CD REVIEW: ALIEN: THE COMPLETE MOTION PICTURE SOUNDTRACK

By • December 4, 2007

Composer: Jerry Goldsmith
Label: Intrada
Suggested Retail Price: $ 29.99
Grade: A+

When you’re a kid, and watching your favorite sci-fi movie for the bazzilionth time, chances are you’re not going to notice the soundtrack’s choppy music edits, a smattering of cues that were recorded in the early 60’s, or what a classical suite is doing over the end titles. All that matters is that the soundtrack contributes to one of the most mesmerizingly scary experiences of your life. Hence, the fact that I’ve always enjoyed how Jerry Goldsmith’s score ended up in Alien- despite the fact that my idol considers it to be one of the travesties of his career- a score that was hacked, tossed, overdubbed, replaced, and replayed to within an inch of its life.

Now the grievous musical “mistakes” of Alien director Ridley Scott and editor Terry Rawlins have been rectified by Intrada, who continue their ascent to soundtrack label godhood by releasing a new, painstakingly realized soundtrack to Alien. In two glorious discs, this Holy Grail release plays both to the score that was supposed to be in the film, and the still-brilliant mishmash that ended up as the soundtrack. While completists will still have to track down Goldsmith’s Freud and Howard Hanson’s “Romantic Symphony” to create an utterly complete Alien CD, Intrada’s release is as good as it will get for anybody but the most rabid, double-jawed Alien fan.

In the liner notes by album co-producer Mike Matessino, this history of how Goldsmith’s best musical intentions ended up at the whims of Scott and Rawlins is fastidiously, and fascinatingly detailed, right down to the insane number of edits they did to his score- of which precious few cues ended up the way they were meant to be played. Sectioned off into Alien’s original score, its re-score, alternate takes, original release album and assorted bonus tracks, Goldsmith’s beast reveals that the maestro was second to none in his Avant Garde approach to the genre, of which his masterpieces include Planet Of The Apes, The Other, The Mephisto Waltz, Logan’s Run and his (only) Oscar-winning score to The Omen. Yet Alien starts off with surprising romance, lush strings and a lonely horn signaling the emptiness of the void, and the doomed bravery of its space truckers aboard the Nostromo, who first awaken from cryo-sleep to the fairy tale-like beauty of Goldsmith’s main theme. Then after one of the great-slow build planet-landing cues yet written, Alien’s fully symphonic approach gradually breaks down into eerie, dissonant passages, and heart-pounding, modernistic strings – a brilliant approach that mirrors the heroes’ confidence breaking into pieces in the face of a monstrous, unkillable insect-thing from hell.

The sounds that Goldsmith conjured in 1979 still make this the Alien score (and film) to beat. Among his inventively creepy grab bag of instruments were wind machines, whistling, and the echoplex, its ghostly, repeated rhythms perverted from the noble intent that Goldsmith had first given them in Patton. Here, Goldsmith created a haunted house in space, conjuring dripping, gurgling and the spew of acid- yet making it all of its sonic effects musical in a way that today’s “crash-bang” approach to horror scoring can’t come close to.

Yet as great as Goldsmith’s approach was, much of it was too big, too “movie-ish” for Scott and Rawlins. And the filmmakers’ intention to first make Goldsmith re-write several cues, and then beat down the entire score down to a more realistic, subdued tone seems justified when you watch the Alien DVD, which features Goldsmith’s original score synched to picture. The opening title plays far better with the spare, melodic percussion that ended up in the film, a motif that was effectively tracked throughout the film, especially in the crew’s discovery of the space jockey’s derelict ship. Even what ended up for Dallas’ crawl through “The Shaft” has a scarier, more emotional build- though what you’re hearing is tracked in from Goldsmith’s 1962 score to Freud. And there’s something that seems a bit spookier, and reflective about using Howard Hanson as opposed to Goldsmith’s original, “we’ve won” end title. I prefer to think that an overall brilliant director like Ridley Scott knows what he’s doing- even if it’s at the expense, and outrage of Goldsmith (who’d come back for more punishment with Scott when his score got tossed in the American version of Legend – though I actually admit to preferring the dreamier Tangerine Dream version).

But none of this is meant to slight the man who will probably be recognized in the long term as the best composer whose music was ever celebrated, or taken to pieces by Hollywood – a man who always challenged himself, and the audience with every score. And whichever musical approach you prefer for Alien, listening to Jerry Goldsmith’s score in its complete glory is an immersive, hypnotic experience that still terrifies. And almost thirty years later, Alien continues to stand as one of the best monster scores ever written. Finally, in space everyone can hear Jerry Goldsmith scream- but with delight this time, I’d imagine.

To buy ALIEN: THE COMPLETE MOTION PICTURE SOUNDTRACK, click here.

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