The music man for Jedis and Joneses
John Williams seldom fails to score
By Douglas Cannon Hyde
LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- You'd think the most Oscar-nominated man alive would be blasť about each selection. But for film composer John Williams, who was up for yet another Oscar this year for "Catch Me If You Can," the honor never gets old.
"It's like asking a football player, 'Do you ever get tired of winning games?' " says Williams. "I mean, of course you don't. The human thing is that you want to do better, you want to achieve, you want to be recognized."
He's been getting recognized a lot recently. Last week he received the International Olympic Committee's highest honor, the Olympic Order, for writing the official themes for the 1984, '88, '96 and 2002 Olympic Games.
"Catch Me If You Can," which will be released on DVD Tuesday, was something different for Williams, 71. The composer is known for his heroic scores for films such as "Star Wars" and "Raiders of the Lost Ark." But for "Catch Me," he went back to his roots as a pianist in Henry Mancini's orchestra and came up with an uncharacteristically jazzy score.
The change of pace, he says, was like a "fresh glass of water."
It not only invigorated him creatively, but led to his 42nd Oscar nomination -- an average of more than one a year since he was first nominated for 1967's "Valley of the Dolls."
A 'relative of "The Pink Panther" '
The change in style is noticeable from the movie's cool, sleekly animated opening credit sequence, with its finger snaps and occasional "sshh" sounds from the orchestra.
"Steven originally had an idea of putting a kind of 1960s pop song in there [under the credits]," Williams recalls, "And he put one in there that really didn't work very well and the animation hadn't been completed. ... I thought I would write something as a kind of test demonstration for him to hear and for me to get a feel, and of course the progressive jazz of the 1960s came to mind."
Williams worked with Mancini on "Peter Gunn" and a number of his early film scores, and while he says he wasn't directly inspired by the late composer, the work does recall another famous animated credit sequence: "A long awaited relative of 'The Pink Panther' has surprisingly emerged," Williams says with a grin.
Williams didn't win for "Catch Me," but he already has five Oscars on his mantel: for "Fiddler on the Roof," "Jaws," "Star Wars," "E.T.," and "Schindler's List."
And the indefatigable composer shows no signs of slowing down. In addition to the upcoming "Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban," he's looking forward to some more projects with Spielberg, with whom he's worked regularly since the 1970s.
"He's talking about doing a fourth Indiana Jones film and a wonderfully dramatic piece about the Mossad and some of its history called 'Vengeance'," says Williams. The filmmaker also has an Abraham Lincoln biopic, based on a forthcoming Doris Kearns Goodwin biography, in the works, he adds.
Old themes, new themes
Williams says the next Indiana Jones film may offer more dilemmas than the previous three.
"Indiana Jones [IV] will be a challenge because we'll now have to recast the film with Harrison Ford as a mature Indiana Jones, if you like, and a more mature composer will be doing the score!" he says, chuckling. "Until I see a script or see the film it will be hard for me to tell how much of the early material will apply -- if any."
Not that he's going to give up the familiar fanfare. "I would have thought Indiana Jones is now a pretty well-known theme and at least will be referred to as some type of memory trace if nothing else."
And of course, Williams will be picking up his conductor's baton for the final "Star Wars" film, the yet-untitled Episode III, which arrives in 2005. For the last installment, he hopes to use hints of some of the themes in the very first "Star Wars" film (now known as "Episode IV: A New Hope") to link the two trilogies musically.
So if you hear a familiar melody -- say, the Imperial theme that ran under Princess Leia's first meeting with Darth Vader -- don't be surprised.
"I think working backwards some musical hints like that will be appropriate," he says. "I am looking forward to bringing all those thematic fragments together in the final episode of 'Star Wars' and to pick up what opportunities it'll have for new material, also to sort of round out a whole corpus of musical themes that are all interrelated and connected."