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When this was announced, even in space they could hear you scream (with delight)
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
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Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 2007 Universal Music Enterprises; review copyright (c) 2007 James Southall
Ridley Scott's visual flair has led to a number of handsome-looking films (and a great deal of success), but his tendency to go for style over substance often leads to a slightly unsatisfactory feel to his films. Once, everything came together, and that was for the seminal Alien, a spectacularly good horror movie which has spawned so many imitators over the years. Cinema got probably its first substantial female action lead in Sigourney Weaver's Ripley, and audiences were treated to a number of indelible sequences. It was only Scott's second major film, but for all his success he has never quite managed anything on the same level again.
Musically, the film has always been shrouded in controversy. Jerry Goldsmith wrote one of his finest scores for the picture - but Scott messed around with it to such an extent that virtually nothing of that original score is used in the film as Goldsmith intended, and there are some cues which are just left in from the temp track. Much though it may be painful to admit to a Goldsmith fan, whatever Scott did to the music, it worked, because the score in the film is quite chillingly effective. Now, for the first time on album, listeners are able to hear what Goldsmith originally intended - and to make their own minds up about whether Scott was right or not.
Intrada's new album - which we had for years been told was impossible because of a combination of missing master tapes and legal wrangles - presents the 57-minute full original score, plus the 19 minutes of musical rewrites from Goldsmith, the full 35-minute edited original album and 14 minutes of bonus demos and the like. Hearing the original score as composed is a revelation - for years, Goldsmith's music for Alien has been noted as a chilling masterpiece, so it's fascinating to hear that in his original vision it was considerably warmer and more romantic, with the famous main theme - barely heard even for a second in the finished film - playing a dominant role.
That theme is an incredible one - somehow managing to achieve the apparently impossible task of suggesting both the vast sweep of space and the uncomfortable claustrophobia aboard the space ship Nostromo. In its grand arrangement for the original end title, it's one of the most impressive pieces of this composer's glorious career. He uses it to great effect throughout the score in various different ways, perhaps most notably in "The Landing", when it's heard in its most romantic for a sequence ultimately deleted from the film showing the craft descending to a planet surface.
Of course, the score spends most of its time creating a cold atmosphere. Goldsmith rarely descends into true dissonance - but uses various mostly-acoustic techniques to hone a feeling of deep unease, along with the famous use of the echoplex which he had previously so memorably used in Patton, this time generally using it for struck strings to make the most claustrophobic atmosphere. "The Skeleton" is the perfect example of this, working hard to generate an uncomfortable feeling which is then only heightened in "A New Face", an explosive and terrifying piece. Action music isn't particularly common, but when it arrives it's just as good as could be expected from that film music style's master - propulsive, riveting music for low brass and percussion, Goldsmith manages to lay on the thrills without sacrificing any of the atmosphere he works so hard to create elsewhere, and it's a joy to behold. "The Shaft" is built around a wonderful eight-note ostinato which would form the basis for James Horner's score for the sequel (and indeed much of his other music of that period).
Alien is one of Goldsmith's most unique and glorious creations, and this release is 2007's finest film music album. No matter how well the film works as it is - it's impossible not to believe that it would have been even better if Goldsmith's music had been allowed to shine the way he intended. He was going through his most incredible period at the time of this film (Alien came in the same year as The Great Train Robbery and Star Trek: The Motion Picture) and this remains one of the most notable film scoring accomplishments. Add the handsome liner notes and stellar sound quality to this and you get a wonderful album which deserves a place in any collection. This is the Alien you knew - and the Alien you dreamed of - and then some.