Really, it’s almost pointless to speculate why John Williams never received an Oscar nomination for his score to Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park (1993). The composer’s CV features several of the most iconic scores in the history of movies with synchronized sound. Five of his projects – an adaptation of the music to the Broadway musical Fiddler on the Roof and four originals (JAWS (1975), Star Wars (1977), E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) and Schindler’s List (1993)) have won gold statuettes, and he has more nominations than anyone alive in the film business. (He recently moved up on the all-time list, sandwiched between reigning champ Walt Disney and his fellow composer and mentor Alfred Newman.)
Such is the praise for Williams that it’s tempting to avoid even posting more about his work for the year’s top blockbuster, and still one of the highest-grossing films of all time. But in the 20 years since the sterling Spielberg-Williams partnership has grown and changed, the music of Jurassic Park is an astounding throwback to a very different era for both men. It was Spielberg’s last blockbuster before his “serious” phase of Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan and last year’s Lincoln, and one of the last times Williams took his tried-and-true approach – lush, lyrical themes and soaring fanfares against the backdrop of often dazzling visual effects – and made it work in an original context. (Outside of three scores and an iconic theme for the Harry Potter film series, Williams’ biggest blockbuster scores are tied to familiar franchises, from Star Wars to, indeed, Jurassic Park.)
Perhaps to a certain generation, Jurassic‘s bag of tricks pale to the rush of the themes to Superman or Raiders of the Lost Ark – but it’s worth noting that the musical themes in a film about dinosaurs wreaking havoc in a zoo-like setting (a brilliant high-concept piece if ever there was one) are as poignant to modern viewers as the Star Wars themes were to their parents. I once observed a group of high schoolers selecting Jurassic Park in a video store, loudly emulating both the lilting five-note pattern of the film’s main theme and the whimsical secondary fanfare used to establish the park as they left with their film for the night. Like the low-end terror strings of JAWS or Raiders‘ triumphant march, this is a score that works.
And just as it’s a pleasure to see audiences gear up for a 3D reissue of the film this weekend – a new way to view a picture that’s lost little of its technical ecstasy or Spielbergian popcorn-film charm, even 20 years and two (soon to be three) sequels later – it’s a pleasure to see Williams’ iconic score gussied up in a newly-expanded edition (Geffen, no cat. #).
How does this new edition stack up? We investigate after the jump.
Like too many catalogue projects, particularly film score-based endeavors by major labels instead of the ambitious independent groups who thrive off their own archival work, it is not perfect. The decision to limit this reissue as a digital exclusive is well-intentioned – get the new generation, with their iPods and cell phones, hooked on a great film score! – but even the simplest of marketing minds might observe most money from soundtracks is spent by hardcore enthusiasts, quick to champion the quality of physical media over digital and quicker to point out issues as they arise. And there were issues: fans initially noted arbitrary full dropouts on two tracks (likely the product of badly converted files for sale; the problem was fixed quickly). Another lies in the well-intentioned but lacking digital booklet; the full liner notes (including new mastering credits) omit Spielberg’s original laudatory liner notes that typically accompany many classic John Williams albums.
These minor issues are, in some lights, a nuisance that takes away from the strengths of the package. Although the merits of such an endeavor can be questioned by compressing the music into a commercial digital file, the album presentation has been newly remastered not at the album master tape level, but from the multitrack sources. So what you hear is not merely a beefing-up of the original hourlong soundtrack but a real-live enhancement, bringing subtler counterpoints and passages to light in ways that weren’t heard before.
While this re-presentation keeps the confounding edits and combinations that occasionally made the original soundtrack perplexing (the track “Incident At Isla Nublar,” for instance, takes music from three separate action cues and combines them on one five-minutes-and-change track), the feeling is offset by the excitement of 11 extra minutes of unreleased score cues. Like the original tracks, these bonus cuts feature score from multiple scenes: “The Coming Storm,” for instance, features music from a sought-after action cue, a chase between a Jeep and the Tyrannosaurus rex, as well as haunting choir music underscoring the discovery of a fossilized mosquito in amber from much earlier in the picture. (The one non-composite bonus track is “Stalling Around,” a lighthearted cue from the “Mr. DNA” making-of-Jurassic-Park presentation shown in the film – getting its name from the Looney Tunes ambience throughout!)
Perhaps the release would have turned more heads had it come out on compact disc. But this special edition of Jurassic Park reminds listeners that this score, like a fossilized dinosaur skeleton, is a treasure waiting to be uncovered and enjoyed for another 65 million years.