Alexander (Vangelis, 2004): I’m not really much of a fan of Vangelis and haven’t seen the film (I’m not much of a fan of director Oliver Stone either), so I’m not really sure why I ended up buying this soundtrack. It is possible I received it as a gift or it might have been really inexpensive. What is surprising to me, though, is that I like quite a bit of this score, although it descends a bit too far into weirdness as it goes on.
This is an extremely active, fast-paced score with lots of brass and percussion. Choral elements, including some that more closely resemble chanting, come into play pretty frequently as well. In particular, “The Drums of Guagamela” is a thrilling cue that really does get the blood pumping. Other parts of the score have a haunting, medieval style, including the use of some more archaic instrumentation. While there are a few calmer cues, particularly “One Morning at Pella” (which comes right after “The Drums of Guagamela” on the soundtrack), for the most part this isn’t a score to listen to when you want to relax.
Alice In Wonderland (Oliver Wallace, 1951): The soundtrack from Disney’s classic soundtrack series for Disney’s animated feature has a bit of an unusual format. The score by Oliver Wallace is interwoven fairly tightly with quite a few songs that were written by a variety of composers and lyricists. Because of this, the songs are not generally given separate cues on the album. Instead, the cues are organized logically based on their position in the film, with score segueing seamlessly into songs and vice versa. Due to the available source materials, quite a few parts of the soundtrack include occasional sound effects as well.
Lewis Carroll’s unusual writing style provides quite a bit of opportunity for clever songs and this film has more than most of the other Disney animated features of the era. A few of the songs from the film are very well known, particularly “All In the Golden Afternoon”, “The Unbirthday Song”, and the title song. These songs pretty frequently appear in Disney compilations and are pretty instantly recognizable. The less-familiar songs are effective as well and this is an entertaining album to listen to.
Wallace’s score fits very well with the songs and does a good job of tying everything together. While the film itself tends to take silliness to a higher level than most other Disney features, Wallace doesn’t really use a lot of silly-sounding music, instead allowing a somewhat more straightforward score provide musical support.
Alice in Wonderland (Danny Elfman, 2010): At the time that I am writing this, I have not yet had a chance to see Tim Burton’s recent live-action adaptation of Alice in Wonderland. I doubt I will get a chance to see it now before it comes out on video, but I expect I will make an effort to quickly see it once it it does. I’m a huge fan of Danny Elfman and particularly his score for Burton’s films, so I bought this soundtrack album as soon as it was available.
The score is really great. It is charming and melodic with a style that is pretty unmistakably Elfman’s. The album opens with “Alice’s Theme”, a charmingly bombastic original song written by Elfman and performed with an operatic female vocal. The song is kind of strange and unworldly, which seems to me to be a pretty good fit to an Alice in Wonderland theme. The song’s melody (and occasionally some of the vocals) is used throughout the score. Several cues on the soundtrack are directly billed as reprises to the song.
Musically, Elfman’s score is one of the brighter ones that he has done for a Burton project, but still has some pretty dark edges to it. The score is very string heavy, but with some liberal use of brass and percussion to emphasize the more action-oriented passages. Elfman brings in a wordless choir at a number of points, which helps to establish the other-worldly quality to the music. “Alice’s Theme” is the one really strongly established and repeated theme, although the entire score is fairly melodic.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (John Barry, 1972): Film Score Monthly released this soundtrack on CD (paired with Barry’s score to Petulia) as part of the “Silver Age Classics” limited edition series. This live action musical featured songs by Barry with lyrics by Don Black (obviously inspired by Lewis Carroll) as well as Barry’s instrumental underscore. The singing cast is led by Fiona Fullerton as Alice and also includes such familiar names as Michael Crawford, Peter Sellers, and Dudley Moore.
The musical style is recognizably Barry’s, with plenty of broad, lush melodies and a big symphonic sound to them. Barry’s melodic style is particularly evident in the ballads “Curious and Curiouser” and especially “Dum and Dee Dance”. While the other songs have more of an upbeat, kind of silly quality (reflecting the source material), they still are very much in the composer’s style. One highlight of the songs is definitely “The Pun Song”, a very humorous and silly number that includes Sellers, Moore, Fullerton, and Robert Helpmann.
Barry does provide a number of instrumental cues on the disc as well. The disc opens with a full overture and then there are instrumental versions of several of the songs throughout the disc as well as a couple score-only tracks. Strangely, a few of the instrumental versions of the songs actually appear earlier on the disc than the versions with the vocals. A few of the songs also have fairly extended instrumental portions as well.
Alien (Jerry Goldsmith, 1979): Goldsmith’s score to Alien is a horror classic and probably one of the scariest scores ever. The composer takes a less is more approach with this score, sticking to fairly simple themes and instrumentation. The main theme from the film is only 9-notes long, but is very effective and is now pretty recognizable as this film’s theme. The science fiction aspect of the film is emphasized in the score through some ambient sound effects that are incorporated into a parts of the score as well.
I don’t really think that the original Alien holds up all that well once you are already familiar with it. It greatly depends on shocks and surprises and a lot of its effectiveness is diluted when you know what is going to happen. Goldsmith’s score is one element that really does hold up very well. It creates a very darkly intense mood and palpable sense of dread sufficient that it elicits an appropriate emotional response even when you know what is coming. Goldsmith’s score is pretty much the perfect match to Ridley Scott’s dark and atmospheric direction.
The original soundtrack released with the film was only about 35 minutes long, but a couple years ago Intrada put out an expanded 2-disc edition that runs over 2 hours. This running time includes the complete score as heard in the film on disc 1 and the original LP program plus a number of alternate takes and demos (some with short spoken markers) on disc 2. The Intrada release was not a limited edition and is still readily available.
Aliens (James Horner, 1987): James Cameron’s sequel is a very different type of movie than the original Alien, replacing the isolated, monster-in-the-closet type setting from the original with a much larger in scope action film as it pits a military unit against a whole hive of aliens. For the score, Cameron brought in James Horner who he had previously worked with at Roger Corman’s company (and, of course, years later the two would collaborate very successfully on Titanic and Avatar). The score has been a somewhat controversial one, both because of massive re-editing of it during post-production and because of similarity to some of Horner’s previous scores.
While Horner’s score doesn’t use any of Goldsmith’s themes from the first film (although some of Goldsmith’s music was tracked in during the re-editing process), it isn’t a huge deviation in style. The main theme has a similarly dark and moody style to Goldsmith’s and the score once again has portions that are more like ambient sound effects than musical scoring. The main theme very closely resembles Aram Khachaturian’s Gayaneh ballet to such a degree that there has been controversy over the years about whether or not it should have been credited.
The sequel did have much larger and more substantial action sequences than the original and Horner’s score definitely reflects that in several cues such as “Combat Drop”, “Ripley’s Rescue” and “Futile Escape”. While his action cues do sound somewhat derivative of his music from the 2nd and 3rd Star Trek movies, it still is effective and exciting music in this context. The opening of the finale piece, “Resolution and Hyperspace” is a particularly notable cue that is also somewhat notorious for having been tracked into the finale of Die Hard later as well.
The original soundtrack album was about 40 minutes long, but Varese Sarabande more recently released an expanded version that runs about 75 minutes. For that expanded release, the score was re-assembled into a form closer to what Horner originally composed than the heavily-edited version used in the film. It also includes a few alternates including, oddly, versions of “Combat Drop” and “Ripley’s Rescue” with only the percussion. This expanded release is definitely the best representation of the score available.
Alien3 (Elliot Goldenthal, 1992): As I reached this point in my reviews, I realized that I didn’t have the soundtracks for the 3rd and 4th Alien movies. After a quick check on Amazon.com, I found that I could get reasonably-priced used copies of both CDs (both albums are out-of-print), so I ordered them to fill in that gap in my collection. Although I saw both films years ago, my comments here will be based on listening to the scores outside of the films for the first time.
Goldenthal’s score for the 3rd Alien film is generally well-regarded and was considered to be a breakthrough for the composer, who hadn’t worked on such a major project before. The film, which was poorly received, is almost relentlessly dark and downbeat and Goldenthal’s score does reflect that. The score doesn’t use any of Goldsmith or Horner’s music from the previous films and, in fact, doesn’t really resemble either of those scores all that much.
While Goldsmith’s took a minimalist approach to his entire score while Horner mixed similarly minimalist compositions with some fairly traditional action scoring, Goldenthal’s music is consistently complex, but exceedingly dark. Portions of the score are significantly more melodic than either of its predecessors, but other parts are exceedingly dissonant and atonal.
The opening track of the CD, “Agnus Dei” is immediately fairly surprising. It is a somewhat religious sounding piece featuring a boy soprano against some pretty dissonant orchestration. The themes established in this cue (and the vocals) are reprised periodically later in the score as well. Another very notable cue is “Wreckage and Rape”, which combines some rock-style electronics and percussion with some chant-like wordless vocals, making for an exceedingly striking but odd bit of music.
After listening to the CD just the one time, my sense is that the score is a complex and interesting work, but not an exceptionally accessible one. Like the film, the score is extremely dark and downbeat. The score is impressive, but not one that I’m guessing I’ll listen to very often.
Alien Resurrection (John Frizzell, 1997): As with Alien3, these notes are based on my first time listening to the CD, although I did also see the film years ago. The 4th film in the series continued the series’ tradition of bringing in a mostly new creative team, including a new composer. This time, the film was directed by art house favorite Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Delicatessen, The City of Lost Children, and Amelie) and written by Joss Whedon of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame. The resulting film was weirder and more humorous than its predecessor, although there was some debate about whether or not the humor was intentional.
Frizzell’s score, which again doesn’t use any music from the previous films, is pretty action-oriented and less atmospheric than the predecessors. It also uses a lot of electronics, occasionally using them to add a fair amount of dissonance to the music. At times, such as in the cue “Ripley Meets Her Clones”, electronics are layered over full orchestral segments, creating an interesting and kind of odd effect.
With its focus on action cues, Frizzell’s score more closely resembles Horner’s score than Goldsmith’s or Goldenthal’s, but it also has a more distinctly modern style to it than Horner’s more classical composition style. The score is a bit brighter and more melodic than the others, but doesn’t really include any particularly distinct themes. It is a decent score, but not one that seems as impressive as its predecessors, at least on first listen.
Alien vs. Predator (Harold Kloser, 2004): I was curious about this film that combined Fox’s two big monster movie franchises, but still have never gotten around to seeing it (or its sequel). I was also curious about what approach Kloser would take musically and, thus, ended up downloading the soundtrack from iTunes shortly after its release.
Considering the 4 different composers who worked on the Alien series without re-using either other’s music, it isn’t surprising that Kloser does not use any music from the previous Alien scores or from Alan Silvestri’s scores to the Predator movies. Overall, the score is more melodic than might have been expected. The main theme (imaginatively called “Alien vs. Predator Main Theme” on the album) is a particularly melodic, full-orchestral piece. The score does have its share of electronic dissonance during some of the action cues as well, but not as much as one might anticipate. The score includes some fairly sweeping choral segments as well, particularly notable during the concluding cue of the album.
Alien vs. Predator: Requiem (Brian Tyler, 2007): I guess it was inevitable that this sequel would introduce yet another new composer and score to the series. I can’t think of any other movie series that has made it to 6 films and had a completely new composer and score for each. I didn’t feel particularly compelled to go out and buy this soundtrack, but I received it as a gift and, thus, finished off my collection of music from the Alien films.
Tyler’s approach is pretty much straightforward action music with lots of percussion and brass. It isn’t as melodious a score as Kloser provided for the previous film, but it also is more of a straight orchestral effort without much in the way of electronics. Tyler does create some pretty exciting action cues, but the score as a whole seems pretty conventional and not exceptionally interesting to me.
The soundtrack album seems overlong at 77 minutes, with the pretty constant action cues becoming kind of draining over time. I suspect a more sparing, album-focused presentation of this score would probably be more effective. Despite the long running time, the album ends extremely abruptly. An end credits suite or at least some sort of ending flourish could have done wonders for what ends up as a highly unsatisfying conclusion.