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Artwork copyright (c) 1998 Universal City Studios Productions, Inc.; review copyright (c) 2003 James Southall



Serviceable Goldsmithian action/horror score


Alien must rank as one of the most influential films of all time, having inspired not only the series of sequels, which obeyed the general law of diminishing returns, but also a load of other substandard pictures.  Arriving and then disappearing very quickly during early 1999 was Virus from director John Bruno, who graduated from being James Cameron's visual effects supervisor on a number of projects (including Titanic).  One of the ironic things about horror film music is that there was a time when the genre inspired a great number of exceptional scores (including, of course, Alien) but these days it probably produces fewer interesting scores than any other genre.  Virus is one of the last particularly high-profile films scored by Joel McNeely, whose music probably fits somewhere in between the two extremes.

When McNeely first burst onto the scene, he seemed to be desperately trying to assert himself as the "new John Williams", emulating the legendary composer's style as closely as possible, but over time he has gradually found his own voice (along with a well-deserved reputation for conducting excellent recordings of classic film scores for the Varese Sarabande label).  It is ironic therefore that Virus comes across neither as a Williams imitation nor as something that could really be considered to show off McNeely's own voice, but as something of a Jerry Goldsmith clone.  Many people commented on its original release that it bore resemblance to James Horner's Aliens, but to me the similarities with Goldsmith's Alien (and, indeed, other scores such as Deep Rising and even Air Force One - on which McNeely worked with Goldsmith) are far greater.

The score's highlights are mostly clumped together at the beginning of the album.  "Typhoon Leah" is a terrific piece of action music, complete with choir, and the recording is terrific; turn it up loud and your walls will shake.  It's a pity McNeely doesn't get the chance to let rip with the orchestra in this way particularly often.  "Another Ship" has a distinctly Russian flavour to the harmonies, and is another fine piece.  And "Anchor's Away" is more great action music.  After such a promising start, the rest of the album is much more hit-and-miss.  There are certainly highlights, such as in the muted brass of "Seven Footer Chase", another distinctly Goldsmithian piece that is, in all honesty, not appreciably worse than what the great man himself might have written for this film.  In with the genuinely good moments though are various pieces of atmospheric suspense music that are typical of this genre in the modern day, and offer little of musical interest.  The end credits piece is very impressive with its Russian choral music, though it doesn't exactly fit in well with what has gone before.

This is an album with some great tracks, some not-so-great, and is extremely reminiscent of one of Jerry Goldsmith's "routine" scores (right down to the sweeping, romantic finale).  It's certainly better than most scores written for this genre these days, and comes recommended, if you can find it!

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  1. Volkov and the Mir (2:14)
  2. Typhoon Leah (6:19)
  3. Another Ship (4:17)
  4. Anchor's Away (2:16)
  5. Squeaky Gets Greased (2:11)
  6. Nadia Runs (1:10)
  7. Nadia's Story (3:17)
  8. Seven Footer Chase (3:31)
  9. Turkey Hunting (2:58)
  10. We Can Kill This Thing (3:59)
  11. Robo-Captain (5:14)
  12. Interrogation (2:49)
  13. Sinking the Ship (4:21)
  14. End Credits (5:42)