Steven Spielberg and George Lucas took a different direction with Indiana Jones in the sequel to 1981’s “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. For one, the film is actually a prequel, with the action taking place in 1935, mainly set in India (after a short prelude in China). This was apparently to avoid using the Nazis again as the villains – which necessitated a time shift to before the war.
In addition, the mood was distinctly darker, and involved themes and plot devices such as human sacrifice and wholesale abduction of children. So the music needed to be similarly darker in tone.
The score and indeed film opens with an extended and thrilling introduction which suddenly bursts gloriously into a slightly Chinese version of Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes” It is wonderfully over the top, and perhaps sets the scene for the film as a whole – it is perhaps telling us that in this film, anything goes. But don’t take it too seriously! This was my first hearing of any Cole Porter music, and I can’t hear the original now without hearing in my mind the little Chinese embellishments which Williams gave it.
Following this voluptuous opening, we are treated in the film to some of John Williams’ wonderful action cues, as Indy brawls in the nightclub and tries to escape with the vial of anti-venom after being poisoned by the double-crossing Lao Che. The music is more disjointed than many of the cues in the first Indiana Jones film, and this is maybe to show Indy’s growing confusion as the poison takes hold.
The next cue, Fast Streets of Shanghai, is the first major new cue in the film, in that it gives us a glimpse of one of the wonderful new themes Williams composed for the film, for Indy’s young sidekick, Shortround. You can hear it at about 00:17 below. It’s a beautiful little theme, encapsulating the boy’s Chinese background and his innocence. It is heard in fuller version later in the score. This piece meanwhile ends with a building statement of the famous Indy theme (otherwise known as the Raiders March). It is a truly joyous piece, and after the slightly unusual opening to the film, returns us to comfortable territory.
The next piece, Map/Out of Fuel, gives us the next new major theme, this time for Willie Scott. It is a swooping, surprisingly classical theme. It is heard for the first time at 00:34. Again, it will be developed further later in the score.
Williams is masterful in the way he is able to tie this theme into the following cue, called Slalom on Mt Humol. It shines out every so often from the rather chaotic and rhythm driven body of the cue, such as at 00:44, and then at 1:03. This piece comes to a beautifully satisfying conclusion as the music turns mysterious, and slightly sinister, ending with the appearance on the shore of a strange elder, accompanied by the beautiful sounds of the sithar.
On the album, Short Round’s Theme (which gives us the fullest version of the wonderful new theme) actually accompanies the intrepid travellers as they set off on elephant back for the Palace of Pankot to try to find the abducted children. The theme is actually made of two distinct sections. Both have the feel of a Chinese melody, using intervals which are often found in music of the region. Melody 1 is a courageous melody often given to the horns and brass, which climbs up the scale. It is heard at 1:03. The secondary theme is made up of much smaller intervals, and has a distinctly childlike vibe. It is heard often in the woodwind, and gives the theme a lightness of touch which is instantly appealing.
There are many other highlights of the score, with some hidden gems which have only really been discovered since the release of the full score a few years ago. One such is the theme for Pankot Palace, which has a suggestion of the Knight’s Dance from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. It’s a wonderful pompous piece which somehow also communicates mystery and hidden terrors. Listen to it at 1:50 below. The whole piece is a wonderful example of Williams absolute mastery of orchestral colours and textures.
I am going to skip ahead to the other major new theme of this film, which is “Slave Children’s Crusade”. It shares some of its DNA with the Battle of Hoth music from the Empire Strikes Back, but is richer melodically. The brass melody which comes in after the introduction is surely one of Williams’ best writing for the Indiana Jones films. It is triumphant, imbued with a sense of the Indian setting, and has a forward momentum which Williams so excels at in his marches. The secondary theme for this, a swirling figure for the strings, only adds to the ethnic vibes, and then of course the maestro puts the two themes together, at 00:57. The strings now swirl over the brass melody. It’s a wonderful piece of writing.
I want to point your attention finally to the End Credits. John Williams is a master of creating cohesive end credits which act as a sort of summary of the main themes which have gone before. This one is no exception, but it has a rather lovely surprise.
After the initial statement of the Raiders March, it is repeated, but this time, Short Round’s theme is played over the top. It is a simple little trick which is easy to miss, but shows yet again why John Williams is so revered. Then we have a martial iteration of the Slave Children’s Crusade March, which sounds all the more wonderful here as it is truly allowed to shine. Then we have a rendition of Short Round’s Theme, followed by a luscious playing of Willie’s Theme. This leads finally back into the Raider’s March, ending with a blaze of glory.
And so ends the film, until next time. For the next film in the franchise, Lucas and Spielberg would return to the Nazis for their master villains, and John Williams would write some of the very best music of the franchise. But more on that later…