Theater on Aug. 5 & 7, was a sensation in 1975. It was the first of the summer blockbusters, and the work that announced Stephen Spielberg as one of the great Hollywood filmmakers—and it’s still a hell of a thrill now.
But the best thing, the most memorable thing, and possibly the single coolest thing about the movie—the thing that distills the movie’s suspense to its quintessence, the thing that has so thoroughly permeated popular culture that young folks know it before they see the movie—that thing, ladies and gentlemen, can be summed up in a single onomatopoetic word: BA-Dum.
When that two-note motive sounds deep down in the double basses, you know dread. And as the tempo quickens and the volume increases, you know fear. And as the percussion pound ominously, the tuba winds sinuously, the strings swell soulfully, and the winds pipe poignantly, you know terror. A monster’s coming—and it won’t stop.
That’s the genius of John Williams. Just two notes and you’re already afraid.