Elliot Goldenthal’s hauntingly elegant score for ALIEN³ sports an excellent main theme and many an unforgettable moment, cementing it overall as a more than worthy successor to Goldsmith and Horner’s iconic prior entries to the Xenomorph franchise.
Scoring the third film in the Alien franchise, composer Elliot Goldenthal had quite the task, and some rather large shoes to fill too coming off the back of Jerry Goldsmith’s hauntingly iconic score for the first Alien and James Horner’s emphatically action-oriented but no less excellent score for the subsequent Aliens. Couple that with the rather troubled production of ALIEN³ and the question inevitably is; does Goldenthal’s sequel score hold up to the incredibly high bar set by films one and two? The answer? You’ll find out in more detail below, but in a few short words – yes, it most certainly does. What makes it interesting as well is that the composer actually created this score in Los Angeles, at the same time that the Los Angeles riots of 1992 were occurring, which (according to Goldenthal) had a profound influence on the music he crafted for the film. The result; a quiet, moody, haunting score that not only rather expertly captured the tone and ideation that stems from the Alien as a concept, but one that also more than met the high bar set by the iconic prior compositions for the franchise and also went on to be one of Goldenthal’s best scores all round. So, with all of the above in mind – shall we get started?
On Alien Day (that’s 26/04) in 2018, La-La Land Records debuted an exquisitely expanded and remastered 2-CD set for ALIEN³, one that features the score in its entirety as heard in the film. Given that it is essentially now the definitive method of listening to Goldenthal’s brilliant works for the film, it’s that which we’ll be listening to in our soundtrack analysis today. 20th Century Fox Trademark/Main Title opens the album, and already we’re off to a great start – the iconic 20th Century Fox logo music starts to play as expected initially, but Goldenthal then intriguingly leaves a note off its end, closing the logo music on a dramatically unfinished and haunting unnerving note that pretty much instantly sets a unsettling tone to start off the score. Ominous strings then open the Main Title section, with the instrumentation harkening all the way back to the nerve-wracking first few seconds of Jerry Goldsmith’s main title piece (film version) for the first Alien before brass then breaks through the tension, followed swiftly by high-pitched, eerie vocals and tense strings. This chilling atmosphere continues for a few further ominous minutes with percussion occasionally rumbling through the background until the brass starts to pick up the pace, and the drums enter action territory for a minute of anxious ferocity until the cue then ends on the same quiet, worried vocals it started with. Overall, in just under five minutes, Goldenthal pretty much completely wins me over here as composer for the third Alien film; this Main Title just might be the eeriest of the three so far, not to mention how brilliantly it captures the quietly haunting atmosphere of the Alien franchise, so far that it’s almost expertly done.
Whistling woodwinds and high-pitched, inquisitive strings open Status Reports, which together set an almost upbeat tone to start off with before rumblings of sinister brass then start to roll through, and the music slowly descends back into its natural dark ambience. This then culminates in a rather alarming burst of loud brass a few seconds later, playing before the cue then closes out. The Survivor Is A Woman continues in the same unnerving manner, with quiet strings then introducing the main theme for the score. Unlike with films one and two though, this motif is actually much less front-facing; for much of the album it tends to just hang around moodily in the background which, in the case of Goldenthal’s ALIEN³, actually works to its betterment (at least in my opinion). Having a memorable, prominent main theme is certainly a good thing when it comes to film scores, but I believe there are also exceptions to that rule (see Blade Runner 2049) and ALIEN³ fits that exception; it centralises around dark, moody ambience, and while having a primary motif is certainly beneficial, the atmospheric, unnerving style to the score honestly just… doesn’t really need it. The unique style stands for itself. That being said though, this score does have a main theme (just not a very front-facing one), and it plays in its debut here. The motif overall is a quiet, bleak, almost sorrowful piece that really emphasises both the grim nature of the film’s setting and the quiet solemnity of its protagonists. This mood then continues into the subsequent The Wreckage, a short piece that leans heavily into loud, worrisome brass and high-pitched, horror-like strings, then seguing into the similarly bleak Lullaby Elegy, where (after a few seconds of foreboding introduction) bursts of dramatic brass then set a rather disquieting tone, all adding to the moody style of the music which then all comes to a crashing, percussive crescendo at the five minute closing mark.
The Cremation opens at a rapid pace, with frantic strings and bursts of impatient, aggravated brass playing infrequently throughout its starting minute. The instrumentation then slows back down into solemnity as the music continues, with the main theme then seguing in for a few decidedly melancholic strings-based renditions before the track then fades away. To switch things up a bit, a gentle, almost romantic piano then plays in How Do You Like Your New Haircut, with lighter, more optimistic strings occupying the background. This doesn’t last for long though as The First Attack then arrives, with rumblings of sinister brass and infrequent, horror-like bursts of high-pitched strings taking centre stage. This then all comes to a head just before the cue ends, with loud stabs of brass emphasizing the dramatic titular act. The romantic piano briefly returns in the short Appreciative Of Your Affections before the darker true nature of the score returns once again in A Mark, A Burn. Things get very creepy very quickly here as brass echoes through in a decidedly ominous way before saddened, despairing strings then start to play towards the end of the sub-minute piece. High-pitched, horror-like strings then return in Candles In The Wind accompanied by the occasional roar of unnerving percussion for the first minute or so before brass then arrives to bring the music to a very alarming crescendo. The orchestral mixture that then follows is actually quite disturbing, and overall I have to hand it to Goldenthal here – there’s a seriously sinister edge to his music for ALIEN³, and the last few seconds of this track in particular is a great example of just how effective its rather horrific atmosphere can be.
Bishop Turned On starts off quietly, with dissonant, moody instrumentation setting the now typically dark tone before strings then arrive to slowly morph the mood into gentle solemnity for the cue’s back half. Slow, mournful brass then opens It’s A Long Sad Story/Clemens Dies, playing rather sorrowfully for the first minute or so for an unusually tender moment in the score before all hell then breaks loose at the two minute mark. Loud, alarming brass bursts into the fray accompanied swiftly by high-pitched strings, which all then comes to a crashing percussive crescendo as the worst unfortunately happens in the film. This style then continues somewhat into Andrews’ Sting/What Are We Going To Do, before the music then slows down and the brass turns low-pitched and creepily sinister. This only lasts for a little bit however before the orchestra then starts to regain a bit of optimism, with strings arriving, brass swelling and percussion sounding to altogether inject the first proper bit of musical hopefulness so far in the album. Stabbing brass notes and unnerving percussion then take the forefront in Explosion And Aftermath, with the aforementioned brass then joining up with frantic, nerve-wracking strings in the back half of the cue for a minute of rather frantic action. I Have To Get To The Ship then slows the pace right back down, bringing the score deep into melancholic, sorrowful territory once again, though this time with a slightly sinister touch as low-pitched brass and quiet strings then turn almost horror-like towards the end of the four minute piece.
Slow, moody rumbles of brass play In The Basement, with nervous strings slowly fading in to occupy the background until the brass then reaches a particularly sinister crescendo a few seconds later. This then leads into subsequent atmospheric setpieces Alien’s Lair and The Beast Within, with the former leaning heavily toward dark, ominous instrumentation and the occasional quiet rumble of unsettling brass, and the latter establishing quite a cold tone initially with quiet, emotionless strings opening, which then build up into a louder, much more dramatic crescendo as brass also joins the fray. Here the main theme also plays in mournful form, emphasizing the bleaker mood as the track then fades out a little while later. Frantic strings and loud, dramatic brass (reminiscent of James Horner’s Aliens score) then open Bait And Chase, with high-pitched strings arriving for a few moments of pure horror score before the action then kicks back into gear with infrequent, ominous brassy bursts and relentless emphatic percussion. It’s Started harkens back to the aggravated style of The Cremation for its opening few seconds before the unnerving style of previous cues then returns alongside loud, aggressive percussion and brass notes. These roar along for a minute or two before the musical style of The Cremation returns once again for a similarly short but emphatic appearance before the music then moves into More Bait And Chase, continuing the dark action finale.
Here, the instrumentation is accompanied by some rather creepy electronics, overall making for quite an eerie opening before the strings then return alongside rising brass for a crashing build-up. This mood then turns a bit frantic towards cue’s end, with the strings and particularly the brass kicking up the pace and boosting the volume for emphasis. A rumble of drums then opens Trap The Alien/Dillon’s Deliverance, with short bursts of brass keeping the pace worrisome for most of its runtime alongside the now increasingly unnerving electronics (which also continued through from More Bait And Chase). Right towards the end of the piece though the music then slows into solemnity, with desperate, melancholic strings then sounding straight through into Gotcha/Hello, I Must Be Going. Here the music takes a rather victorious turn, with upbeat, almost heroic brass playing loudly and emphatically through the first thirty seconds or so accompanied by crashes of dramatic percussion. This doesn’t last long either however before the eerie electronics then return to once again plunge the score back into darkness, with the high-pitched horror-like strings also playing through. It’s here though that the score starts to bow out, but not before giving us its standout cue; Adagio. The track opens softly, with quiet, muted strings setting a decidedly sorrowful tone in the first minute before brass then rumbles into the fray. Together, the instruments then play quietly and emotionally, with the main theme also arriving to considerably amplify the already saddened mood. This all then builds to the score’s loudest, most emotionally raw crescendo so far with the orchestra simply giving its all, ending the score on a proudly dramatic but also rather heartbreaking musical note.
Overall, Elliot Goldenthal’s moodily atmospheric and elegantly-crafted score for ALIEN³ certainly lives up to its iconic predecessors, and continues to uphold the high bar previously set by Jerry Goldsmith and James Horner respectively. Goldenthal utlises dark, haunting instrumentation to incredible effect throughout the album, and the way it perfectly captures the dark mood and ambience of Alien as a franchise as well as the third film’s grimy, downtrodden prison world setting is truly something to behold for a film score. That combined with a memorable and present but not overbearing main theme, several exquisitely-crafted unforgettable cues (see the standout Adagio) and a sheer orchestral elegance overall not only makes this sequel score a very much worthy entry in the already fantastically scored Alien franchise, and also a great work of musical art all on its own.
Standout Cue: 30. Adagio
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