L I E N S
by James Horner
First of all, forget everything I said about this
in the Alien Trilogy review. Since I wrote that review, I revisited
the original soundtrack album and, like Krull, enjoyed it infinitely more
than usual. In the review I said to stay away from the album and
just stay with the suite on the compilation. However, all of the
supremely scary quiet moments, as well as a huge chunk of the great action
music, are only to be found on this CD. Horner chose to mostly abandon
the stark, atonal orchestrations set by Jerry Goldsmith and settle for
a pulse-pounding ostinato laden action score. Still, hints of Goldsmith's
touch figure prominently into a few tracks, most notably the main title
and "Sub-Level 3." These combine into an exciting, yet unsettling
overall listening experience. One of the main detrimental factors
of the album, sadly, is Horner's insatiable tendency to plagiarize other
composers, including himself. If one can overlook these occurences,
though, ALIENS eventually proves to be an excellent score, and one of Horner's
very best of the '80s. Unfortunately, this Varese Sarabande CD is
aggravatingly short, barely containing 40 minutes of Horner's mammoth score.
There is a bootleg out right now with about 25 minutes of unreleased music
that you might want to check out if you enjoy this, like I do.
Track by Track Analysis:
1. Main Title (5:10)
Unfortunately, Horner's acute case of plagiarism
begins at the main titles. He begins by playing dissonant, ominous
pedal points in the bass for a while, which erupts into a statement of
the main theme, a soft, surprisingly elegant, and graceful melody.
However, most of this is lifted straight from Khatchaturian's Gayane Ballet.
Thus, if you've heard that before, you've basically got a large chunk of
the main titles. Still, these titles perfectly convey the cold and
loneliness of space and provide an excellent prologue to the rest of the
score. Other "homages :)" include a few statement's of Jerry Goldsmith's
two note pulsing "Time" motif from the first film, now scored for echoing
trumpets. Derivative this may be, but it adds much of the ominous
mystery to the track.
2. Going After Newt (3:08)
This introduces the format for all of the action
cues: an adrenaline-charged orchestral ostinato constantly punctuated by
snare drum under snippets of various themes. The first half of this
cue is particularly exciting, especially since the motives are completely
original. Besides the pulsing ostinatos, however, there's little
other thematic connections to the rest of the score. Personally,
I don't really care about themes in a score like this, and this track is
an excellent listen. Another percussion highlight is the clanging
anvil present in the second half.
3. Sub-Level 3 (6:11)
Now we return to softer surroundings. Out
of all the Horner albums I own, I find this to be the scariest and most
unsettling track he's written. Remember those throbbing, dissonant
bass notes from the main titles? Imagine a track made up mostly of
those, played suddenly and off-beat as loud as possible. Truly frightening,
especially late at night in a darkened room. The notes don't really
get bland, since they're puncuated with sudden echoing percussion riffs.
Even in a track like this, Horner keeps themes going. This one is
a very simple, dissonant trumpet figure. Additionally, this is constantly
accompanied by breathy synth tones, and Goldsmith's Time motif appears
some in the last two minutes. Also, Horner introduces one of the
wierdest acoustic sounds I've ever heard, which is some kind of violin
bowing technique that sounds something like a tea kettle. Finally,
watch out for a thunderous glissando near the very end. It's caught
me off guard innumerable times.
4. Ripley's Rescue (3:13)
After the freakiness of the previous track, this
thundering action cue is a welcome respite. Promptly Horner introduces
another key action theme: his Klingon theme from Star Trek III! I
kid you not! Oh well, I guess this can be forgiven, since he only
had 2 weeks to write some 90-odd minutes of music. He goes overboard
with the clanging percussion, including an anvil, as well as some instruments
that basically sound like pots and pans being hit against each other.
Also, he keeps the dissonant motif from track 6. This cue is one
of the best on the album, and Horner constantly uses new rhythms in the
5. Atmosphere Station (3:05)
There's nothing very substantially new in this
cue, which is basically a reprise of parts of Sub Level 3. The single
new aspect is a collection of foreboding synthesizer tones to represent
6. Futile Escape (8:13)
This is the action centerpiece of the entire
album, expanding on all his previous themes and motives. Don't expect
the typical ostinatos, etc. for a while, though, as the first three minutes
form another unsettling atmospheric cue, containing all the components
of the others and then some. Basically what he does is play a creeping,
ominous bass pattern under all manner of dissonant orchestrations, including
woodwinds, percussion, and synths. Also, the main theme makes its
first appearance since the titles over some of the more unsettling orchestration.
However, at about the three minute mark, he breaks into one of the most
exciting action cues of his career. Remember that suspense motif
from "Genesis Countdown" in Star Trek II? Well, it's back!
He composes another action cue similar to "Ripley's Rescue" based on this
motif, the main theme, and the Klingon theme. Additionally, that
synth to represent the aliens makes an appearance, as well as his clanging
percussion. One of the highlights of the entire score is his mutating
of the graceful main theme into a major action motif. Overall, this
track is truly not to be missed.
7. Dark Discovery (2:00)
There's nothing much noteworthy in this track,
just a reprise of parts of the main title.
8. Bishop's Countdown (2:47)
Ever seen a trailer for an action movie?
If the answer is yes, then I'd be willing to bet money that you've heard
the climax of this piece. It's a significant departure from the other
action cues, leaving out any ostinatos and using loud atonality for most
of its duration. Another great thing he does is play a triumphant
major theme at the very beginning over a bed of truly gruesome dissonance.
All of this resolves into a huge climactic cadence (the part heard in most
trailers.) Finally, the last minute is a tranquil, calm resolution
to the action material played on woodwinds.
9. Resolution and Hyperspace (6:10)
For once, everything is completely triumphant.
For the short "Resolution" Horner gives us a classic fanfare accompanied
by impossibly jubilant strings. He inserts another one of his odd
combos, playing a dissonant piano chord on the downbeat of each measure
of the fanfare. The end titles begin with a positive horn solo accompanied
by celeste, and use a mournful trumpet solo as a bridge into a reprise
of his (and Khatchaturian's) main theme along with Goldsmith's time motif.
Again, I couldn't believe how much this had grown
on me since I heard it last. Beware, though, if you're someone who
can't stand Horner's borrowings, then run as far away from this album as
you can get. However, if you're willing to overlook these flaws,
you'll be rewarded by an exciting, scary listening experience. Also,
don't buy this if you can't stand loud atonality, since every track has
it in some form. As demonstrated by Krull, Horner writes his best
music under pressure, and this is no exception. Performance is by
the London Symphony Orchestra, and therefore above all criticism.
There's a short note about Horner's career in the insert, and the sound
quality is mostly flawless. Recommended, with the reservations stated
ALIENS: The Final Score
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Aliens is Copyright 1986 by Varese Sarabande. Its appearance on this
site is for educational purposes. Review Copyright 1999 by Andrew