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Does the Fedora Still Fit?: Kingdom of the Crsytal Skull after 10 Years


Nick Parker
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Can you guys believe it? A decade since the last Indiana Jones has passed. I had just become a stone-hard fan of John Williams at the time, and this was my first new score from the Maestro. I had little comparisons to make at the time, not even to the past three scores, as the trilogy would not be widely available until November of that year. Even with that, and the fact that I was only in high school at the time, I knew that a new Indiana Jones was a huge deal! But as it would transpire, it would also be my introduction to the world of Internet opinions...

 

Over the past decade, it's become pretty established in popular opinion that Skull is the weakest of all them, with its status as a motion picture on its own terms often questioned...many if not most aspects of the movie have been derided to varying degrees, and I think many would agree that John Williams was the one to come out of the ordeal with the least amount of scrapes. But what does that mean to you guys? Did he do the least bad job out of everyone, or did he actually create something worthwhile out of the mess? It was Skull that introduced me to JWFan, and I seem to recall the merits of the score being pretty hotly contested. On one hand, you'd have those saying that the score is a weak and limp effort to match the movie, either a sign of John Williams' boredom, or a sad reminder of our beloved Maestro's aging. On the other, a fitting score that showed that John Williams still knew how to crack the whip.

 

Just a few questions to potentially kick off the conversation:

 

What makes a successful Indiana Jones score to you? Did Williams recapture those elements, the "spirit", etc., and if so, were they fleeting moments, or something more substantial? How much do you think the film impacted the quality and style of the score; is the score a case of Williams delivering what he thought the film needed, or more a reflections of his sensibilities in the 21st century? And lastly as a jumping-off question: has the score been the case of a watch that has become a (not quite) priceless relic? Has time warmed you to it, or has it crusted the doors of your heart? How did you feel about it then, compared to now?

 

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The score has its highs, but also contains some of my least favourite Williamsisms. The material for Irina and the Russians is all top notch and the Skull theme is vintage Indy (with a great concert arrangement). But Mutt's theme is not my jam, and the unfocused light action writing of cues like "A Whirl Through Academe" and "The Snake Pit" don't really do it for me. "Jungle Chase" is fantastic though.

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I think each of the first three Indy scores had a personality that was recognizably theirs, Williams' delivered a score that was appropriate for the film. I don't think it's ever simply the case that Williams was uninspired when he wrote the score, I think everything comes down to the original idea and plot that affords a unique score and a forceful director.

 

What is clear from the bts docos is that the idea of another Indy film wasn't in either Spielberg's or Lucas' mind and that what was a driving factor in producing it was nostalgia, nostalgia for a period where both filmmakers were in their prime and doing what they loved. 

 

 

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36 minutes ago, Arpy said:

nostalgia for a period where both filmmakers were in their prime and doing what they loved. 

 

Lucas never had a “prime”. He made one good movie in his career; he earned his name mostly for producing.

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I like Adventures Of Mutt, Whirl Through Academe and the concert version of Marion's Theme that we got as a result of this movie.  Everything else about the movie and score is uninteresting.

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The first three Indiana Jones films are easily some of my favourite films with some of my favourite scores by my very favourite composer.

The fourth one is... well... not.

 

Ultimately it fails to me for two reasons:

- It is all strangely "fluffy", like it doesn't really have all that much to say

- "Aliens" made for an odd sci-fi vibe that isn't a good fit at all for the Indy I know

 

Both can easily be attributed to the film itself, which was deeply flawed even from a conceptual stage.

The result is probably the most "meh" adventure score that I've ever heard from John Williams.

It is not actually bad, but it falls tremendously short of what could have been...

 

There is definitely good stuff in there too though, especially the alternate ending to The Jungle Chase.

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Never liked the score very much, but I've been a defender of the movie ever since it came out. Despite a couple of obvious flaws.

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8 hours ago, Arpy said:

I think each of the first three Indy scores had a personality that was recognizably theirs, Williams' delivered a score that was appropriate for the film.

 

Are you meaning to say that Skull doesn't have as much of its own identity? Ultimately, to be clear, I like the score more than I dislike it, for sure (for reasons I'll expound upon in this post or maybe later). But with the newer Star Wars scores, I'm beginning to sense a certain...uniformity in how Williams has been scoring films for a while. 

 

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying there has never been bleed through in his music across films before (even in his so-called Golden Age), or that the actual quality of the music he writes has decreased in decades gone by. (My favorite period of Williams is probably the 2000's). But I feel with the past Star Wars or Indy scores, there was a special, pervasive energy that felt reserved for those films. Like where others he would take at 80, 90%,  he would take these ones at 100%. Not in terms of quality, again, but a certain energy.

 

I believe the 90's was Williams' last decade of being a film composer...starting from the 2000's, I feel like John Williams became like any other "outside" musician that is called upon to do a movie score, like Daft Punk for Tron Legacy as an example...they deliver "their" sound for the film, rather than attempting to contort their sensibilities to match the project in question, as is the norm in movie scoring...it just so happens that Williams' particular idiom has been greatly shaped by his experience in Hollywood.

 

So while yes, you'll hear Williams do things in Tintin that you won't hear in The Post, The Force Awakens in Lincoln, ultimately I hear "John Williams" more than I do "War Horse" or "The Last Jedi", "Book Thief", etc.

 

This might be more "black and white" than I intend,  and by no means am I wanting this to cap off the conversation...just feelings I wanted to articulate. 

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There's some good stuff in there! I used to listen to the shit out of KOTCS, and I dug the first half or so of the movie

 

The (complete) Jungle Chase is still great

 

 

And the finale suite is outstanding

 

 

I wish they kept the more obvious theremin present in the score, instead of what we got -even if it's done before by Williams, it would have added a great deal or personality

 

 

 

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10 minutes ago, Philippe Roaché said:

It's an inverted Ark of the Covenant theme.

 

And the chords for the Droids' escape pod, and for BB8s map...

 

Really, when a gesture is so pervasive through a composer's body of work (think of Horner's "danger" gesture) it becomes tricky to think of them as themes; they're more a stylistic device; in this case, one that evokes a sense of mystery much more so than relate to the Skull, the Ark or the map - its just a suggestion of the unknown nature of those narrative elements.

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45 minutes ago, Philippe Roaché said:

The Crystal Skull theme is terrible. Vintage Williams? It's an inverted Ark of the Covenant theme.

 

Zzzz...

 

Except for the rhythm, I hear no similarity to an inverted Ark Theme. The intervals and harmonics are very different.

 

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37 minutes ago, Chen G. said:

 

And the chords for the Droids' escape pod, and for BB8s map...

 

Really, when a gesture is so pervasive through a composer's body of work (think of Horner's "danger" gesture) it becomes tricky to think of them as themes; they're more a stylistic device; in this case, one that evokes a sense of mystery much more so than relate to the Skull, the Ark or the map - its just a suggestion of the unknown nature of those narrative elements.

 

Again, the chords are different. The crystal skull Motiv is just a Tritonus (f h f), with the clarinet filling out to a diminished chord. Very simple. 

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I believe all those gestures are closly related: Williams often uses tritones, sometimes major and sometimes minor, to evoke mystery. I wouldn't call it a theme for anything.

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4 hours ago, Jay said:

Good score that was not represented well by its poor OST program.

Stupid, pointless film.

 

Thanks, Jay, that really does sum it all up.

 

 

 

 

 

58 minutes ago, Gurkensalat said:

 

Again, the chords are different. The crystal skull Motiv is just a Tritonus (f h f), with the clarinet filling out to a diminished chord. Very simple. 

 

Am I missing something? "h"?

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56 minutes ago, Richard said:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Am I missing something? "h"?

 

Ah, right, in English it is called a „b“.  So „ f b f“ or „f c flat f“. 

 

 

1 hour ago, Chen G. said:

I believe all those gestures are closly related: Williams often uses tritones, sometimes major and sometimes minor, to evoke mystery. I wouldn't call it a theme for anything.

 

A Tritone is defined by 3 whole tones. So there is no major or minor tritone, just a tritone, the „diabolus in Musica“.  I do not hear this, at least not prominently, in the other examples you mentioned (sorry, have no score for those).

 

I think the „call of the crystal“ theme consists of 2 parts: first the mentioned rising tritone motiv, second the slithering clarinet phrase that follows. He uses these components in a very thematic fashion in the score. 

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Personally, I found both the movie and score to be very "meh".

 

The movie isn't nearly as bad as some make it out to be; a good deal of its flaws are largely superficial. That being said, it's a needless, mediocre effort from Spielberg, and more of a miss than a hit.

 

The score, sadly, just isn't very good. Irina's material is pretty underwhelming, and the action stuff isn't nearly as captivating as Williams' past entries. However, I did really enjoy "The Adventures of Mutt" and the concert suite for Marion's theme.

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1 hour ago, Gurkensalat said:

A Tritone is defined by 3 whole tones. So there is no major or minor tritone, just a tritone, the „diabolus in Musica“.  I do not hear this, at least not prominently, in the other examples you mentioned (sorry, have no score for those).

 

I think the „call of the crystal“ theme consists of 2 parts: first the mentioned rising tritone motiv, second the slithering clarinet phrase that follows. He uses these components in a very thematic fashion in the score. 

 

According to Doug Adams:

 

Quote

a two-chord sequence used in a couple of important spots in the first score, such as the flight of the droids’ escape pod to Tatooine.[...]In the concert version of “The Throne Room,” Williams again uses tri-tone separated chords[...]Williams [also] uses triads ([this time] in minor chords) separated by a tri-tone to evoke the unknown mysteries of the Ark of the Covenant in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

 

The tritones are, to notions of mystery in a William's score, what those four notes are to notions of danger in a Horner score.

 

Its not a leitmotif - its a Williams-ism.:lol:

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4 hours ago, Nick Parker said:

 

Are you meaning to say that Skull doesn't have as much of its own identity? Ultimately, to be clear, I like the score more than I dislike it, for sure (for reasons I'll expound upon in this post or maybe later). But with the newer Star Wars scores, I'm beginning to sense a certain...uniformity in how Williams has been scoring films for a while. 

Crystal Skull's score has an identity, but not much of a personality. I like individual pieces from the score, and overall I don't think it's a bad score by any means. 

 

Raiders' personality is in the action and adventure, in the fanfares and heroics, Temple has an eastern infusion in the instrumentation and is darker, more percussive and tribalistic. Crusade I associate with the strings that represent Vienna and the brass fanfares for the Nazis. I guess Skull's personality/tone is a mish-mash of the other three scores.

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Meh. The score's OK, if not a somewhat dispiriting listen.

 

The movie is unwatchable. I don't even consider it part of the series.  If I never watch it again, it will be too soon.

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2 hours ago, JohnSolo said:

Personally, I found both the movie and score to be very "meh".

 

The movie isn't nearly as bad as some make it out to be; a good deal of its flaws are largely superficial. That being said, it's a needless, mediocre effort from Spielberg, and more of a miss than a hit.

 

The score, sadly, just isn't very good. Irina's material is pretty underwhelming, and the action stuff isn't nearly as captivating as Williams' past entries. However, I did really enjoy "The Adventures of Mutt" and the concert suite for Marion's theme.

 

This is the closest we'll ever come to agreeing.

 

The film and score are mainly boring and pointless.

 

Marion's Theme concert version didn't really do it for me.

 

Mutt's concert piece is fun.

 

Spielberg was rusty as all hell when he made this. His fate was sealed.

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@Loert, you've raised a very interesting point! So many OSTs sound awful, but the expanded/complete/leaked scores sound brilliant, which forces the question: what went wrong with the OSTs?

I assume that JW chose and sequenced the cues on KOTCS? If so, one could ask the question: what the f was he thinking?! Is that really how he wants his music represented, on CD?

What governs the choices of cues?

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19 minutes ago, Richard said:

What governs the choices of cues?

 

Williams always says that he attempts to craft the OST into something akin to a concert. So he occasionally gets it wrong. Happens.

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14 hours ago, Chen G. said:

 

According to Doug Adams:

 

 

The tritones are, to notions of mystery in a William's score, what those four notes are to notions of danger in a Horner score.

 

Its not a leitmotif - its a Williams-ism.:lol:

 

Tritones are part of the classical musical language since mit 19th century. If something does not qualfy as a motif or theme because it is based on or containing a tritone, then you could claim the same about anything containing a major or minor chord. Or another interval. The argument does not hold. A tritone is just an interval, an musical building block for Motivs an Themes, and has been used by many other composers. The crystal motif is constructed from this interval, forming a larger entity.

 

in contrast, Horners danger Motiv, that he stole from the beginning of Rachmaninovs 1st symphony, is constructed from minor seconds.

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That's not what I'm saying.

 

What I'm saying is that Williams' use of tritones to denote the unknown is a stylistic device, rather than a narrative one. 

 

Its something that future scholars will point to as part of John Williams "style".

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I was more enthusiastic about the score when it first came out, but now the Jungle Chase is really the only part that interests me (and ironically the best parts of that aren't on the album).

 

The less said about the film the better. They spewed so much self-congratulatory nonsense about using old-fashioned techniques for the action scenes instead of CGI... then proceeded to do the exact opposite.

 

Unlike with the chase sequences in Crusade where it was fun, but also a genuine sense of peril (especially with the Venice set piece), KotCS seemed to be almost slapstick, with Indy et al never seeming to be in any genuine danger. I can remember watching in the cinema when the UFO takes off at the end and having a slight sense of disbelief.

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14 minutes ago, Richard Penna said:

Unlike with the chase sequences in Crusade where it was fun, but also a genuine sense of peril (especially with the Venice set piece),

 

Yes!

 

Film is the art of contrast, and if an action scene is registering no threat at all, its also not going to be nearly as exhilirating. It can be both perilous and enjoyable.

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4 hours ago, Brundlefly said:

The Skull Theme is great because it's minimalistic like Jaws.

 

I disagree. Williams was quite minimalistic in that era. Longer melodies as motifs didn't seem to be as common. Rather, one-off passages that could be great themes to carry a score were all over his scores. Voldemort, pre-crime, arrival at Tatooine etc. were gloriously minimalistic motives. The skull theme on the other hand is just boring to me.

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