The 2-disc Intrada release of Jerry Goldsmith's Alien is somewhat of a miracle. The great composer himself passed away in July 2004 at the age of 75, some few years before one of his most memorable scores would be given the treatment it truly deserved. "Memorable" was probably not the word Goldsmith would have used in relation to his work on Alien, though. According to the man himself, it all started with Ridley Scott's (director of Alien) fascination with one of his previous scores (Freud: The Secret Passion - dir. John Huston, 1962) and the director's risky decision to use some of the music not merely as temp music but also in the final cut. One can completely sympathize with Goldsmith in this matter, but I think it is necessary not to demonise Ridley Scott for taking those decisions at the time. After all, this was during a period in which Scott released some veritable masterpieces (The Duellists, Blade Runner) and no one could possibly argue that he didn't know what he was doing back then. The "miracle" happened shortly after Goldsmith's death, though. It was the discovery of a 1-inch multi-track source that led to the complete remastering and restoration of the composer's music. By releasing the complete score, the men and women responsible have effectively paid one of the greatest compliments to Jerry Goldsmith ever undertaken, and I'm sure Ridley Scott would be the first to agree.
Although Intrada have released this as a 2-CD set, only the first disc contains the complete score. The second disc comprises the original 1979 release of the score with ten selected tracks and a running time of approximately thirty-six minutes, as well as an additional seven bonus tracks featuring short live excerpts. The last track is a (source) cut from Mozart's "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik" as it was used in the film. The latter would have been a wonderful addition had it been featured in full rather than as a 2-minute sample. However since every single of the seventy-seven minutes of pure genius featured on the first disc clearly make the Intrada version a masterpiece restoration, the second disc should be seen as a welcome (yet rather unecessary) option. The first disc is split into two chronologically-friendly groups, starting with the 23 tracks comprising the complete original score as intended by Jerry Goldsmith, and ending with 7 rescored alternate cues. Despite the seperation, these 30 tracks play as a comprehensive whole: the alternate cues never feel isolated compared to the rest of the score when one first encounters them. There is some kind of instinctive genius in hearing the last echoes of Goldsmith's End Titles give way to the rumbling menace of the alternate Main title.
The first version of Goldsmith's Main Title isn't the one that ultimately made it in the final cut, and thus feels like a perfect place to start. This introduces Goldsmith's absolutely gorgeous main theme accomplished with subdued strings and his now famous trumpet motive. The effect this theme has on the film is actually quite hard to describe, but it seems to suggest something sexual. People usually refer solely to the romantic quality that emanates from Goldsmith's deep string sections, but the trumpet adds shades of something darkly erotic and seductive... Giger's creature is not far around the corner. The trumpet also has a mourning quality to it that perfectly captures the idea of a lonely crew of workers lost in the immensity of space. Although acting as the central leitmotif pattern, Scott's film does not call for a triumphant repetition of the theme each time some dramatic escape from the alien is attempted. Instead, the theme is most often used in conjucture with scenic imagery, such when as the stranded Nostromo ship finally takes of from planet LV426 for instance. These moments are more than purely esthetic; they imbue the dark shores of space and the rusty machinery of the Nostromo ship with traces of humanity that help us connect emotionally with the story's characters. Hyper Sleep seems to strip the main theme down to its most minimal elements with a mysterious 2-note flute motive, all while the thunderous menace of low-pitched strings build in the backgroud. This particular technique has been lifted from Goldsmith's music and used by various other composers throughout the subsequent Alien films, the most obvious being James Horner's Aliens score. The main theme makes a return but with a slower build up and some gorgeous clarinet work, eventually leading to a thudding brass movement that brings this beautiful track to a menacing close.
"The Landing" is another superb track, especially considering that most of it didn't make it into the film and was thought lost. We now finally get the chance to hear the whole 4-and-a-half-minutes experience totally uncut. This particular track is the third in chronological order to explore the main theme before Goldsmith's more alien-sounding material is introduced. It accomplishes this by reintroducing the strong thuding brass from the previous track but with added flourishes, especially as the oboe (and woodwind sections in general) swell into beautiful swirling statements that compliments the already mysterious melodies. The following five tracks detail the barren landscape, alien spacecraft and our first shocking encounter with the "face hugger". Here, Goldsmith's music is reminescent of Planet of the Apes (1968) but in form rather than content; in both cases the idea was to provide the alien civilizations with some form of cultural identity. In Planet of the Apes, Goldsmith used many strange clatterings of metal mixing bowls, frenetic plucked strings and inventive arrangements of a ram's horn and Brazilian Cuika to represent the Ape culture. In Alien, the decor provided by Giger calls for something different... the erotic trumpets and swirling woodwinds are suddenly nowhere to be found, replaced by the soft yet unsettling tonal repetition of a double bass and a beautiful oboe melody. In "The Passage", the oboe is combined with what sounds like an alto flute and the double bass is complimented with disonant yet somehow distant strings. There are many exotic instruments used here, such as a wind machine howling its way through the minimal flute patterns, further adding to the idea that Goldsmith's music isn't so much an instinctive narrative as an entire living architecture at this point.
From the moment Goldsmith introduces those alien-sounding moods, they appear consistently throughout the entire score. These nightmarish moods are muted in "Nothing to Say" to allow for the mourning of Kane as his body is shot out in space. Here, a beautiful variation of the main theme is introduced for the Alien's first victim. This is however the calm before the proverbial storm, as our second victim Brett makes his way through the cables, dripping ceilings and rusty machinery of the Nostromo in search of Ripley's cat. "Cat Nip" and "Here Kitty" are extremely dark tracks with some of the more avant-garde elements of Goldsmith's music surfacing at the forefront of the composition. It isn't hard to see why many critics consider Alien to be the composer's most complicated work. A demented xylophone and snappy serpent both make an entry as Brett pushes deeper into the Alien's newfound lair and is eventually killed, including some motifs that sound like they were created with a sythesizer. The Shaft is yet another unique experience, since the scene is which Dallas is killed was scored with Goldsmith's pre-existing music for Freud in the final mix. You can only imagine how that must of gone down with the artist. The original piece by Goldsmith plays like an extention to the previous tracks in which Brett was killed, but with added trumpet motives to signal the arrival of the Alien.
Tracks 20 to 23 bring the initial complete score to a close, forgetting the essential seven alternate cues for the sake of closure. Once again, Goldsmith's brilliant techniques come into play, as the track "To Sleep" captures the relief of Ripley's character thinking she has finally escaped the creature. Goldsmith knows better of course and delibarely pauses the main theme a few times with suspended string sections. Even as the main tune starts playing, it only goes as far as three notes before falling back into suspense with a few added disonant strings to further accentuate the mood. The theme eventually swells into a dark yet uneasy romance with the help of a clarinet, yet the single-tone quality from the suspended strings is maintained throughout. "The Cupboard" erupts mercilessly into life with a return to the double-bass and exotic instrumentation. I cannot think of anybody who uses pizzicato strings quite like Goldsmith, though a good comparative from outside the film scoring world would be Krzysztof Penderecki (sadly also deceased). These strings help convey the horror of the situation, whilst the punctuating movements of brass, didjeridoo and cello depict the Alien as it begins to move around in the escape shuttle. Despite the sheer brilliance of these pieces, only "Sleepy Alien" was used in the final cut of the film. In the film, Howard Hanson's Symphony no. 2 played over the last moments of Ripley's final confrontation with the Alien and throughout the end credits. This was really the final blow in a long series of insults to Goldsmith's music, as well as remaining one of the more mysterious decisions taken by Ridley Scott. In any event, both the composer's original and revised versions are present in this wonderful release, so that we may get a taste of what could (and should) have been. In the theme's final statement, we get to hear the first echos of what would become the main Star Trek theme later the same year (Star Trek: The Motion Picture, 1979) as the music swells to its most romantic high in the entire release.
By the time it's over, you slowly become aware of the unique privilege of having fully experienced one of the best scores by one of the best composers of all time. Intrada have miraculously resurrected Alien from the dust and cobwebs of the 20th Century Fox studio's vaults. Any given soundtrack conoisseur will immediately know I am talking of the holy grail of all scores here. The words "buy now" are as imperative as the initiation of a self-destruct sequence on an Alien-infested spaceship. The double album can be found at Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com. Intrada should seriously consider extending the courtesy to other works such as John Barry's The Black Hole (a beautiful score that has never once been released on CD). If every score was treated as respectfully and passionately as this, we music enthusiasts would have nothing more to complain about.
CD1: Full Score plus Rescored Alternate Cues
CD2: Original 1979 Soundtrack Album plus Bonus Tracks