Alien is one of the best horror movies ever made, and Jerry Goldsmith’s score is most of what makes it such a brilliantly terrifying masterpiece.
Ridley Scott’s Alien is an incredible film. The way he perfectly captures terror with just atmosphere is an amazing feat, and this combined with the now legendary alien creature and it’s hunt of the poor Nostromo crew makes the movie one of the scariest and certainly most iconic of the horror genre. Jerry Goldsmith’s music for the film contributed greatly to this, largely because of it’s very thematic, creepy and jumpscare-inducing nature. So without further ado, lets jump into the review.
The album opens with Main Title, which does a wonderful job of introducing the tone and atmosphere (I’m going to be using that word a lot today) of Alien. The music starts out dark and cold, with strings taking the forefront initially. Brass then takes over after a few seconds to play the main Alien theme for the first time. It is a wonderful piece that is at the same time both inspiring and incredibly unnerving. This theme is played for a good two minutes before Goldsmith then moves into much scarier territory with the secondary main theme; a simple two note motif that repeats continuously.
Despite being very simple however it is incredibly effective, as it combined with ominous marching brass in the background easily makes for the most sinister and creepy piece of music on the entire album as well as being the most memorable (the theme is also used repeatedly throughout the entire Alien franchise). It is meant to represent the emptiness of space, and the terrors that could possibly reside within it. It’s simplicity is what makes it so unique, and so absolutely terrifying.
Hyper Sleep is up next, and it opens with a few seconds of that shiver-inducing secondary theme. The music starts out slowly before building up its tempo, and just before it ought to move into rapid territory it slows right back down and into a much more peaceful and calm setting. The main Alien theme is played on brass once again with backing strings, but this time in a much more upbeat manner. The marching brass also makes a return, but this time also losing it’s creepy edge. All in this makes for a rather unnerving track, as the music that was scary now becomes much more tranquil.
The next track opens in a manner than doesn’t sound dissimilar to Star Wars, being very space sci-fi. This doesn’t last long however in The Landing as Goldsmith switches up to a short reprise of the main theme and then begins some very sinister sounding strings. The marching brass makes another return here as well as the secondary main theme, but this time they are back to their usual ominous and dark selves. The brass then slowly builds up and gets very loud and menacing towards the end to signify just how much danger the crew of the Nostromo are about to get into.
The Skeleton is very classic-horror-movie style scary, with those rapid violins that are always used in those films making a major appearance. They then fade away after a few seconds and the music takes a rather unusual turn; Goldsmith uses a single echoing note of an instrument (I honestly couldn’t say which) on repeat, which like the secondary main theme is very simple yet incredibly disturbing. This is then used a fair amount throughout the rest of the track in combination with the classic sounding violins.
The secondary main theme and it’s usual accompaniment of marching brass make another appearance in Nothing To Say, setting a very atmospheric and minacious tone for the next few tracks. This is capitalised mostly in Here Kitty, which marks the first appearance of the theme for the alien creature. The piece is mostly strings based with backing brass, and similarly to the secondary main theme it is quite simple; being just strings that rapidly increase their pitch before moving back down again and repeating. I think it goes without saying now that Goldsmith seems to be a master of simple-but-effective music.
The Shaft is an interesting track, mainly because it is not actually the piece of music used in the ventilation shaft scene in the film. That is actually Desperate Case from another of Jerry Goldsmith’s scores; Freud. I can only assume this piece was temp-tracked into the movie and the producers decided to continue using it instead of The Shaft. To be honest, I think this was for the best because it doesn’t hold a candle to Desperate Case in terms of how terrifying it was in one of the most tense scenes in Alien. The way the music builds up from just ambient strings to full on terror inducing ones is simply masterful, and it does a great job of illustrating just how horrifying the alien creature is.
Being now well over halfway into the score, it is interesting to note that the music has slowly built up over the course of it’s hour long runtime from very atmospheric and slow (but creepy) to fast-paced and downright terrifying. If you insert it into the album instead of The Shaft, Desperate Case does a good job of transitioning between the two different horror styles. This is especially effective considering the music from here on out is mostly the fast-paced scary kind. Parker’s Death and Sleepy Alien do a fantastic job of illustrating this, being mainly fast-paced, strings-based and heavily featuring the menacing theme for the alien creature. The score is now very deep into pure horror territory, and because of the superb build-up it is even more effective at sending shivers down your spine.
The score then closes out it’s accelerated pace with Out The Door, and moves back into slower and more atmospheric territory with it’s End Titles piece. Here the main theme for Alien makes a long and heavily brass-based reprise that ends the score spectacularly. Interestingly however, this track was also not used in the film, being replaced in the end credits by Sinfonia No. 2 by Howard Hanson. This is a choice I do not really agree with, as the Alien theme making one final appearance brings a good sense of closure to the score as well as the film, and so having a track that doesn’t belong in the score at all (not even being composed by Goldsmith like Desperate Case) significantly undermines that. Still, we have the proper ending here on the album, and that’s what matters.
Overall then, the score to Alien is simply amazing. The main and secondary themes are incredibly atmospheric and in the case of the secondary just downright terrifying. The score as a whole is wondrous and inspiring, and does a fantastic job of representing what horrors could be residing in the depths of deep space. Alien is Jerry Goldsmith’s masterpiece, and also one of the most iconic horror scores ever composed. This is why I am awarding it the second Perfect Score of this site. It is very well deserved.
Standout Cue: 1. Main Title