17 hours ago
Thursday, April 15, 2010
Alien: In Space, No One Can Hear Your Score
Oh, The Internet. If there's something obscure, unreleased, suppressed, or otherwise hard to find, and more than one person is interested in seeing it, it's a guarantee that somebody has dug it up and put it on the Internet. And if you know where to look, you can find where it's been posted and share in the unique joy of having stuff others don't have.
I was lucky enough to land with a roommate in college who knew where to look. He introduced me to MP3s -- in 1997, before most people even had CD burners. He found lots and lots of interesting stuff out there online, well before even Napster came along and made illicit sharing of materials accessible even to the AOL-using crowd (a.k.a. the short bus on the Information Superhighway). I still have some music on my hard drives that iTunes had a hell of a time categorizing when I installed it, since it isn't tagged with any of the information that helps catalog music now that there are procedures for that kind of stuff. Just filenames.
During my college years, though, Alex gave me access to all sorts of stuff that found its way onto the intertubes, or Teh IntarWeb, or whatever stupid hipster label you want to apply. Software, music, games . . . you name it. I even have, on a hard drive somewhere, scans of some of the early drafts of Star Wars. I have no idea where the heck those came from, but they're fascinating -- and it's lucky that none of them were ever filmed.
One of these little treasures was a bootleg of Jerry Goldsmith's original score to Alien.
If you can't remember the music from Alien, don't worry. You've probably never heard it. Much of the original score that Goldsmith composed was altered, replaced, or dumped in the final film. Ridley Scott and company were fairly merciless with the music, tracking in some of Goldsmith's material from other films, and even throwing in some stuff from another composer. Various soundtrack releases over the years have included some of the music as Goldsmith wanted it heard - but never quite all of it. Leave it to somebody to find that stuff and put it on The Internet. And man, is it unsettling.
The material that was left in the movie - and there still is a fair bit of it - is mostly atmospheric, atonal stuff that gets under your skin without causing you to take notice of it. It works very well in that context. Can you hum anything from the score to Alien? Do you remember hearing music in it at all? Nah, probably not.
Do you remember being really, really creeped out for most of the film?
But Goldsmith did write a lot of unused original material that had more of a sweep and emotional heft. Why, there are even scraps of melody, like the haunting solo trumpet that plays the main theme -- which was never heard in the film, re-recorded with a sequence of rhythms and noises that are more . . . well . . . alien. It's really interesting that, two years after Star Wars, the producers actually resisted a big orchestral score to this space-based film very strongly.
Personally, I like the lonely sound of that unused main melody. The filmmakers ultimately thought it was too much. Some of this score may indeed have been too much, like great honking cacophonies of orchestral instruments and hard-to-identify sounds for Ripley's battles with the full-grown alien warrior at the end of the film. It sounds weird and scary and awful, as it should but together with that moment in the film, it may have been like dumping ketchup all over a great steak. I do wonder, though, how this nearly-perfect film might play differently with the original Goldsmith version of the music. Could it have been even better?
Unfortunately, this being a bootleg taken from multiple sources, most of them old and analog, it sounds mushy and rotten. Over the years, I've replaced a lot of the music I had originally obtained illegitimately with the real McCoy, and I will probably do that with this score - since now there's apparently a fully restored CD version of the complete score, both original material and what ended up in the film. That's what the cover is at the top, from which you'll find a link to the album's page on Amazon. Bootlegs prod the owners of the real music to release a better-quality official version. So I'm happy to have had the bootleg for so long, and maybe now I'll hear all of what I've been missing.