The Movie Music Man


Watch out, here comes a shark!

Oh, no, and a T-Rex!

And, OMG, Darth Vader!!

Someone please help us!!!

Wait, look! It’s…Indiana Jones! And Luke Skywalker! And Superman!!

We’re SAVED!!!!

Okay, quick, how many movie theme songs just played in your head?

You’ve got one person to thank for that: John Williams.


Recently, I had the pleasure of watching the annual American Film Institute (AFI) Lifetime Achievement Award presentation, given to someone in recognition of his or her outstanding contribution to the movie industry. (As a movie lover, I dig this kinda stuff.)

Usually, this award goes to an actor or director but, this year, for the first time ever, it was given to a composer.

And for John Williams, it’s about freakin’ time.

Here’s but a small sample of the movies for which Mr. Williams composed the soundtracks:

Star Wars. Jaws. Raiders of the Lost Ark. E.T. Born on the Fourth of July. Schindler’s List. Jurassic Park. Superman. Harry Potter. Home Alone. Saving Private Ryan. Hook. Far and Away. JFK. Seven Years in Tibet. Lincoln. Empire of the Sun. Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The Witches of Eastwick. Amistad. Presumed Innocent.

And that’s just a VERY small sample!

Some of the best known, best loved films of our generation. And a major reason for that is the inspired music that graces them all. We attach that music to our memories of those movies, and they assimilate into our regular lives.

Example: Have you ever been in a pool or a lake and pretended to be a shark, about to put the big chomp on some poor, unsuspecting victim? I dare you to tell me you didn’t start singing, “Da-dum…da-dum…da-dum…dum-dum, dum-dum, dum-dum, dum-dum…” Yeah, I knew it. You couldn’t resist.

Have you attended or watched a Major League Baseball game, and heard one of the batters stride up to home plate to the tune of “The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme)?” When pro basketball star Kobe Bryant came back for his first game after an Achilles injury, in 2013, he was introduced to the crowd with “The Imperial March” playing in the background, as he requested.

One other thing: how many marching bands, high school or college, have you heard playing the theme from Star Wars at halftime of a game or in a parade? Or, maybe, some other John Williams tune, instead?

And that music has infiltrated other movies, too. In The Big Chill, before Kevin Kline’s character races heroically to the attic to do battle with a pesky bat, what does he do for inspiration? Sings the theme song for Indiana Jones!

His music stays in our minds because it stirs our hearts. Who can listen to the plaintive theme from Schindler’s List and not get a little teary-eyed? Who hears “Hymn to the Fallen” from Saving Private Ryan and doesn’t feel pride and sadness in equal measure for our men and women who have sacrificed everything in war? Who hasn’t been carried back to the wonder and magic of childhood by the theme to E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial, longing for the chance to ride a bicycle through the air?

All these unforgettable melodies, and so many more, blossomed from the sublimely brilliant mind of one man. Lucky us.

The AFI Life Achievement Award presentation to John Williams will be rebroadcast Monday, September 12, at 7:00 PM Central time, and on Tuesday, September 13, at 1:30 AM Central time, on the Turner Classic Movies network (TCM). Do yourself a big favor: Record this show, enjoy hearing from the actors and directors who had the pleasure of working with John Williams. Listen, also, to the man himself, and know just what a genuinely humble genius he is.

And sing or hum along to all those terrific movie themes. C’mon, you know them.

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