One of the nicest -- and most overdue -- features of the new Alien Blu-Ray is the ability to watch certain scenes with composer Jerry Goldsmith's original score playing over them. In case you don't know, or just forgot, the biggest controversy during Alien's production was that Goldsmith had one notion of how the movie should sound and director Ridley Scott had another.
Scott was expecting something dark, quiet and moody out of Goldsmith. Instead, he got back a lot of overstated, less-than-subtle stuff and he threw out half of it, substituting pieces from other movies Jerry scored or something different altogether. Goldsmith is convinced to this day the music he originally turned in was better. Scott insists he did the right thing. Which one of them is right?
Now YOU can decide! Both versions, where attainable, can be heard below. (If not, get Flash, you stupid hippie.)
I love the Alien title sequence. I love the air of mystery and anticipation. I love the way the title slowly becomes recognizable. For some reason, I'm especially fond of the flute flutter as the camera passes by the bird-drinking-water toy. And I love the way the music establishes a feeling of tension without resorting to any "scary" gimmicks. I couldn't imagine this with any other kind of melody. But Jerry can.
Jerry Goldsmith is still fond of his original main title score and wishes it was there instead of what we have now. Goldsmith had the idea that the opening title should be set to a lovely, relaxing, sweeping score as the planets drift by, to lull the audience into a false sense of security and fool them into thinking they weren't about to watch a horror movie.
There's one problem with this kind of thinking.
IT'S ALIEN. IT'S ONE OF THE SCARIEST MOVIES EVER AND EVERYBODY KNOWS THAT! WHO SERIOUSLY WENT TO SEE THIS MOVIE NOT EXPECTING IT TO BE SCARY? WHO DID GOLDSMITH THINK HE COULD FOOL?
And without that element of surprise, what is the real point? It doesn't set the right mood at all. It's totally wrong. Point #1 goes to Ridley Scott.
The score after the Nostromo recieves the Space Jockey's signal is called "Hyper Sleep" and, while it was redone, it doesn't contain enough differences to matter. The next significant change occurs during the exploration of LV-426.
Ridley Scott did not commission a
replacement for this or the following scene. He just respliced
the main title music in different ways for the first third of the
The original is moody, but not nearly as much as the main title. It's hard to pull off with clarinets. If they used a tenser-sounding instrument, I might vote Goldsmith on this one, but...I'm picking Scott again.
KANE FINDS THE EGGS
Again, Scott recycles the main title instead. In this instance, Goldsmith's piece (called "A New Face," because Kane gets a new face) drastically changes the mood of the scene.
"A New Face" is by far the creepiest composition Goldsmith created for Alien. A Word of Warning -- don't listen to it if you're about to go to bed. Either way, the audience knows Kane is in danger and doing something stupid, but "A New Face" amplifies the situation by a factor of fifty. With this new piece in, you're squirming in your seat, thinking "GET OUT OF THERE NOW!!"
Scott's re-edited Main Title casts a different mood: "I know Kane is going to pay for this, but you know, I can't help but be as curious as he is right now." That, in my opinion, is the better mindset for this scene. Alien has two different psychological themes that switch back and forth throughout the film: curiosity and danger. The derelict ship is meant to be a curiosity, though it is also dangerous. It doesn't need heavy music for punctuation. Goldsmith's score would have made people panic and miss a lot of details.
Scott used no music during the examination. Starting with the acid breach, Scott used the main theme of the 1962 movie "Freud" instead (which was also scored by Goldsmith). I couldn't really get it, so you'll have to use this link instead.
Here's where me and the composer part ways most drastically. Goldsmith WAY overscored this scene.
What I mentioned about curiosity and danger especially applies here. This is definitely a curious scene -- one in which the score needs to shut up so people can focus solely on the mystery. This score is completely inappropriate for not only this kind of scene but this kind of movie. It uses a theramin! The very instrument synonymous with the B-movie monsters Alien shattered expectations of! Wrong, wrong!
You might think I'm being too hard on Goldsmith, but actually, I think Jerry's idea for the acid leak portion at the end was better than Ridley's. That was the time when you needed a "danger" score.
BRETT IN THE PUMP ROOM
Scott used nothing until the Alien appears
Goldsmith scored the whole scene with a piece called "Here Kitty." Scott threw out most of it. Given that this scene follows a fake-out, the audience already knows Brett is the one who's going to get it (he's alone, after all). But the music lessens some of the suspense as to when he gets said "it." Also, don't forget -- in 1979, people watching had no idea how big the Alien had gotten or what form it would take. It was a much tenser experience with just the water dripping and the clattering chains.
DALLAS'S VENT CRAWL
For what Scott used, see the YouTube link above and go to 4:54 on the dial
Great scene. The shaft itself is almost as creepy as the Alien!
This could have gone either way. I think this score had a better chance of making it than Jerry's others.....if not for one fatal mistake. He used TUBAS.
Maybe tubas aren't as blasphemous for Alien as theramins are, but still.....This is a serious scene! Tubas are comical instruments! Are we supposed to laugh at Dallas? Instead, Scott uses a melancholy piece from "Freud," which he'd used in the movie's temp track, and adds a heartbeat for edge. It may not be the most suitable song either, but at least it fits the mood better.
RIPLEY EATS A MAGAZINE
Scott cut out everything until Ash's head snaps off
There's also a score for Ash's entire malfunction scene. It fits the circumstances better than some of the other rejected scores, but I don't think it was necessary. We already recognize something weird is going on with a man who bleeds milk and thinks the most efficient way to kill Ripley is a rolled-up Hustler down the throat....we don't need a song to tell us that. The music successfully enhances the moment when Ash fully breaks down. It would be nothing but gravy earlier.
THE REST OF THE MOVIE
Not much is different for the final stretch of the film. Everything that was composed made it in. Goldsmith's faux pas was overscoring the curiosities, and there are little to no mystery moments from this point forward. It's all danger, and Jerry could do danger.
Except for one final replacement. Scott removed Jerry's credits composition in favor of "Symphony #2" by Howard Hanson. He felt the viewers needed the change in tone at the end. Goldsmith's credits reprise some music from earlier scores, and isn't that bad. Unfortunately the end of it reprises the rejected main title and that's where it trips up. If he couldn't fool them then, he'd really have a hard time now.
What's your opinion? In the end, as you've been reading, I largely side with Ridley Scott. What can I say -- it was his movie, and he knew exactly what kind of feeling he was shooting for, a feeling Jerry Goldsmith didn't quite understand. But there had never been a film like this before anyway.
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READ THE NOSTROMO DOSSIER THAT WAS ON THE SCREEN DURING RIPLEY'S TRIAL IN "ALIENS"