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Raiders of the Lost Ark
Album Cover Art
1985 Polydor
1995 Limited DCC
Album 2 Cover Art
1995 Regular DCC
Album 3 Cover Art
2008 Expanded Set
Album 4 Cover Art
Composed, Conducted, and Produced by:

Performed by:

Orchestrated by:
Herbert Spencer

1995 Albums Produced by:
Nick Redman

2008 Album Produced by:
Laurent Bouzereau
Labels Icon
Polydor (International)

DCC Compact Classics (CDs and LPs)
(November 29th, 1995)

Silva Screen (CD only)
(November 29th, 1995)

Concord Records (Set)
(November 11th, 2008)
Availability Icon
The 1985 Polydor albums were commercial products pressed (with idenitical contents and cover art) in several countries. Due to poor distribution in the U.S., many Americans ended up with the West German or Japanese pressings. This album sold for as much as $50 in the early 1990's after it fell out of print, but was devalued by the 1995 releases.

The regular commercial releases of 1995 featuring the white cover were pressed by DCC Compact Classics in America and Silva Screen in Great Britain. The first pressing of the DCC product in America came in a tan slip case, though the product underneath it was exactly the same. DCC also released the double-LP on 180 "virgin vinyl" at the same time. All of these 1995 products eventually fell out of print as well.

The 2008 set (called "The Soundtrack Collection") is a regular commercial product with a retail price of $60 but initally sold for $43 to $45 at primarily major online outlets.
Winner of a Grammy Award. Nominated for an Academy Award and a BAFTA Award.
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Availability | Awards | Viewer Ratings | Comments | Audio & Track Listings | Notes
Buy it... if you're looking to start a collection of John Williams' classic scores from the height of the Bronze Age, for Raiders of the Lost Ark is among both the best and most influential adventure works from that era.

Avoid it... on the 1995 CD album if you absolutely require more complete releases of the score, which just happen to exist on the concurrent double-LP set or the 2008 franchise CD set.
Review Icon
WRITTEN 9/27/96, REVISED 12/28/08
Raiders of the Lost Ark: (John Williams) Director Steven Spielberg confessed to actor Roger Moore in the late 1970's that he had significant interest in helming a future James Bond entry. Unfortunately, due to the rule that no director in the 007 franchise would receive a cut of the profits, a Spielberg necessity, the pairing was never destined to be realized. Instead, Spielberg met up with George Lucas in late 1977, after both had achieved massive success in the mainstream, and decided that the two would have to collaborate on a serial-like adventure at some point in the following years. That partnership would manifest itself in Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1981, with the James Bond character mutated into a rough but tough professor and archeologist, Indiana Jones. The dusty world of the late 1930's is the playground for stark contrasts between good and evil in the early years of the Indiana Jones franchise, and despite the impressive box office returns of all four films in that series, Raiders of the Lost Ark remains as the critical and popular favorite. Regardless of Paramount's attempts in the 2000's to change the name of this film to Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, don't let shameless marketing manipulation tarnish one of the greatest titles ever to bestow an adventure film. The production had everything you could ask for: the likable and believable hero, strong romantic chemistry, interesting secondary characters, an awesome combination of stunts and special effects, a touch of ancient history, the wrath of God, several hair-raising escapes from impossible situations, a genuine sense of humor, and, without a doubt, a classic score by John Williams. The composer was at the pinnacle of his career, enjoying a period from 1977 to 1983 when he could do little wrong, defining the Bronze Age of film music with his thematically memorable orchestral powerhouses for blockbuster movies. Williams' score for Raiders of the Lost Ark was among nine Academy Award nominations for Spielberg's picture, and the fact that Williams' score was not among the film's five Oscar wins remains a great source of frustration (Vangelis, who won for the soon badly dated Chariots of Fire, didn't even attend the ceremony; Raiders of the Lost Ark lost to Chariots of Fire in the major categories as well).

The spirit of Williams' style for Raiders of the Lost Ark is finely tuned to the adventuresome tone of the film's story, matching the exuberance of each of its scenes with the same precision of theme and emotion that would reinvent itself as "magic" in E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial the following year. The title march attracts the most obvious attention when the masses recall Raiders of the Lost Ark, but in reality the extremely effective and even catchy subthemes for the score are equally vital to the score's success. Still, it's the title march you hear in stadiums and in trailers for the following entries in the franchise; just as Monty Norman's theme for James Bond and Williams' theme for Darth Vader are engrained in pop culture as the most obvious musical representations of one serial movie character, the march for Indy Jones is worthy of the same distinction. The score is a rare occasion in which the entire package, with only a few small detriments in lesser cues, is better than the brightest moments of almost any other score. Williams so thoroughly nails the pulse of this picture, from the melodramatic awe of the Ark to the gritty rhythms of Jones resilience as he battles a convey of trucks, that Raiders of the Lost Ark is a cinematic experience much greater in both intensity and entertainment value because of Williams' contribution. Three major themes exist in the score, and the purpose of each is so clear that the composer would work all of them into sequels in the franchise. A variety of lesser motifs, including secondary phrases of these major themes, occupy significant roles in the work. There has long been speculation about additional motifs in Raiders of the Lost Ark, though while Williams does definitely conjure auxiliary ideas throughout the score, their direct application (for labeling purposes) remains open for debate. What isn't contested is the harmonic beauty of the score, especially in the themes for Marion Ravenwood and the Ark of the Covenant. Even the film's major action sequences (no less than four of which exist) offer exhilarating tonal structures and readily enjoyable rhythms, producing a consistently fluid experience on album. It was an era during which Williams' writing didn't contain as many complex layers, and the listener is rewarded with a very clean set of constructs not obscured by an excess of distracting orchestrations.

It is often because of this perfect blend of smart thematic ideas and their straightforward rendering that the early 1980's are remembered fondly by Williams fans and movie buffs alike. Unlike the Star Wars prequel scores, the three Harry Potter entries, and other major action and adventure works of the next decades by the maestro, Raiders of the Lost Ark doesn't hide its intentions in flurries of hyperactive secondary lines within the orchestra. It's a score that smacks you across the face with performances that occasionally even lack counterpoint, driving home the point in a particular scene with the same creative and resilient, but ultimately simplistic mentality of Dr. Jones himself (Williams ironically labored on the theme to great lengths, though). Some listeners might consider the title march to be rather sparse in performance for these exact reasons, but since Indy isn't a complicated fellow, the catchy brass theme is his most valuable sidekick. At the time of the film's debut, the lack of an overture performance of this theme meant that audiences didn't hear this identity until the finale of the film's first remarkable chase sequence. Only in the rolling of the "End Credits" did audiences hear the theme in the concert version so famous today because of its album releases in original and re-recorded form. After several redemptive renditions of theme starting at the one-minute mark in "Flight from Peru," the theme returns in significant parts of "Airplane Fight," "Desert Chase," "The German Sub," not to mention more subtle applications such as those in "Ark Trek" and the end of "To the Nazi Hideout." Perhaps the most effective uses of the theme come during the map sequences of the film, showing Jones' movements on plane and ship around the world. In "Journey to Nepal," "To Cairo," "To the Nazi Hideout," as well as similar map sequences extending all the way to Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, spirited fragments of both the title theme and others during these scenes are moments for Williams' music to shine, and it's also during these cues that the composer often inserts gong hits and other creative elements to suggest a culture change. The title theme's most glorious performance comes in "The German Sub," during which Williams pays tribute to Erich Wolfgang Korngold's sense of swashbuckling style with a pompous variation of the theme well suited for Jones' cheered submarine ride.

While "The Raiders March" (the title of its short overture translation on album) is the centerpiece of the score, film score fans may tend to find more residual enjoyment in the other two major themes of Raiders of the Lost Ark. The first comes with Marion and the obvious chemistry between her and Indy. Its structure, orchestration, and performance are remarkably similar to the love theme from Superman, and each of its appearances in Raiders of the Lost Ark is equally lovely. The theme is introduced at the very beginning of "Journey to Nepal," as her name is first mentioned, and it flourishes in its first major performance in the "To Cairo" travel cue as Marion and Indy join forces. The most abrasive performance of her theme comes at the end of "The Basket Game," with pulsating brass punctuating Indy's belief that Marion has died in a truck explosion (though a sensitive woodwind performance following helps sooth the lament). The scenes of Marion's imprisoned interactions in "Reunion and the Dig Begins" offer a few bright spots in an otherwise tense cue, and as she and Indy escape aboard ship, their first scene of suggested intimacy is provided with the closest performance to the concert arrangement in "Marion's Theme" (a cue struck short in the film by the burning of the Ark through its wooden box, scored by Williams with the most unpleasant dissonance of the entire work). Aside from the normal interlude to the march in "End Credits," Williams only suggests Marion's theme again on fleeting flute at the end of "The Miracle of the Ark" and in more assuring tones in the first thirty seconds of "The Warehouse," as our favorite duo departs the screen. This theme would return in 2008 during Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, with Marion's re-integration into the plotline served with several hints of her theme before her marriage to Indy in the final scene is served with a flourishing, gorgeous string performance not much unlike that in the "Marion's Theme" cue in Raiders of the Lost Ark. An abbreviated version of the concert arrangement for the theme would conclude the mid-section of the "End Credits" for the fourth film as well. Despite all of the attention afforded to the title march and love themes, however, neither offers the most powerful support of any theme in the film. That distinction develops for the Ark itself.

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Average: 4.29 Stars
***** 3,798 5 Stars
**** 1,263 4 Stars
*** 773 3 Stars
** 269 2 Stars
* 217 1 Stars
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How to make a 1CD set of RAIDERS
Mark Malmstrøm - November 16, 2009, at 4:23 p.m.
1 comment  (1883 views)
What double LP?   Expand >>
Muzik - May 1, 2008, at 10:54 p.m.
4 comments  (3608 views)
Newest: October 6, 2009, at 2:16 Mark Malmstrøm

Track Listings Icon
Audio Samples   ▼
1985 Polydor Albums Tracks   ▼Total Time: 40:14
• 1. Raiders of the Lost Ark (6:05)
• 2. Escape from Peru (2:26)
• 3. The Map Room: Dawn (3:58)
• 4. The Basket Game (4:50)
• 5. The Well of the Souls (5:00)
• 6. Desert Chase (7:44)
• 7. Marion's Theme (3:13)
• 8. The Miracle of the Ark (6:14)
• 9. The Raiders March (2:29)
1995 DCC/Silva CDs Tracks   ▼Total Time: 73:22
2008 Concord Set Tracks   ▼Total Time: 82:06

Notes Icon
The 1985 Polydor albums contain a note from Steven Spielberg (written in April, 1981) about the score. These albums also featured a general note about the film by an unknown author, as well as extensive information explaining what a CD actually is (oh, those lovely days of early CDs).

The 1995 DCC and Silva albums contain a 24-page booklet with the same note from Spielberg, a 1995 interview with Williams about the score (and industry in general), production sketches and photos, and lengthy commentary about each cue by Film Score Monthly editor Lukas Kendall. It has very little information about the assembly and remastering process of the albums.

The 2008 Concord set contains bloated packaging with extensive photography and short notes from the composer and director, but it surprisingly contains no analysis of the music itself.

Williams & Spielberg
Williams with Spielberg, 1982
Below is an excerpt from an interview with Spielberg in April, 1981, the second part of which was used in all the albums' notes.

"I really believe that John brought back a lost art which was one of the great achievements of the '30s and '40s. It all finally came to a full stop with the soundtrack of Easy Rider in 1969. That's when the 'needle-drop' soundtrack became popular, collages of old hit songs that made movies sound like top-40 radio stations. The last great old-style score before John was Spartacus in 1960, a film that represented the end of an era in several respects. Elliptical films, vignette films became popular, and the big entertainments that the movies had created to compete with television were over. I had to stop buying movie soundtrack albums because there weren't any I wanted to hear anymore!

Not too long ago, in a country not so far away, adventurer archeologist, Indiana Jones, embarked on an historically significant search for the Lost Ark of the Covenant. Joining him on this supernatural treasure hunt was the London Symphony Orchestra under the baton of composer John Williams. Were it not for many crucial bursts of dramatic symphonic accompaniment, Indiana Jones would surely have perished in a forbidding temple in South America or in the oppresive silence of the great Sahara desert. Nevertheless, Jones did not perish but listened carefully to the Raiders of the Lost Ark score. Its sharp rhythms told him when to run. Its slicing strings told him when to duck. Its several integrated themes told adventurer Jones when to kiss the heroine or smash the enemy. All things considered, Jones listened...and lived. John Williams saves yet another life and gives our picture, Raiders of the Lost Ark, a new, refreshing life of its own. Thanks, John."
Copyright © 1996-2015, Filmtracks Publications. All rights reserved.
The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten
or redistributed without the prior written authority of Christian Clemmensen at Filmtracks Publications. All artwork and sound clips from Raiders of the Lost Ark are Copyright © 1995, Polydor (International), DCC Compact Classics (CDs and LPs), Silva Screen (CD only), Concord Records (Set) and cannot be redistributed without the label's expressed written consent. Page created 9/27/96 and last updated 12/28/08.
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