Agnus Dei (Main Title)
The forbidding and bleak atmosphere of David Fincher’s much-maligned movie (those who haven’t checked out the Assembly Cut should do so – it’s excellent) owes a lot to Elliot Goldenthal’s uncompromising score. Alien 3 was a seminal work for the composer, written during the height of the Los Angeles Rodney King race riots and immediately establishing his ferociously atonal, angry sound (the fiendishly complex horn trills are characteristic of his work). The use of the soprano vocal over the movie’s opening titles (not to mention the chilling inversion of the 20th Century Fox fanfare) was remarkably innovative for the series, establishing that this was a story headed into some seriously dark areas.
Wreckage and Rape
Goldenthal’s music is famous for blurring the lines between music and sound design. The attempted assault on Ripley by the criminals on ‘Fury’ 161 is a fine example of this, almost veering into thrash metal territory and establishing a cacophonous sound unlike anything previously heard in the series. It’s yet another indicator that the Alien 3 score is a valued asset to the movie, the work of a composer audibly getting under the tortured skin of the production.
There’s no denying that Alien 3 is the most challenging of all the scores in the series. It is also in many ways the most nakedly emotional and beautiful, feeding off Weaver’s superb performance as a tortured, embattled Ripley forced to contend with the new Alien living inside her. It all comes to a head during the famous climactic sacrifice, Goldenthal building a majestic orchestral monument to this most famous of sci-fi heroines as she throws herself into the molten lava. Amidst what is generally a very dark score, this is a profound moment of beauty that brilliantly captures the sheer magnitude of the scene.
Ripley Meets Her Clones
Unfashionable as it is to admit, Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Alien movie, the fourth and without doubt the most corporate and unremarkable in the series, still has a few things going for it. One is the effectively moody, sinuous score from Dante’s Peak composer John Frizzell who superbly captures the off-kilter hybrid nature of Ripley-8 clone at the centre of the narrative. The darkly mysterious strings call back to the Hollywood scoring masters from earlier in the series and also establish a sense of compassion during the movie’s best, most disturbing scene when Ripley is confronted with the botched clones that preceded her. It’s a classy score that deserved a better movie to show it off.
The Battle With The Newborn
Resurrection‘s larger, $70m budget clearly allowed for a greater sense of expansiveness and mayhem in the orchestral underscore, and Frizzell duly responds with some ferociously complex action writing. The hell-for-leather brass and string compositions during the climactic dispatch of the infamous ‘Newborn’ clone practically has the orchestra squealing in pain as the creature is ejected into space, a sign of Frizzell’s compositional skill in matching the on-screen action. It may be the most conventional of all the scores in the series but it’s still very impressive, occasionally owing a debt to the unrelenting orchestral techniques of the previous movie’s Elliot Goldenthal.
For reasons that aren’t entirely clear, scoring duties for Prometheus, Ridley Scott’s long-awaited Alien prequel, were split between Harry Gregson-Williams (who scored both Kingdom of Heaven and The Martian for the director) and Marc Streitenfeld (who scored A Good Year, Body of Lies and Robin Hood). The latter got the bulk of the horror scoring, guttural orchestral textures signalling the onset of what would become the Xenomorph life-cycle. That material is effective but even better is Gregson-Williams’ grandiose main theme, laying out the spiritual and philosophical import of the storyline with all the orchestral majesty that Hollywood can muster. It’s a canny way of establishing in musical terms the optimism at the (chronological) beginning of the Alien timeline, soon to be undercut by the horror of what’s to come.
Sean Wilson is a journalist, writer and soundtrack enthusiast, and can be found on Twitter here.