A lovely night with Williams’s score, Ford’s performance, iconic scenes… there are no bad dates here!
Raiders of the Lost Ark is the quintessential action-adventure film. One could confidently claim that it is the greatest action-adventure film of all time! There is nothing about Steven Spielberg’s 1981 classic that isn’t famous — the giant boulder, the snakes, the hat & whip, every single line of dialogue, Marion’s alcohol tolerance, the airfield fist fight, the melting faces, poisoned dates, and so on. Yet, one component of the film is arguably more iconic than all the rest: John Williams’s score. The awe-inspiring, galloping main theme that nearly all humans can identify is a benchmark against which all other adventure film music is compared, and it is the basis for which this amazing night at the San Francisco Symphony exists!
The evening’s conductor, Emil de Cou, took the stage, and, within thirty seconds, the orchestra struck up the first notes while the faded blue 1981 Paramount Pictures logo glowed on the hanging screen above, which then dissolved to reveal a similarly-shaped rock formation… zoom down, and, just like that, we were well on our journey! It’s a treat to revisit a beloved movie and notice the smallest details you didn’t notice the previous …twelve… times you’ve seen the film. For me, watching Raiders of the Lost Ark this time was all about paying extra attention to Karen Allen’s brilliant performance as Marion Ravenwood. She is the perfect counterpunch to Indiana Jones, equally as bold and intelligent, and never becoming a distracting damsel-in-distress insofar as doing so would take Indy away from his primary objective of tracking down the ark. For my friends in attendance who hadn’t been to a film series at the San Francisco Symphony before, the fun mid-movie realization that the music is being performed live is the biggest takeaway. One of my friends described it as “crazy” and the other as “dope as f-ck.” The latter isn’t the refined sentiment you would normally associate with the symphony, but it aptly describes these film nights.
To say that the John Williams score for Raiders of the Lost Ark is the key to feeling the film’s adventure is a gross understatement. The film isn’t anything without the music, and vice versa. Scenes and score within Spielberg-Williams partnerships are more interwoven and symbiotic than in any other film partnership in history. The horseback-riding thrills of the “Desert Chase” track make the intricate action sequence flow with fun, suspense, and physical impact. Meanwhile, the tenderness of “Marion’s Theme” complements the bombastic brass-filled action themes with romantic strings and exotic chord progressions. Give the soundtrack a listen on its own, and see how often you envision the endless number of memorable sequences from the film. Then, quickly get tickets to the final two showings (Fri. 4/14 and Sat. 4/15) so you can experience the perfect pairing for the soundtrack: the film itself.