John Williams and Steven Spielberg. Two names that will warm the hearts of any lover of film or music out there. But then you combine them and get a humongous string of great collaborations. Besides Alfred Hitchcock and Bernard Herrmann there’s probably no director/composer combo more famous than the one that gifted the world with “E.T. – The Extra-Terrestrial”, “Jaws” and “Jurassic Park” among many others. Williams is a legend, a film composer whose work constantly gets performed live on stage e.g. on the Krakow Film Music Festival, where in two weeks musical selections from “Star Wars” will be performed live – a year after 15.000 people enjoyed “Raiders of The Lost Ark” being performed live to the full film. Spielberg’s status shouldn’t be dismissed either, for he constantly shapes the world of cinema, be it with the earth-shattering effects of “Jurassic Park” or the heart wrenching storytelling of “E.T.”.
Naturally, there are many albums dedicated their run-time to the countless milestones. The “John Williams – 40 Years Of Film Music” compilation by PRIMETIME filled two of its four CDs only with the maestro’s music for Spielberg movies, for example.
Filled to the brim with astounding music
Now SONY CLASSICAL has released another four Disc set just for Williams/Spielberg-scores. The fourth features a short documentary about the pair (not subject of this review), but the other three are filled to the brim with astounding music. Some films are featured with up to four tracks while other only show up with a short theme. This means, that some films don’t appear at all. “War Of The Worlds”, “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” and “A.I. – Artificial Intelligence” are nowhere to be found, instead however, we get one cue twice and another one from “Raiders Of The Lost Ark”. This is really no jab against “Raiders”, because “Marion’s Theme” is a wonderful theme, but the question raises, whether it was really necessary to include on the cost of three movies not featured on a three-disc set at all, since there are a lot of “Indiana Jones” cues already. One could easily have spared “Marion’s Theme”, one of the three(!) “Catch Me if You Can” pieces and the alternate take of “With Malice Towards None” to include a cue of each missing film to have their entire career presented. It’s called “The ULTIMATE Collection” for crying out loud!
As mind-boggling as this business is, it can’t be denied that what we do get, is still magnificent.
The journey kicks off with the famous “Raiders March”, splendidly performed by the Boston Pops Orchestra. In fact, the Boston Pops plays the entire first two CDs, since those are re-releases of older volumes of a “Best Of Spielberg/Williams”. For 2017, the Recording Arts Orchestra Of Los Angeles stepped in.
However, no matter which orchestra is playing, they all play their money’s worth! Reasonably, not everything will sound “just like in the movie!” because “duh!”. The recording of “Adventures On Earth” from “E.T.” for example lacks a bit of impact during the deep brass blows in the first two minutes, but this is only a very small gripe.
Another thing that needs to be positively addressed is the selection of cues from each score. The pieces chosen are great representatives of their full works, each at least having the most memorable theme. Especially in the case of “Hook” it is a major improvement over the mentioned “40 Years of Film Music” set which featured a “Hook” suite with no appearance of the beautiful flying-theme whatsoever. Of course, “Hook” is just full of amazing themes and the suite was not bad at all, but the lacking of that theme was a bummer. Thankfully, the Ultimate Collection makes no such mistake. The inclusion of the concert suite of the flying themes from both “Hook” and “E.T.” make this set attractive even for people who own the actual albums of both scores. In addition to that, many scores have a wide array of tracks on the albums. This may have been mentioned as a kind-of negative before, since this overabundance of certain scores lead the exclusion of others. Thus, it should again be noted, that the first two discs of the set are older releases. Back then the space could be spared and who is seriously going to complain when not only get the Main Theme from “Schindler’s List”, but the heartbreaking “Remembrances” as well?
There also is a wonderful variety in styles, not only due to the different genres. Of course, you’ll get diversity when you have cues from scores so vastly different like “Jaws” and “Catch Me If You Can”, yet it doesn’t stop there. It’s not only concert suites of the most beautiful themes, from some scores, there are action cues selected (the wonderful “Barrel Chase” from Jaws” or Tintin’s energetic “The Duel”) and their placement between the suites and calmer tracks is superb. Despite listening to something that is more akin to a classical “Best of”, the experience is still the one of a film score. When “My Friend The Brachiosaurus” follows up “The Barrel Chase” you do notice, they are from two different films, but the flow is still entirely organic.
Only the third disc feels a bit disjointed, which, again, comes down to the fact that the first two discs dedicate multiple tracks to some scores. You still get some sense of thematic narrative from those first two discs, since some themes and motives from “E.T.”, “Jaws”, “Hook”, “Schindler’s List”, “Close Encounters” etc. appear quite a few times with no place on the third disc. This might seem contradictory to the original sentiment of “too many tracks from certain scores”, but the “disjointed” feel of the third disc is no serious problem. Just something that can be noted when listening to the whole set in one session. It just sounds like the third wheel on your bicycle, but if that wheel is one of the most beautifully crafted wheels of all time, you gladly accept that that wheel has a slightly different color-scheme, just as you will accept this totally ham fisted allegory.
And a beautiful wheel it is! The third disc, that is. From the raunchy “The Adventures Of Mutt” over the childlike innocence of “The BFG” to the emotional “Immigration And Building” the third disc is a worthy overview of the last decade of Williams & Spielberg! A special treat is the “Catch Me If You Can” suite made up out of three stellar movements telling the story of the whole film in condensed form!
Recommended for anyone with functioning ears
Above it was mentioned, that this set is a treat for avid Williams-collectors, but don’t fret if you don’t own any scores at all, because this will prove itself an excellent starting point! You have a wonderful collection of famous movie themes at hand. You can patiently take a listen into so many scores of the maestros’ career and then chose, what might be worth checking out in its entirety. And no matter which cue intrigues you the most, the full score behind that cue will most likely satisfy and open up a whole new other world for you!
This collection is a recommendation for any person who has functioning ears!
(The 4th disc contains a short documentary about the long collaboration of Spielberg and Williams, but was not viewed by the reviewer)