Bowl Glows With John Williams’ Movie Pyrotechnics


Hollywood Bowl isn’t a place where you expect to prove scientific laws. But three emerged over the weekend.

One: John Williams’ music plus film clips equals dynamite.

Two, the corollary: John Williams’ music minus film clips equals twaddle.

Three: It doesn’t matter what a music critic thinks.

Audiences love Williams and his music. Both the Friday and Saturday Los Angeles Philharmonic “Star Wars 20th Anniversary” programs, devoted mostly to his scores and conducted by him, were sold out. And people weren’t there to see the fireworks.

By Bowl standards anyway, the fireworks display started off Friday night looking pretty paltry. Fortunately, it rapidly picked up to end as splendidly as ever.


The pyrotechnics were prefaced by the arrival of several “Star Wars” characters--Chewbacca, Darth Vader and several of his storm troopers. These guys didn’t do much of anything, however. They stood at the front of the stage, took bows, then walked off. Oh, right, Chewbacca came in through the box section. Big deal.

The real deal was hearing Williams’ music and looking at the scenes it was created for.

In a montage of clips from “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Jaws,” “Superman” and “E.T.,” and less successfully in a film sequence from “Star Wars,” Williams’ music sounded exactly right. There’s a synergy of music, beautiful cinematography, sensitive actors--particularly children--and plot direction. It’s the Hollywood dream factory at one of its peaks.

But on its own, as in another suite from “Star Wars” and excerpts from “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” Williams’ music sounded purposeless, derivative, banal or, especially, busy going nowhere.

The Los Angeles Philharmonic played it as well as anyone, despite some initial splotchy amplification.

Earlier in the program, Williams conducted the first 90 seconds, or however long the introduction lasts, of Strauss’ “Also sprach Zarathustra” (a.k.a. the theme from Stanley Kubrick’s film “2001: A Space Odyssey”); “Jupiter” from Holst’s “The Planets”; and Strauss’ “On the Beautiful Blue Danube” Waltz (another classical piece Kubrick used).

Williams’ conducting in Holst was typically bland, but in the “Blue Danube,” it was surprisingly intimate, transparent and sweet.