Soundtrack Review: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

IndianaJonesAndTheKingdomOfTheChrystalSkullSoundtrack2008.JPG

Composed and Conducted by: John Williams

Nearly two decades after Indiana Jones literally rode into the sunset with Last Crusade, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas decided to revisit the franchise, a move with its fair share of controversy since Harrison Ford was noticeably much, much older. Kingdom of the Crystal Skull has gotten mixed reviews, and is often cited as the worst movie in series. I have to agree that it’s the worst, but despite some serious flaws, especially its underwhelming last act, I think it’s an okay movie with some genuinely great scenes.

One of the most exciting aspects of Indiana Jones coming back was the return of John Williams, who at this point had just started to take it easier with his movie scoring schedule. As with his return to Star Wars, much time had elapsed since he scored Indiana Jones. Would his changed style of scoring affect how fun the score would be?

The main artifact theme, for the Crystal Skull, is virtually a reverse of the Ark of the Covenant theme. Instead of a series of descending three-note increments, it’s a repetition of ascending three notes, with a haunting melody to back it up. It’s not as powerful as the Ark theme, but it does manage to be very eerie, sometimes downright scary (check out “Oxley’s Dilemma”). There’s a great new theme for Irina Spalko and the Russian villains. “Irina’s Theme” is actually two themes in one. It’s not as militaristic as Williams’ themes for the Nazis in previous entries, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t good. Irina’s theme is old school, while a secondary motif for the Russians in general is utilized in the action scenes.

Supposedly Shia Labeouf’s Mutt character has his own theme. There’s even a concert arrangement track called “The Adventures of Mutt”. I say this is “supposedly” a theme because in the film itself it only appears in “Jungle Chase” and the end credits suite. A lot of the music does fit the same style, a lot of light-hearted whirling and racing strings and woodwinds. The concert arrangement itself contains part of the Indiana Jones theme, suggesting a further link between him and the film’s main protagonist.

Several themes from the previous movies make their return, though these references are underrepresented on album. The most obvious is Marion’s theme from Raiders of the Lost Ark, which is surprisingly underutilized despite her considerable presence in the film. One of the Grail themes from Last Crusade pops up a couple times, and the Ark theme makes two notable appearances in the opening sequence. As for the Indiana Jones theme itself, it is thankfully used frequently, but not to excess.

The album kicks off with “The Raiders March”, basically the end credits music from Raiders. Its presence is unfortunate. It seems to have been placed there for a nostalgia pop and just takes away space that could have been used for actual new music. Tracks 2 through 4 are concert arrangements of the new themes and motifs. “The Snake Pit” is the first of several light-hearted action cues. “The Spell of the Skull” starts off with the Ark of the Covenant theme and makes the first in-score reference to Irina’s theme. The rest of the track is tense suspense which isn’t terribly complex or thematic, but for some reason I really love it. “Journey to Akator” lifts part of Raiders’ “Escape from Peru” before delving into ethnic Latin American fare. “A Whirl Through Academe” is a scherzo from one of the film’s best scenes. “Return” is one of many tracks to focus heavily on the Crystal Skull theme.

“Jungle Chase” is the action highlight, reminiscent of “Desert Chase” and with plenty of references to the Irina and Mutt’s themes. “Grave Robbers” is an unusual foray into bone-rattling percussion, while tracks 13 through 15 feature dark exploration music. “Ants!” is a very interesting action cue, with a string march for a rather deadly swarm of ants backed by several of the themes. The beginning is notable for featuring string-plucking fragments of the Skull theme. “Temple Ruins and the Secret Revealed”, like the scene it accompanies, is rather underwhelming despite its simulation of an alien choir and a loud final reference to Irina’s theme. “The Departure” is much better, building up to a grand fanfare at its conclusion. “Finale” starts off with Marion’s theme before the Indiana Jones theme plays in full followed by an end credits suite.

The fourth Indiana Jones score is a good entry, though the weakest. It’s just as not as fun a ride as the other scores, perhaps because of the abundance of dark suspense and exploration. To be fair, this can be chalked up to the album’s presentation, which leaves out large chunks of the more energetic action music. The worst omission is the rest of “Jungle Chase”, which had more of Marion’s theme and an interesting use of the Russians motif. I say this album is worth looking up and even buying, but be warned, the magic of the other scores doesn’t come in that much.

Final Rating: (score) 8/10 (album) 7/10

Tracklisting

  1. Raiders March (5:05)
  2. Call of the Crystal (3:49)
  3. The Adventures of Mutt (3:12)
  4. Irina’s Theme (2:26)
  5. The Snake Pit (3:15)
  6. The Spell of the Skull (4:24)
  7. The Journey to Akator (3:07)
  8. A Whirl Through Academe (3:33)
  9. Return (3:11)
  10. The Jungle Chase (4:21)
  11. Orellana’s Cradle (4:22)
  12. Grave Robbers (2:28)
  13. Hidden Treasure and the City of Gold (5:13)
  14. Secret Doors and Scorpions (2:17)
  15. Oxley’s Dilemma (4:46)
  16. Ants! (4:14)
  17. Temple Ruins and the Secret Revealed (5:49)
  18. The Departure (2:26)
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