCallister (Macauley Culkin) is the boss of his own will and experiences the thieves intrusion in his home like an adventure. Therefore, the action scenes are dyed by pop notes using synths (see Setting The Trap), and always remaining consistent in the Christmas context of the movie. To fortify the description of the location, vocal arrangements of Leslie Bricusse are inserted in the motion picture, like Somewhere in My Memory and Star of Bethelem, in which you can find a reference to Tchaikovsky that gives to the track that magical and fantastic touch related to the sense of innocence of the boy. Although less known, various sequels came out, but no-one could repeat the success of the first two chapters. It’s no coincidence that Home Alone, stayed the live action comedy with the biggest box office in the US, until the release of The Hangover 2 in 2011.
The 00’s could be defined the decade (almost twenty years) of the big franchises, in which the very well-know English wizard stands out. The case of Harry Potter is emblematic for different reasons: from the planetary success of the books (translated in seventy-seven languages, included Latin and Ancient Greek) and the “Fantastic Creatures and where to find them” spin off, till the merchandise and theme parks. Most of this success, is due to the original film adaptation directed by Chris Columbus and the solid scenographic and musical choices of the movies, such that it is impossible to divide them from the books. Harry Potter without Hedwig’s Flight, by the pure and simple sound, which, when raising, can transmit the right sense of panic to the audience and that eventually explodes with the sound of the horn. The enchanted tones of the leitmotiv come back in the whole soundtrack under different sides: The Arrival of Baby Harry use choirs, bells and whistles, connecting to the previous Home Alone, while the distorted violin pre-announces the funny verve of Hook. John Williams composed the soundtracks of the first three chapters, partially in accordance with the directions of the filmmakers: if the first chapter, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, represents the trademark of the saga, The Chamber of Secrets outlines the dark tones of it. It’s with The prisoner of Azkaban, assigned to Alfonso Cuaron, that the movie canons are modified and, therefore, the characteristics of the soundtrack: the informal and contemporary customs turn into the possibility to embellish the sound with jazz and valzer influences, still always maintaining an ironic and adventurous touch. The suggestion of Star Wars is also alive in this tale, particularly in the Quidditch matches, that recall the space battles themes. Even though the soundtracks of the following chapters are not signed by John Williams, it is unquestionable his influence, imprinted in his exclusive prerogative: the enchantment.
Daniela Addea – Translated by Beatrice Birolo