Classic Movie Themes: Alien
Alien is a unique genre milestone. It challenged the established aesthetic created by 2001: A Space Odyssey of space travel being pristine, clinical and high tech and replaced it with a grimy, industrial quality. The space tug Nostromo is also a conspicuously “blue collar”, civilian venture, underwritten by a large corporation. As for H. R Giger’s xenomorph, it redefined the depiction of extraterrestrial life in movies. Director Ridley Scott brought visual style and atmosphere to particularly unglamorous and dismal setting. He also scared the hell out of audiences at the time with his slow burn story structure and editing style that hints, rather than shows. Overall, Alien is a text book example of how to make a horror movie and put a new spin on a classic and well-trodden concept.
Jerry Goldsmith’s sombre and portentous score is a key ingredient to the film’s brooding and claustrophobic atmosphere. Yet despite the quality of the music, Goldsmith felt that the effectiveness of his work was squandered by Ridley Scott and editor Terry Rawlings who re-edited his work and replaced entire tracks with alternative material. However what was left still did much to create a sense of romanticism and mystery in the opening scenes, then later evolving into eerie, dissonant passages when the alien starts killing the crew. The fully restored score has subsequently been released by specialist label Intrada and has a thorough breakdown of its complete and troubled history.
Perhaps the best track in the entire recording is the triumphant ending and credit sequence, which was sadly removed from the theatrical print of the film and replaced with Howard Hanson's Symphony No. 2 ("Romantic"). This cue reworks the motif from the earlier scene when the Nostromo undocks from the refining facility and lands on the barren planet, LV-426. It builds to a powerful ending which re-enforces Ripley’s surprise defeat of the xenomorph and its death in the shuttles fiery exhaust. Seldom has the horror genre been treated with such respect and given such a sophisticated and intelligent score. Despite its poor handling by the film’s producers, Alien remains one of Jerry Goldsmith’s finest soundtracks from the seventies and yet another example of his immense talent.