John Williams and Steven Spielberg have a creative partnership that spans 50 years, and that was celebrated a recent American Cinematheque event in Los Angeles. At the event, Williams discussed some concerns he had regarding one of the most iconic moments in classic family movie ET – the practicalities of Elliott and his friends leaving the ground on their bikes and flying past the moon.
“The speed of the bicycles that lift up over the moon… that’s always bothered me a little bit, especially when I’m conducting it,” Williams said (via IndieWire). “I’m always thinking to myself, what is the escape velocity? How fast do you have to be going to be able to lift it out of gravity? I never knew what that was, but it was on my mind.”
“Last year I went to the Kennedy Center to do something musically and NASA decided to give me an award,” Williams continued. “The man presenting it to me was an astronaut, and in a quiet moment I said to him, ‘What is escape velocity?’ And he said, ‘It’s 17,500 miles an hour. What happens is you get on a spaceship, and it takes eight minutes to get from zero to 17,500 miles per hour.'”
Williams continued; “He said, ‘For eight minutes we’re in the cabin, we’re shaking like crazy, it’s deafening and disorienting. Then you finally get up, you reach 17.5, and suddenly everything stops and there’s no gravity and it’s completely quiet. He said we have a minute of silence before we start our procedures once we break from gravity. And we look at the Earth and we play Star Wars.'”
John Williams has composed the scores for some of the most iconic movies of all time, including 70s disaster movies The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno, as well as Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Superman, Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park, and Harry Potter.