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Alien - Soundtrack

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Genre: Soundtrack / Artist: Various / Soundtrack / Audio CD released at Silva Screen

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      30.10.2008 15:14
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      After 28 years the original score finally emerges in all its glory.

      2007, as well as 2008, have proven to have been a surprisingly fertile period for old film score releases. Not only have some scores never expected to be re-released or, indeed, released at all seen the light of day, such as a complete The Wind and the Lion of Jerry Goldsmith, or Elmer Bernstein's long lost Heavy Metal on CD, the surprises have been far and wide, though somewhat marred in the limited edition game by record quick sellouts of some titles (those limited to 1000-3000 units) within only a couple of hours of them being made available for order. One of the greatest surprises in 2007 that came completely out of nowhere, and with absolutely no hinting or general fanfare, was the long-thought-to-be-lost release of Jerry Goldsmith's score for Ridely Scott's Alien. Composed in 1979, Goldsmith was at that time one of the hottest names in the film scoring arena. Having won his only Academy Award in 1976 for The Omen, and before he came to be a general pick to score mediocre films with often superior scores in the mid-1980s, Goldsmith was truly at the top of his game in 1979, which also proved to be one the strongest highlight years of his entire career. During that year he scored The Great Train Robbery, the masterful Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the less-well remembered Players, and finally, Alien as a quick double-bill for him in the sci-fi genre, completely different from his work for the yet-to-be Star Trek.

      Ridley Scott is known to be a perfectionist, and Alien was his first major film he got to direct. As a perfectionist, Scott is infamous to be very demanding and not always the easiest to work with. When it comes to music, Scott also likes to insert a lot of control in what is being created and voicing it out if something is not to his liking. For a veteran like Goldsmith, who was also not known to be a particularly reticent person, it was almost expected that the two creative powers would end up clashing many times over the production, which was not helped by lack of communication of Scott with Goldsmith in regards to what he actually wanted musically. The end result was that a lot of what Goldsmith wrote and recorded, was in the post-production process hacked up to pieces, placed in irrelevant positions, or tracked with other music, most notably with selections from Goldsmith's very early Freud score, as well as replacing the original end credits with an excerpt from Howard Hanson's "Romantic" Symphony No.2. An early album was indeed released in the aftermath of the film that contained a lot of music that never actually made it to the film, and which was later re-issued in 1988 on CD, but soon disappeared and became a valued collector's item. Goldsmith was a bit bitter about the whole ordeal and often outrightly ignored the work as something that was ruined in the end, citing lack of communication with the director as the main source of displeasure. (Ironically, Goldsmith did work with Scott again on 1985's Legend, but even with a lot of discussion this time around, that score was entirely replaced for the US release with Tangerine Dream music.) In the course of time, music from Goldsmith's Alien has been re-recorded in bits, has been featured as an alternate score on some DVD editions, and been much desired by many score fans as an unlikely Holy Grail.

      Therefore the absolute surprise of Intrada's release of the complete score + alternates in a deluxe 2-sic edition was a shock that reverberated heavily in the film score world. The original masters were long since thought lost or destroyed, so the surprise that they actually did still exist, and that a release of a 20th Century Fox score was even possible, made it one of the most remarkable film score releases of the year. As the film itself is very suspenseful, and much like a horror film, so is the score a rather frightening essay, the likes of which Goldsmith never wrote again. Consisting a lot of slow-burning avant-garde suspense, with swatches of more brutal action and horror music, Goldsmith's score certainly is not an easy listen. Therefore it is surprising to hear Goldsmith's original concepts, that mostly were left off the finished film, to have entitled a considerably more romantic air to the music. The two main ideas of the score are presented in the original "Main Title" cue, the first being a longing trumpet-led melody, whose main characteristics are the repeating two-note patterns throughout the score as a kind of a beckoning beauty of space offset by the dangers that it contains as this theme is never allowed a truly relaxed and harmonious existence. The second major idea is the "time"-motif, which is a kind of a trickling, two-note flute statement that seems to echo off into the distance of space, and which would become the basis of James Horner's sequel score. Otherwise there is little in the way of actual thematic material instead of a reliance on orchestrational colour and otherworldly sounds created by various exotic instruments.

      For the score, Goldsmith employed the National Philharmonic Orchestra and added to the basic orchestral setup a lot of unusual instruments to complement the strange and horrifying space setting, such as serpents, didgeridoos, and conch shells among others. He also remarkably employed the echoplex throughout the score (famous from his previous use of it for the echoing trumpet in Patton) in order to get a specifically reverberating sound out of the orchestra without adding such reverb in the mix, and which is one of the key characteristics that make the score sound so unnerving and mysterious. The resultant soundscape is at the same time intriguingly attractive with that little bit of romantic warmness, but at the same time offset by the coldness of space that is most notably prominent within the few opening cues such as "Hyper Sleep", "The Landing" and "The Passage" to signal that not everything is quite safe in the great unknown. As the alien becomes more predominant in the film and people start to get attacked, Goldsmith also lets the orchestra rip more ferociously on some violent material as heard in cues such as "Here Kitty", "It's a Droid", "Parker's Death", and most notably, the finale cues of "Sleepy Alien", "To Sleep", "The Cupboard" and "Out the Door", this final cue including a more relaxed, if not really any more relieved "safe and sound" type of music as a coda. The original "End Credits" then build to a majestic presentation of the main theme, which in the final product was chugged off in favour of the warmer music of the Hanson symphony by the film's editor Terry Rawlings without consulting Goldsmith.

      The Intrada release presents the score in about as complete form as possible, including on disc one the entire score as originally conceived and recorded to appear in the film. Following the main score is a string of alternate takes of cues that were done as adjustments based on different edits of the film or on music that was felt needed to be different in tone. On the second disc can be found the original 1979 LP program of the original soundtrack release that features many combined cues and is for the people who consider Goldsmith's original "listening experience" compilation is more satisfactory than the chronological film version. To cap off, the second disc also includes further bonus tracks of demos, the film edit of the main title (trimmed down from the re-scored alternate, which is more mysterious than romantic), and even a brief source cue of Mozart. Now the score is a bit of a tough recommendation. On one hand it is a very complex and historic Jerry Goldsmith score that is both an interesting study as it is a mark of Goldsmith's compositional experimentation with natural sounds, using as little synthesizers as possible. On another, it's not exactly a very pleasant listen. The often abrasive horror material combined with atmospheric underscore lacking in big themes and melodies is not exactly something that makes for a pleasant Sunday listen, unless you're a fan of avant-garde classical music. In that regard, the question really is in which camp do you fall into. Personally, I appreciate the music and its complexities, but frankly I rarely listen to it.

      However, there is no denying that this is a classic score and Intrada's release (offered as an unlimited edition) is about as complete as you can wish for, with extensive liner notes going into the creation of the score, a full track-by-track analysis with notes on what music was used and where, as well as including a host of pictures from the film, plus of course the music sounds perfect for a 1979 recording. Amazon.uk is selling the set at a rather hefty £29.99 price, but should you order directly from the US (Intrada or Screenarchives.com) you might get a lot better deal.

      Music as composed for film: ****
      Music as a listening experience: ***
      Music as presented on the Intrada release: *****
      Music as enjoyed by my cat: *
      Overall: ****


      Complete 2007 album
      Disc 1
      The complete original score
      1. Main Title (4:12)
      2. Hyper Sleep (2:46)
      3. The Landing (4:31)
      4. The Terrain (2:21)
      5. The Craft (1:00)
      6. The Passage (1:49)
      7. The Skeleton (2:31)
      8. A New Face (2:34)
      9. Hanging On (3:39)
      10. The Lab (1:05)
      11. Drop Out (0:57)
      12. Nothing to Say (1:51)
      13. Cat Nip (1:01)
      14. Here Kitty (2:08)
      15. The Shaft (4:30)
      16. It's a Droid (3:28)
      17. Parker's Death (1:52)
      18. The Eggs (2:23)
      19. Sleepy Alien (1:04)
      20. To Sleep (1:56)
      21. The Cupboard (3:05)
      22. Out the Door (3:13)
      23. End Title (3:09)

      The rescored alternate cues
      24. Main Title (4:11)
      25. Hyper Sleep (2:46)
      26. The Terrain (0:58)
      27. The Skeleton (2:30)
      28. Hanging On (3:08)
      29. The Cupboard (3:13)
      30. Out the Door (3:02)

      Disc 2:
      The original 1979 soundtrack album
      1. Main Title (3:37)
      2. The Face Hugger (2:36)
      3. Breakaway (3:03)
      4. Acid Test (4:40)
      5. The Landing (4:31)
      6. The Droid (4:44)
      7. The Recovery (2:50)
      8. The Alien Planet (2:31)
      9. The Shaft (4:01)
      10. End Title (3:08)

      Bonus tracks
      11. Main Title (film version) (3:44)
      12. The Skeleton (alternate) (2:35)
      13. The Passage (demonstration excerpt) (1:54)
      14. Hanging On (demonstration excerpt) (1:08)
      15. Parker's Death (demonstration excerpt) (1:08)
      16. It's a Droid (unused inserts) (1:27)
      17. Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (source) (1:49)

      Music Composed by Jerry Goldsmith
      Performed by The National Philharmonic Orchestra
      Conducted by Lionel Newman
      Orchestrated by Arthur Morton
      Recording Engineer: Eric Tomlinson
      Assistant Engineer: Alan Snelling
      Recorded at Anvil Film and Recording Group, Denham, England
      Music Editor: Bob Hathaway
      1979 / Silva Screen, 1988 (FILMCD 003)
      Intrada, 2007 (MAF 7102)

      © berlioz, 2008

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