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CONDUCTED BY LIONEL NEWMAN
PERFORMED BY
THE NATIONAL PHILHARMONIC
ORCHESTRA

Whereas John Williams went for the Wagnerian Romantic idiom for his space opera, Star Wars, Jerry Goldsmith struck out on his own into the atonal classical field for Alien.  The result is utterly horrifying - and I don't mean that in a bad way.  While some may be put off for the clashing orchestral dissonance, true Goldsmith fans recognize ALIEN as one of the most innovative, moving, and exciting scores ever composed, up there with Psycho and Jaws as one of the best horror (and sci-fi) film scores of all time.  The CD I'm reviewing is the Silva Screen reissue of the original soundtrack LP, which is almost impossible to find in the U.S. (I ordered it from Intrada, a soundtrack specialty store.)  In the movie, Ridley Scott shredded Goldsmith's score into a few isolated cues, using both classical music and a few tracks from Goldsmith's earlier FREUD score as filler.  The composer was so upset that he went back and rerecorded his original intended score with the National Philharmonic Orchestra for issue as a unified and coherent concert work.  Since this is taken from LP masters, the sound quality is somewhat pinched, but that doesn't interfere at all (in fact, The Wind and the Lion's sound quality is slightly worse.)  Enclosed is an explanatory booklet containing essays on both the score and the film as well as stills from the film.  I think a track by track analysis would have helped in the liner notes, but what we get is just fine.  The score itself is above all reproach, a masterpiece of the atonal 12-tone compositional technique.  Its representation of the alien is quite innovative - whereas Horner's used electronics and Goldenthal used a combination of synths and tribal drums, Goldsmith uses 3 very obscure ethnic instruments called the conch, didgeridoo, and serpent, which together sound exactly like the growling, spitting monster portrayed on screen. Also, he goes the route of Planet of the Apes and uses no electronics whatsoever (except for the EchoPlex), counting exclusively on weird orchestral effects, such as innovative bowing techniques and clacking brass keys to the instrument.   Some of the dissonant passages are awesomely impressive - particularly The Droid.  Even if you can't stand dissonant music, there are several melodic highlights - the main and end titles, which introduce the lonely yet moving main theme, as well as The Landing (expansion of the theme) and Breakaway (a prime example of Goldsmith action scoring that's not very atonal.)  Although it's short (probably to maintain a "concert mentality") you couldn't really go wrong with ALIEN.  As much as I love Goldenthal's Alien3, it can't stand up at all to Goldsmith's original, and Horner's is in a completely different vein.  BTW, there's a 74 minute bootleg out right now that has the entire score as Goldsmith intended it.  Also, both the original and revised scores are isolated on the recent Alien Legacy DVD's.

Track by Track Analysis:
1. Main Title (3:30)
Jerry Goldsmith opens his opus with statements of all the principal themes.  First of all, we have a ascending chromatic string motif that serves as a transitory introduction.  Next, the real theme is stated, a moving trumpet solo that perfectly captures the loneliness of space.  The music turns foreboding and dissonant for a few seconds, but promptly goes back to the theme - now a second section played in strings made up of a series of 2 note progressions that sound a lot like Goldsmith's later work on Star Trek: The Motion Picture.  A new motif comes next - his Time motif (more 2 note progressions in the flutes used to symbolize the ticking of time.)

2. Face Hugger (2:32)
This is the first of the impressive atonal action cues.  It begins with a dissonant swirling motif in the trumpets punctuated by bursts from the serpent and diggierio.  It goes into high string atonality for a while, broken up by a few "jump out" moments, which eventually transform into a menacing action march accompanied by various melody lines in all sections.  The last part is made up of the ascending fifths heard in the introduction to the score.  I think Goldsmith's choice of having this as the first underscore track is perfect - it gives samples of both the overwhelming dissonance and furious action cues that will come next.

3. Breakaway (3:00)
Probably the best action cue on the album, this opens with the introduction of an ostinato accompanied by the alien instruments, which segues into a repetitive melody line climaxing in an upward jump, punctuated by an anvil.  The figure is repeated ad infinitum, and is likely to stay in your head all day if you listen to it repeatedly.  A final serpent groan segues into a restatement of the main theme in the low brass accompanied by bass string runs.  This shortened version of the theme will be present in a few other cues as well.  The last minute is a respite from the action, ending with the Time motif in the flutes.

4. Acid Test (4:35)
For those of you with the Alien Trilogy compilation, this is an expanded version of The Door.  The opening few minutes comprise another action track, which is based around the opening ascending notes of the main title, this time stated in brass.  The chasing strings form an interlude, and one of the percussion instruments sounds a little like an organ pipe being hit.  This time, the shortened version of the theme (the ST:TMP-like part) serves as a calming agent, segueing into another dissonant suspense cue.  It's pretty nondescript compared to the others, incorporating Goldsmith's usual atonal orchestration and ethnic instruments.  One section sounds roughly like part of the theme.

5. The Landing (4:29)
For most people who despise atonal music, this cue, which serves as an expansion of the main theme, is the definite highlight of the album.  Goldsmith begins with an introduction of a lazy, yet foreboding pace in all the instruments, which transfers into a straightforward playing of the trumpet solo, along with the chasing low string runs.  The foreboding tone continues, utilizing a multitude of fragments from the theme, now not just played by trumpets.  A new building motif enters, based on clusters of two notes - one descending and one ascending.  This climaxes in a giant string flourish, which eventually leads into a full string presentation of the main theme, still with the runs in the bass.  Goldsmith's Time motif makes a quick cameo, gradually becomes faster and more urgent, and the cue ends on a genuinely awe-inspiring low brass chord.  If it weren't for The Droid, this would have to be my favorite cue.

6. The Droid (4:40)
As I said above, this is my absolute favorite track on the entire CD.  It's another dissonant suspense track that continues to gain in pagan ferocity across it's lengthy running time, and in the course reaches seemingly impossible dramatic and musical heights.  It's based on a quick one-note/glissando PUNCH given at the very start of the cue, which fades into high range string dissonance.  This motif returns unexpectedly at various intervals in the xylophone, and finally joins the full orchestra in a fortissimo expansion.  Another quiet foreboding interlude comes next, complete with pizzicato string flourishes, which climax in another bombastic PUNCH.  In the next section, dissonant chords alternate between the brass and woodwinds, with the strings giving an ascending swirling run accompanied by serpent howls.  Next the strings and low brass get the alternating motif, with the woodwinds and brass providing the upward flourishes.  This climaxes in 2 loud dissonant brass chords.  Next things get completely insane with frenzied dissonant string runs accompanied by random notes given in all the sections of the orchestra.  The pace quickens, climaxing in a seemingly impossible tutti virtuoso passage for the orchestra.  The final two minutes ease some of the tension, going back to typical tension dissonance, ending with both a statement of the full main theme and the Time motif.  Overall, this cue is one of the defining moments in Goldsmith's career.

7. The Recovery (2:44)
This track's thematic material and tempo is similar to that of "Breakaway," but it's more dissonant.  It begins with a restatement of the ostinato theme in the aforementioned cue accompanied with ethnic instruments, which next goes into an atonal string section.  The following section is a typically grand Goldsmith dissonant action march, flavored with descending scales.  This goes on for a while, and quiets into a section based on the ascending Main Title introduction.

8. The Alien Planet (2:28)
This is comprised mainly of various quiet orchestral sound effects, which conjure up a clear soundscape of the alien planet.  It's almost as if you're on the planet, and these are sounds of the local wildlife.  In the last 15 seconds, dissonant strings gain intensity and end on a giant atonal PUNCH.  (Why do I capitalize that word?)

9. The Shaft (3:57)
The final underscore track is similar to a lot of the work we've already heard, being a dissonant, quiet suspense track.  At various intervals, the nondescript ambience climaxes in an orchestral PUNCH.  Also, the last 2 minutes are subtlely based on the ostinato from the opening of "Acid Test," punctuated by dissonant strings and alien instruments.  In fact, it becomes a full-blown action cue in the final 30 seconds, continually building until it reaches oblivion.

10. End Title (3:02)
It's an utter sin to humanity that this cue wasn't used in the final film, as it's one of the many highlights of the score.  Although opening with string dissonance, it promptly segues into the trumpet solo theme and accompanying ascending motif, which joins the strings with the ST:TMP progression.  The theme is extended, adding a majestic, moving trumpet solo to the progression.  Eventually, the strings get the entire theme, and Goldsmith ends his score much like The Landing on a resounding orchestral cadence.

In the end, Jerry Goldsmith's ALIEN becomes one of the definitive highlights of his epic career, and no fan of Jerry Goldsmith, atonal music, or the Alien series should be without this infinitely influential score.  For those that either can't find it or don't think they can stomach Goldsmith's grating atonality, The Alien Trilogy compilation contains a great suite with all the melodic parts, as well as some previously unreleased bits including the film version of the main title.



 
Alien: The Final Score
Music Rating 10/10
Packaging/Liner Notes 9/10
Sound Quality 7/10
Length 8/10
Orchestral Performance 10/10







ALIEN is Copyright 1988 by Silva Screen Records.  Review Copyright 1999 by Andrew Drannon.  All rights reserved.
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