The Good, The Bad & The Badass: John Williams
Has there ever been a composer as beloved as John Williams? As a kid who grew up as a film score aficionado, I always wavered between Williams, Jerry Goldsmith and John Barry as my favorites. While Barry will always be known for his 007 work and Goldsmith also leaves a tremendous legacy, Williams is probably the best, maybe even better than the Golden Age of Hollywood composers he idolized like Max Steiner and Erich Wolfgang Korngold.
If you go back and look at Williams' filmography, what's striking is how it really took him hooking up with Steven Spielberg to bring the best out of him. While he was already an Oscar-winner for FIDDLER ON THE ROOF and a multiple nominee before he met Spielberg, the rush of amazing scores really kicked-off with JAWS, and from there he was on a creative streak that's been going for forty years now. There's all the classic Spielberg/George Lucas collaborations, but there's also amazing efforts for movies like John Frankenheimer's BLACK SUNDAY (his scoring of the blimp scene is marvellous), SUPERMAN – THE MOVIE, BORN OF THE FOURTH OF JULY, JFK, THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK, and so many more. Williams' music is so indelibly tied to so many people's sense of cinema that it's not overstating things to say he's one of the most important people to ever work in the industry – and a titan whose legend will likely not ever be overshadowed. This week, Williams returns to “A Galaxy Far, Far Away” to contribute a score to STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS, and I bet fans are just as excited to hear his new themes are they are to see Harrison Ford wield a blaster as Han Solo.
While Williams has done innumerable amazing scores, I don't think it's a stretch to say he'll always be best known for his work on the original STAR WARS trilogy. His scores for the prequels are also first-rate, but nothing can hold a candle to the highly thematic work he contributed to those first three films, the scores of which have gone down as some of the most immediately recognizable of all-time. The STAR WARS theme, The Imperial March, Princess Leia's theme, etc – all are incredibly memorable. I'd wager that without Williams' themes the movies might never have become what they wound up being, with his contributions being just as important as George Lucas' own. For evidence, look no further than the original STAR WARS teaser trailer – minus Williams' score.
While his scores for the HARRY POTTER films are beloved among a certain age of cinema-goers, to me the scores – while fine – don't hold a candle to Williams' best work. Granted, they all have that distinct Williams sound, but they're not among his most memorable compositions – not to me anyways. In fact, I'd wager one of Williams' better, recent scores is his little noted work for the Roland Emmerich movie THE PATRIOT, although that's one nobody really celebrates anymore with the film generally being poorly regarded in hindsight (although I have a soft spot for it).
There's a reason Steven Spielberg has always sworn by John Williams, as the composer has never, ever, let him down even when working on tough material. Such is the case of Spielberg's often neglected EMPIRE OF THE SUN, with Williams contributing some incredible themes to what's an epic child's eye view of war, with the music suggesting both wonder of a child's perspective and the ultimate horror of war.
E.T – THE EXTRA TERRESTRIAL is the first movie I can recall seeing theatrically (I believe it was during the 1987 re-release). One of the most memorable moments of my childhood came as I watched Elliot and his gang of kids take to the skies on their bikes thanks to E.T, with Williams' soaring score being so powerful that it to this day it still gives me goosebumps.
While his duties on STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS meant he had to sit out Spielberg's BRIDGE OF SPIES, Williams is back on the docket for “The Bearded One's” THE BFG and presumably will also score the next non spin-off STAR WARS.
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