Movie Wave Home
Reviews by Title | Reviews by Composer

Composed by

* *

Album running time

Performed by

Engineered by
Produced by

Released by
Serial number
VCL 0505 1035

Artwork copyright (c) 2005 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation; review copyright (c) 2005 James Southall



Atypical synth score hints at what could have been


An indescribably awful film, Alien Nation is a cop story with a difference.  The difference is that it's far worse than any other cop story you've ever witnessed.  The other difference is that this time the cops aren't just contending with the worst mankind has to offer, this time they're on the lookout for dirty aliens as well.  Somehow James Caan was persuaded to join the monstrosity.  Director Graham Baker had previously made the indescribably awful film The Final Conflict, the second sequel to The Omen.  That film was laughably bad but somehow inspired Jerry Goldsmith to create one of the most magnificent film scores ever written - a testament to his sheer professionalism if nothing else, but surely a testament to his great artistry as well.  Baker was blessed to have such wonderful music for his film and he turned again to Goldsmith for Alien Nation (he must have had some incriminating photographs of somebody pretty high up at Fox for them to have allowed him to make another film, one suspects).

This time, things couldn't have turned out much different for the composer.  He wrote his third and final all-electronic score for the picture.  Goldsmith often used to say that he saw synthesisers as being a natural extension to the orchestra, able to offer sounds that couldn't be achieved by traditional means, but never as a replacement for it.  Indeed, looking at his finest scores which incorporate electronics, it's easy to see what he means; this, though, is a very long way from being one of his finest scores, and his laudable mantra seems to have been abandoned, because for sure, the synths here are being used as a replacement for the orchestra.

Unfortunately, the synthesisers of 1988 were nowhere near as complicated as those of today.  Synth strings still sound horrible in 2005; they sounded downright suicide-inducing in 1988.  While there are numerous digital pops, bleeps, clicks and whistles here which would never have been performed on a scoring stage by musicians, it is these and only these things which give the score the sense of an alien presence the composer was obviously looking for - the remainder of the synthesised music, from the drum machines to the synthesised orchestral parts, just make it sound very dated.

What is so frustrating is that it is instantly obvious how much better so much of this score would sound if it had indeed been properly orchestrated and performed.  There are some action pieces, like "Out Back", "Are You There?" and "Just Ugly" which would be terrific if played by an orchestra; the main theme, performed by synth sax most of the time, is highly attractive and indeed would surface just a couple of years later in The Russia House, played then by Branford Marsalis and sounding wonderful (it was a case of third time lucky for Goldsmith with that theme - it was originally written for his aborted score for Wall Street).  Its best performance comes in the genuinely attractive final track, "The Wedding" - while it's a far cry from being as impressive as the arrangement in The Russia House, it works well enough.

We can thank the Varese Sarabande CD Club and specifically disc producers Nick Redman and Robert Townson for bringing us this score, which is a fascinating listen for a Goldsmith fan (needless to say, the replacement score by Curt Sobel - who? - has never been released on CD).  While it still sounds like no masterpiece, it certainly sounds better here than it previously did on the bootleg release, which suffered from abysmal sound quality; and indeed, it's a million miles more attractive than either of the two all-synthesised Goldsmith scores which did survive in their respective films, Runaway and Criminal Law.  It is most of benefit to Goldsmith completists who want a glimpse of what another action score from the composer might have sounded like - I say "might" because throughout the album, it is difficult not to imagine the music being played by an orchestra.  It's quite entertaining, frequently, but resolutely towards the bottom end of the composer's magnificent output as a whole.


  1. Alien Landing (3:47)
  2. Out Back (2:00)
  3. Are You Alright? (1:50)
  4. Take It Easy (2:53)
  5. The Vial (2:12)
  6. Jerry's Jam (1:51)
  7. Alien Dance (1:57)
  8. Are You There? (2:01)
  9. The Beach (3:40)
  10. Tow Truck Getaway (1:51)
  11. 772 - I Shall Remember (4:08)
  12. Tell Them (1:29)
  13. A Game of Chicken (2:26)
  14. Overdose (2:26)
  15. Got a Match? (2:53)
  16. A Nice View (2:34)
  17. Just Ugly (1:57)
  18. The Wedding (4:43)