Review: Alien (1979)

Composer: Jerry Goldsmith

Label: Bootleg (DVD rip/isolated score)

Catalogue Nr.: (bootleg)


The enormous success of Star Wars (1977) during the late 70's triggered a run for sci-fi related films with Alien being a major example. Writers Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shusett originally envisioned the film as a low-budget movie in the way of a Roger Corman production but failed to find any sponsors during Hollywood's pre-Star Wars depression. Then, after Star Wars, things changed all of a sudden and 20th Century Fox decided to take over the project. O'Bannon wanted to direct the film but the studio went for Ridley Scott as director who previously worked on commercials and the critically acclaimed period film The Duellists (1977). The production of Alien was filled with trouble mainly because of the studio's aggressive influence during the process. Nevertheless, the film became a huge hit and was quickly considered as milestone in filmmaking-history because it introduced a new generation of horror, thriller and suspense films to a shocked and surprised audience.

The score:

The story surrounding Jerry Goldsmith's score is almost as interesting and terrifying as the film itself. After the theatrical release in 1979 it was noticeable that several pieces of Goldsmith's music were rejected in favour of cues from the temp-track including music from Jerry's own score for Freud (1962). This was even more evident when the soundtrack album (now OOP) from Silva Screen Records was released because it consists of many alternate and unused cues. Goldsmith was not pleased with the result but still collaborated with Ridley Scott again on Legend (1985) only to have his entire score rejected for the US-release. Needless to say that Goldsmith was completely fed up with the situation and never worked with Scott again. The first DVD edition of Alien from 1999 contains two isolated score tracks, featuring the score as heard in the film (including temp-track cues) and an alternate score (similar to the content of the Silva's soundtrack release) as Jerry Goldsmith originally intended it. These features were dropped for the second DVD edition in 2003 which only contains a featurette about the music but still does not give any concrete reasons why there was such a messing with Jerry's score. Editor Terry Rawlings is blaming 20th Century Fox for preferring temp-track cues while others, including producer David Giler, are still convinced that Goldsmith did not hit the right tone for the film. I can only guess here but my explanation would be that the producers did not understand Jerry's very intelligent original approach which featured individual musical colours for space as a whole, the Alien Planet and for the beast. All of these ideas are completely mixed up in the film while their appearance in Jerry's original take are logical and you can always hear when he is musically referring to space, the planet or the beast.

With the regular CD release being out of print, the 1999 DVD release of the film is the only way for Goldsmith fans to enjoy both versions of the score. A 2-CD bootleg was floating around but since it has the same content as the isolated score it might not be worth the price. Thanks to technology and free programs I created my own 2-CD edition of the score (for private use only!). The first CD features the score as Goldsmith intended it and the second CD features the score as heard in the film (including temp track cues).

Both CDs start with Alfred Newman's "20th Century Fox Fanfare" and goes into the alternate take of the "Main Title". Everybody knows the film version from CD two but this alternate version represents the composer's original, more bright opening which is introducing space as a beautiful, mysterious and endless place with a calm solo trumpet and horns performing a theme for the Nostromo which is interrupted with occasional atonal ideas to foreshadow the terror of the beast. The alternate original take caused huge creative differences and producer David Giler even blamed Goldsmith for copying his own score for Patton (1970) which is certainly not the case. The melody of the theme for the Nostromo (or for space... however you want to look at it) is rather comparable to the simplistic mystery motif from Poltergeist (1982) though with a more uplifting touch. The first half of the alternate "Waking Up" is virtually identical to the film version on CD two  with the echoed flutes and swelling strings but the second half of the cue is bringing back the trumpet solo and the Nostromo theme which is different to the rather dark second part of the film version.

Both takes of "The Landing" are almost identical except for some slight differences in the performance of the orchestra. It is basically a suspenseful version of the Nostromo theme from the "Main Title" with some tension building string and percussion sounds and a prominent use of dark brass fanfares. "The Alien Planet" is a lengthy alternate take which shows that Goldsmith originally wanted the dark brooding sound from the film version of the "Main Title" with its atonal sounds, distant flute solo and high pitched pizzicato strings for the alien landscape instead for the opening of the film. It is really amazing to hear all these weird and dark sounds in the cue which re-create the unsettling environment but especially effective is this weird sound of a darkly howling wind (no idea what device was used for that effect but it sounds really frightening). The film version on CD two is much shorter.

The second CD continues with "Egg Chamber" which is an alternate take of the last few minutes from the alternate "Alien Planet" on CD one while CD one is continuing with the unused cue "The Egg" featuring echoed pizzicato strings and a staccato-scare in the middle for the attack of the Facehugger on Kane. The alternate take of "The Facehugger" on CD one was not used in the film. It is another glimpse at Goldsmith's original approach, this time to the creature itself with weird atonal but organic sounds reminiscent of the equally inventive approach in his score for Planet of the Apes (1968). The film version of "The Facehugger" is instead featuring the same howling wind sound device that was used on the film version of the main title. The unused "Acid For Blood" is a short but terrifying cue with hectic strings and weird fanfares which was replaced by Jerry's own main title from Freud (1962) in the film. Both CDs continue with "Medical Status", a disturbingly quiet piece for woodwinds and echoed pizzicato strings.

On CD one there is even a short unused cue for "Studies" which starts quietly and ends with a sudden outburst of woodwinds (maybe an English horn). Two takes exist of "Kane's Funeral" while the version from disc one features the echoed flute motif at the end. "Search" and "The End Of Brett" feature disturbingly whirling woodwinds and menacing strings while "The End Of Brett" has a terrifying ending for horns and features the sound of the alien. "The Shaft" is another disturbing suspense track which was replaced by a cue from Jerry's score for Freud in the film. Ash's attack on Ripley is accompanied by frenetic music for strings and woodwinds with mechanically bouncy rhythms which is again reminiscent of Jerry's score for Planet of the Apes. The same can be said about "The End Of Parker and Lambert" which has a screaming horn sound and frenetic brass and string chaos with the orchestra completely going panic. The first half of "The Breakaway" opens with a similar sound like "The Egg" and was originally composed for a scene that was cut from the film in which Ripley is accidentally running into the nest of the Alien with Captain Dallas and Brett in cocoons while the second half of the cue was composed for the encounter with the Alien in the floor.

A flute solo of the Nostromo theme can be heard in "Son of a Bitch" interrupted by a weird horn statement creeping in to let the audience know that Ripley is not alone in the escape pod. Both versions of "The Stowaway" are similar in their construction but the alternate take features more intense and frenetic writing for strings and brass . Orchestral chaos opens the alternate "Steam & Ejection - End Credits" from CD one with a lush full orchestra performance of the Nostromo theme for the end credits closing the score with a bang of orchestral grandeur. The version from CD two has a nice rendition of the Nostromo theme at the end of the orchestral chaos passage but a more subtle version for its end credits part.

CD two is closing with Howard Hanson's "Symphony Nr. 2" which was used for the end credits instead of Goldsmith's takes.

Review by Andreas Creutzburg



Score as heard in the film: 55%

Score as heard on CD: 80%

TOTAL: 68%


The presentation:

An official 2-CD edition of the score has long been rumoured by fans. Maybe it is in the works... maybe it isn't... but as long as we have to wait for it these self-made editions from the DVD score with all the alternate and temp-track cues will certainly suffice. To be honest, only the collector in me is still crying for a nicely packaged Alien CD to put on the record shelf but as far as the music is concerned the DVD isolated score does not leave any wishes. An advice: Don't even try to look for the Silva Album... chances are slim that you will still find it at a reasonable price.

Presentation by the Label: Bootleg



If you enjoyed Jerry Goldsmith's experimental nature, comparable to Planet of the Apes (1968) with weird sound design, you will certainly love Alien which is basically translating a similar inventive approach to a sci-fi/horror movie with huge success. Parts of this score even offer a slight hint to his latter spook-masterpiece Poltergeist (1982) with lengthy passages of dark brooding underscore and sudden outbursts of orchestral chaos that will scare your neighbours to death. Unfortunately, Jerry's score was butchered and partly replaced by temp-track cues which is sad because his original approach was very intelligent and appropriate for the film. Certainly a classic goldsmith horror score that carries an inventiveness  which might not be everyone's taste but sadly, in the film everything was ruined by the mistrust of producers. If you neither love horror/suspense music nor Jerry's experimental side then changes are slim that you will have much fun with Alien.


Disc One - Score as intended by the composer

01.  20th Century Fox Fanfare (00:12)
02.  Main Title (alternate take - 04:00)
03.  Waking Up (alternate take - 02:40)
04.  The Landing (04:18)
05.  Alien Planet (alternate take - 08:36)
06.  The Egg (02:31)
07.  The Facehugger (02:59)
08.  Acid For Blood (unused - 00:32)
09.  Medical Status (0:57)
10.  Studies (unused - 00:47)
11.  Kane's Funeral (01:44)
12.  Search (00:58)
13.  The End Of Brett (02:03)
14.  The Shaft (unused - 04:08)
15.  The Droid (03:18)
16.  The End Of Parker & Lambert (1:45)
17.  The Breakaway (alternate take - 03:17)
18.  "Son of a Bitch!" (01:50)
19.  The Stowaway (alternate take - 02:58)
20.  Steam & Ejection/End Credits (alternate take - 05:45)

Disc Two - Score as (mis-)used in the film

01.  20th Century Fox Fanfare (00:12)
02.  Main Title (film version - 04:00)
03.  Waking Up (film version - 02:38)
04.  The Landing (4:19)
05.  The Alien Planet (film version - 03:15)
06.  The Egg Chamber (00:56)
07.  The Facehugger (02:56)
08.  Acid For Blood (Main Titles from Freud - 01:18)
09.  Medical Status (00:57)
10.  Kane's Funeral (alternate take - 01:25)
11.  The Shaft (Charcot's Show from Freud - 04:35)
12.  The Droid (03:15)
13.  Looking for Jones (from Freud - 01:15)
14.  The End Of Parker and Lambert (01:45)
15.  The Stowaway (film version - 03:01)
16.  Steam & Ejection/End Credits (film version - 02:56)
17.  Howard Hanson's Symphony Nr. 2 (02:41)