A to Z Challenge: J (John Williams’ film scores)

*Read John Williams’ biography here

Jurassic Park
This 1993 film was another collaboration with Steven Spielberg. This, the first of five movies, is based on the Michael Crichton novel of the same name. It’s set on an island near Costa Rica where a billionaire philanthropist and his team of genetic scientists have created a dinosaur wildlife park. Industrial sabotage causes a shutdown of the park’s power upon which the site’s security relies and a group of visitors struggle to survive and escape the island. The movie stars Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Attenborough and Samuel L. Jackson.

It was only a month from when John Williams started to compose the score until it was recorded. He said he felt he needed to write “pieces that would convey a sense of awe and fascination” given it dealt with the “overwhelming happiness and excitement” that would come from seeing living dinosaurs. Naturally, the suspenseful scenes when the dinosaurs attack required more frightening themes.

The first phrase (heard most frequently) is my favourite – the Theme from Jurassic Park. It’s first heard when the visitors see the Brachiosaurus (the long necked grass eating dinosaurs). Williams describes the music as “gentle religioso cantilena lines” which were an attempt to “capture the awesome beauty and sublimity of the dinosaurs in nature”. This theme is widely regarded as one of his greatest compositions.

A second theme is a noble fanfare first heard when the helicopter approaches the island. This, along with the Theme, are reused so they become the overarching theme for the park itself, to “convey the beauty of what the visitors were seeing”.

The third theme is very different and comprises four menacing notes. It’s heard most often in scenes involving carnivorous dinosaurs (like the raptors). Williams drew inspiration from his previous suspenseful music like the shark theme from Jaws.

I absolutely love this music and encourage you to listen to the full Theme from Jurassic Park (the clip below). The swell of the music is uplifting and beautiful. I can’t listen to this music without smiling. That’s good music. Does this music cheer you up? Inspire you? Make you smile?

6 comments on “A to Z Challenge: J (John Williams’ film scores)

  1. This came out when I was in college. When I was in college, I played in the band and took oboe lessons. The oboe teacher was a professor who also taught music appreciation and film music. (I took his film music class just for fun.) The professor thing was a good, steady gig for a musician.

    He also played on film scores. He had gotten in to that, but the work was unsteady. He explained how the whole thing worked. Did you know that the musicians pretty much sight read those? They get a run through, and then they’re recording it.

    Why tell you all this? During one of my oboe lessons, he told me all about playing on this score. It was a two or three day gig, but he couldn’t make the second day as he had classes. (He wasn’t playing on as many film scores as in the past due to conflicts, but he was okay with that as the professor gig paid the bills.) It was before the movie came out, and if you recall, they were very careful with showing the dinosaurs. They wanted the public to see them for the first time at the showing. So, during the recording sessions, the dinosaurs were blanked out. That was the thing that stood out to him.

    I have not talked to him since I graduated, so I have no idea if he still does film scores. I do know he’s still a professor at that university.

    • That’s fascinating, Liz. Did he comment on what he thought of the music during recording? Those musicians must be really, really good to pretty much sight read for the recording! As you’d know, it isn’t just enough to be able to play the part, it’s playing it with the orchestra and getting the balance right, and unison and harmony and… That’s skill.

      • No, he didn’t say too much of the music. Just that he was kind of disappointed he only got to play one day.

        Keeping proper intonation, playing the right volume, these are things that all musicians learn when playing in groups. It was stuff that I learned in high school band. The director keeps tempo, and the player needs to stay with them. It gets easier the longer one does it. From what I understand, professional orchestras don’t rehearse too much before performances. The musicians are supposed to be able to play in a group pretty well by then.

        • My band practices for ages (although we are a community band – definitely not professional). But a friend of mine plays professionally and they practice – perhaps not as much as us, but they definitely practice more than once!

  2. This is a great one. My younger son played it in middle school band, but it didn’t sound quite so masterful 😉

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