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A  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 percussion.
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 the aliens.
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 above.


ALIENS: The Final Score
Music Rating 8/10
Packaging/Liner Notes 6/10
Orchestral Performance 10/10
Sound Quality 9/10
Length 5/10



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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 Drannon.