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Sean Daly's picks: Top 10 John Williams movie themes

John Williams just turned 77, but from the sound of his Harry Potter scores, the film composer hasn't lost his secret weapon: a supernatural gift for childlike wonder. • Williams is Mozart with a magic wand, a man-child who doesn't just make music for movies, but music for us: our fears of the deep blue sea, our desire to leap tall buildings, our secret hope of finding a sweet-toothed alien hiding in the tool shed. • Without Williams, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg would be in serious trouble. (At the very least, the Millennium Falcon would have gone a lot slower.) It doesn't matter if he's soundtracking the far reaches of the Dagoba System or an architectural dig in Tanis, Williams deals in bombastic overtures about the fantasy of reality, about hope over adversity. Well, except for that shark music. No hope there, kids. Gulp. • We each have our faves, so here are my top 10 Williams themes. Feel free to hum along . . .

10 Hedwig's Theme from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001): This puckish music-box lullaby for The Boy Who Lived tickles the brain and hints at the Hogwarts wonder to come. With this, Williams gave today's wee wizards and witches a generation-defining score of their own.

9 Wild Signals from Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977): Yep, I'm totally nerdin' out on this one. But I love the belchy, blurty communique between the mothership and the scientists in the finale. It's like alien acid jazz.

8Theme from Schindler's List (1993): Itzhak Perlman's mournful violin helped Williams create this achingly lovely, ultimately defiant piece. Not easy to listen to, even harder to forget.

7Flying Theme from E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982): Sure, the music holds up better than the movie. But man, 27 years after I saw E.T. at the Route 3 Cinemas in Chelmsford, Mass., those soaring strings still make me want to outrun the bad guys on my Schwinn.

6Main Title from Star Wars (1977): The opening fanfare of explosive brass and bombast could be Williams' finest 15 seconds. The rest of it, while ingrained in my DNA, is flowery homage to the glossy MGM actioners of old.

5Main Title from Superman (1978): When I revisit this list someday, I might regret not putting Supe's uber-patriotic score at No. 1. Willams followed Arthur Fiedler as conductor of the Boston Pops, and I can't help thinking this was JW's sly stars-and-stripes homage to the master.

4Olympic Fanfare and Theme (1984): Williams was commissioned to compose music for the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. By weaving Leo Arnaud's Bugler's Dream into a march of kettle-drum thunder and Aaron Copland hoedown, Williams created music for leviathans — and Carl Lewis.

3Theme from Jaws (1975): If you stand in a puddle and hum this, you can still totally ruin your day. With its utterly relentless strings (like a fin cutting through water) and those horrific horn interjections, the Jaws music is even more menacing than you remember.

2The Raiders' March from Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981): I speak for every 39-year-old mook in America when I say not a day has gone by since the summer of '81 when I haven't hummed Indy's theme for a bit of courage.

1The Imperial March from The Empire Strikes Back (1980): Ooh, so good. Darth Vader's cruising music, a decidedly Teutonic assault of militarized horns and jackbooted snare drums. This is one of the main reasons why Empire is the greatest sequel in movie history; Williams upped the ante all on his own. As a bonus, usually the only way to get through the work day is by humming this as your boss walks back to his office.

Sean Daly's picks: Top 10 John Williams movie themes 03/25/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 25, 2009 1:07pm]
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