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After employing 2 professional film composers for the first 2 films in the Alien series, Elliot Goldenthal, a complete newcomer (this was only his fourth film) was hired for the third installment.  The first 2 scores were quite excellent.  Jerry Goldsmith combined a mournful trumpet theme with some of the most awe-inspiring atonal orchestra writing I've ever heard.  Later, James Horner combined 3 elements for the second film: a soaring, yet claustrophobic space ballet melody, pounding military action cues, and more dissonant writing.  Which brings us to Goldenthal's Alien3.   He goes the route of Goldsmith, except there are far fewer calm passages and more electronics in the dissonant parts.  While I still like the first 2 scores better, I consider this as Goldenthal's tour-de-force.  While most people will utterly despise this score for the abundance of atonality, a select few (including me) absolutely love it for Goldenthal's compositional genius.  The composer used his most familiar trademark in abundance here: the pitchbending French horns.  Alien3 is one of the most horrific, adrenaline-pumping horror scores (as well as classical compositions) ever conceived.  It's the auditory equivalent of being mauled by a wild animal, and the listener feels severely drained, yet emotionally moved by the time the album is over.  To lighten up the atonality, Goldenthal has several orchestrally calm passages, even going so far as having a main encapsulating theme, which even manifests itself in some of the harrowing passages.  If you're a Goldenthal fan, I suspect you already have this, but it would also be good for fans of 20th century classical music.  Just about everyone else should either stay away or simply stick with the suite on the Alien Trilogy compilation.

Track by Track Analysis:
1. Agnus Dei (4:29)
This opening track is like a sampler of all the ensuing tracks; that is, it has examples of the theme and the boy soprano as well as harrowing ambience and dissonance.  It's one of my favorite tracks on the album.  We open with a barren synth tone followed by ambient synth/pitchbending horns which promptly set a barren, horrific mood.  Various foreboding string figures work for the next few minutes, and Nick Nackley, the boy soprano, begins singing one of the settings of the Catholic mass that Goldenthal uses.  The main theme is stated in the strings, an alien percussion instrument enters, and the soprano continues singing, now swallowed up by the soundscape.  One of the main features of this score is the intense growling low brass, backed up by synths.  Later the tumult lets up for a climax of the soprano theme.  More dissonant ambience, now with a clarinet melody lead into the formation of the main theme by the soprano.  That's another one of the highlights of this score - Goldenthal begins with the full chant, and shortens it into a recognizable motif.  The soundscape proceeds to swallow up the singing again, climaxing in a full orchestral performance of the theme.  The innocent song fades out, a calm before the storm.

2. Bait and Chase (4:40)
Here Goldenthal introduces his main compositional techniques used in the score - dissonant action music in the orchestra highlighted by synth and rattling sounds to represent the alien. It begins with a tremolo string action ostinato with percussive hits and low brass growls on the off-beats, accompanied by one of the creepiest fluttering percussion instruments I've ever heard.  Squealing tremolo strings take over, and the fluttering percussion becomes the highlight.  Later the ostinato returns, now completely on percussion.  It quiets, and suddenly the horns enter playing some awesomely insane glissandi.  The string line from the opening comes back, and eventually the tribal drums are the only things playing.  Later, the brass get the opening ostinato, still with the percussion, and Goldenthal uses some desperate inhuman brass calls the likes of which I've never heard before.  Everything comes back for another climax, and the fluttering percussion gets center stage.  One of the best things on the album is the way he uses the fluttering percussion to give you the feeling that you're in the orchestra.  He does this by moving it throughout the speakers, which is especially creepy if you're listening through headphones.  A dissonant bassoon line enters, and he bases the final section on the shortened main theme.  Overall, this is one of the best, but also one of the scariest, tracks on the album.

3. The Beast Within (3:07)
While still not very melodic, this is definitely a great respite from the previous track.  This time, the strings play the main theme over various ambient sound effects, getting louder with every note.  It climaxes in a giant dissonant chord, which fades into a high violin note.  The rest is made up of foreboding low brass and string lines.

4. Lento (5:48)
By far one of the best tracks on the album, this highlights the soprano again, now finally singing both settings in their proper forms, the first being an Agnus Dei, the second a Dona Nobis.  The settings are based on the main theme again, and are highlighted by a mournful piano line, bassoon solo, and oboe solo.  It quiets, and suddenly another action cue attacks the orchestra, with high string arpeggios, pounding bass drum, and desperate horn notes.  This action segment is infinitely more listenable than "Bait and Chase," although a few of the chords are still atonal.  It doesn't last long, and segues a mournful string section with some genuine "sci-fi barren planet" chords.  Eventually the full orchestra plays the 2 chants.  There are a few synth effects in the track that sound somewhat like a wailing synth chorus, which I suppose was the desired effect.  One of the dissonant sections from Bait and Chase makes a comeback, now accompanied by these harrowing voices.  I just realized, this album hasn't had a bad track yet!

5. Candles in the Wind (3:20)
Another highlight of the album (will the tracks ever get bad?!)  The majority of this is more of the dissonant ambience that opened the album, but it climaxes in more awesome brass glissandi that literally sound like nothing of this earth.  That string ostinato from Bait and Chase is back, even faster than before, and the pitchbending horns get center stage for a while.  The very end is a giant, awe-inspiring atonal chord progression that's more akin to his Batman or Sphere scores.

6. Wreckage and Rape (2:41)
I know you're sick of hearing me rave about this score, but too bad.  ;-)  Anyway, here's yet another highlight.  The first section is home to some real development of the main theme in the orchestra.  However, the second section is one of the most geniunely terrifying pieces of action music I've ever heard - the tribal drums are back, highlighted by some kind of electronic instrument almost like an electric guitar (but it's not) as well as a screaming synth vocal.  Don't listen in the dark.

7. The First Attack (4:18)
Another great track.  It opens with high range strings and an ingenious technique of playing a major key piccolo theme under all the atonality.  This goes on for a few minutes, and we get another trademark action track with growling low brass, synth, high strings, and glissandi.  Goldenthal should be applauded for this ingenious track.  Later a new motif, somewhat like the warped pastoral piccolo melody, now in the lower woodwinds enters, and the track ends with more grating atonality.

8. Lullaby Elegy (3:39)
Now we get somewhat of a respite from all the atonal action.  It doesn't really have many thematic occurences, more like strings of foreboding orchestral chords with the occasional dissonant brass outburst.  Although I'm not sure if this counts as a theme, but it sounds as if based somewhat on the opening low strings from "Wreckage and Rape" and there's a second section reminiscent of the main theme in the piano.  The ending is comprised of alternating high violin notes and ambient synth noises.

9. Death Dance (2:15)
And we're back to the trademark atonal action music!  It opens with dissonant high tremolo strings, which quiet into a roaming low brass theme, which leads into a glissando/pitchbend section.  The string action ostinato comes back, and it's now transformed into a theme.  Tribal drums get the spotlight again, but the new theme's back after a few seconds, and it lasts longer now and is accompanied by pitch bending.  Next is an absolutely horrific section strictly for the spitting, growling low brass and drums.  Call me insanely morbid, but I love this track!

10. Visit to the Wreckage (2:02)
Now we're back into quieter territory, and this track is based on the main theme, carried in strings.  Like "Beast Within," it eventually builds in volume with every note.  Next comes a lengthy section exclusively for drums.

11. Explosion and Aftermath (2:19)
By far the most tonal action track we've had so far, even though it's still quite dissonant.  Some of the music sounds like his trademark Batman action music, but melded with the new atonal style.  The main centerpiece is a series of high brass notes and horn glissandi accompanied by racing strings.  Eventually the tribal drums come in, and the paganistic frenzy finally exhausts itself into a quiet string statement based on a permutation of the main theme.

12. The Dragon (3:05)
Mostly typical ambient rumblings with various foreboding high string notes.  I have no idea how he did this, but one section has a clarinet doing that pitchbending thingy.  A "creeping around" line in the bass comes next, and the piece climaxes into a harrowing dissonant chord.

13. The Entrapment (3:40)
It opens somewhat like "The Dragon", but now with racing synths in the background not entirely unlike one of the instruments in ST:TMP.  One of the variations on the main theme that we've heard before enters, and our trusty old action string ostinato comes back, now outlining the notes of the main theme, eventually carried by horns with a trumpet descant.  After climaxing in an awesome dissonant chord, the strings perform a classic descending passage that is totally uncharacteristic of this score (much more classical.)  However, these eventually turn dissonant, and a pitchbending trumpet ends the track.

14. Adagio (4:14)
Goldenthal ends his magnum opus with one of the best tracks in his canon, a mournful elegy for the immolated Ripley.  Eventually the descending strings from "Entrapment" come back, but much more somber and slow now.  The horns get the main theme, and more elegaic string sections travel around for a few minutes.  Later a completely new theme manifests itself, this time in a major key (the only real peaceful section on the album.) This is almost Wagnerian in its scope, and may be the most moving passage Goldenthal has ever written (although I haven't heard his oratorio yet - which is supposed to be quite good.)  After the theme has exhausted itself, the album ends with minor key string lines.
 

The bottom line: Only (and I mean ONLY) fans of either Goldenthal or 20th century classical music should even touch this score.  They will be rewarded with some of the best music composed this century by one of the most talented film composers to ever approach the arena.  Others are advised to listen to the suite on the Alien Trilogy compilation, which contains the tracks "Lento," "Candles in the Wind," and "Adagio," as well as an in-depth analysis of the score (which the OST sadly lacks - although it's got some great pictures in the insert.)  Sound quality is fine, the orchestra handles the virtuoso material admirably, and it's almost an hour long.  Add to that the fact that you can usually find it for under $10 new.  For me, the 50 minutes fly past, making me hungry for more.  Alien3 is much more than a score - it's an experience that has to be heard to be believed.



 
Alien3: The Final Score
Music Rating 10/10
Packaging/Liner Notes N/A
Orchestral Performance 10/10
Sound Quality 8/10
Length 8/10
You'll probably disagree with me, but for me this score gets:





Alien3 is Copyright 1992 by MCA Records.  Review Copyright 1999 by Andrew Drannon.
The ScoreSheet - To score, or not to score?