Alien: Original Soundtrack (Special Edition)

CD Review by Gregory S. Burkart

This winter has proven a bountiful season both for soundtrack collectors and fans of Ridley Scott's science fiction output ? with the 25th anniversary 3-disc release of Blade Runner, and now this highly coveted collection of Jerry Goldsmith's equally memorable score for Alien, courtesy of boutique outlet Intrada Records. Long since out of print, the original 1979 soundtrack album (released by Fox, then later on CD by Silva Screen) has been restored here in its entirety, but more importantly is now supplemented with Goldsmith's complete original score, previously unheard alternate and unused cues, and lots more. For fans of Goldsmith's work (guilty), or Alien buffs in general (guilty again), this is truly a treasure to behold... and worth a little backstory.

After nabbing a 1976 Best Score Oscar for The Omen, Goldsmith had ascended, alongside John Williams, to golden-boy composer status in the new era of Hollywood high-concept blockbusters, and with his track record in genre projects, seemed a natural fit for the futuristic horror epic. Despite this, Goldsmith was not actually Scott's first choice. Electronic composer Isao Tomita was actually being considered on the basis of his synth-based interpretation of Gustav Holst's symphony The Planets, and excerpts from Tomita's work were actually used in advanced teaser trailers for the film. This ultimately never progressed beyond the conceptual stage ? although the director would eventually decide on electronic music for his next outing, contracting Vangelis to score Blade Runner, leading to one of the most revered electronic scores in film history. The director then ruffled feathers years later by replacing Goldsmith's symphonic score for Legend with electronic compositions by Tangerine Dream. One can only imagine what Alien might have sounded like had Scott gone with his first choice.

Ironically, Goldsmith opted to discard electronic music elements altogether for his approach to Alien, despite frequent use of synthesizers in many of his scores (Logan's Run, for example, is a veritable salad of bleeps and bloops). His reasoning for this was that more primitive instrumentation ? such as the Australian didjeridu or the conch shell ? when treated through modern recording techniques (such as the Echoplex tape-delay), could produce sounds never heard before ? a truly ?alien? sonic landscape that would put viewers ill at ease and fill them with a feeling of dread. This new approach firmly in mind, Goldsmith plunged into his work with enthusiasm, blending epic-scale classical romanticism with avant-garde modern techniques. The result is one of the most chilling, unsettling symphonic scores ever written.

The composer's creative enthusiasm waned considerably, however, once he realized what had become of his work in the final edit. Control-obsessed Ridley Scott is well known for micro-managing every last detail of his films, and this score was definitely no exception. To begin with, editor Terry Rawlings chose to use earlier Goldsmith music as temporary tracks to help with pacing and mood during the editing process ? a common tactic which Goldsmith also happened to hate. To make matters worse, Scott became attached to a couple of the temp tracks, particularly some chilling excerpts from 1962's Freud: The Secret Passion (listen for a good example during Tom Skeritt's doomed journey through the Nostromo air shaft), and decided to keep them in the final cut. Goldsmith was also dismayed by Rawlings' shuffling around of several cues, placing them against scenes for which they were not intended, and some abrupt, jarring cuts that still remain in the final version of the film.

Goldsmith managed to restore some of his original compositions on the 1979 album, but in combined, altered or re-sequenced versions, and the content of this album is retained on disc 2 of this set. But it is the first disc that represents his original vision ? and it is that version, newly mastered from a recently discovered multi-track tape, that comprises disc 1. Hearing this music in its original form is an amazing experience, with a full dramatic arc and some subtle tones and textures absent in any other version.

As if this weren't enough of a find, we also get several alternate cues, which offer different ranges of effects and instrumentation (Scott requested some segments be re-scored as they sounded too ?romantic?), as well as the demo versions of some of these cues, offering insight into the creative evolution of the movie's sonic landscape. Put together, this collection is a shining example of a landmark work from one of one of film music's greatest talents ? one which has been taken away from us far too soon.

Alas, like so many professed ?complete? edition soundtrack releases (including the Blade Runner 3-CD set released last month), die-hard collectors and fans of the film will nevertheless find a few glaring omissions here. Despite the included excerpt of Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (used as source music in the film), the first movement from Howard Hanson's Symphony No. 2 (?Romantic?), which featured prominently in the film's conclusion and end titles, is not included, and the Freud cues are also absent, but that's not too surprising, given Goldsmith's negative view of the studio's tampering.

Anyway, I'm not complaining one bit. This album was designed to represent the composer's true vision for how Alien would sound. What the filmmakers did with that vision may or may not have been justifiable, depending on your point of view, but this score in and of itself is a masterpiece.

At present, this disc is available directly from ? so drop by and order your own copy.