Something for Thursday

A bit of film music today, from the movie Aliens.

I’ve written before that I’m not a big fan of the Alien franchise. The first one I generally find dreary, slow, and not terribly effective upon repeat viewings. I’ve read a lot of defenses of the film that seem to come from an almost Freudian perspective, so many actually that I’ve now come to refer to Alien in my head as Attack of the Killer Space Vaginas. I’m not convinced.

Alien 3 is complete garbage, just another dipping-into-the-well that makes zero sense and worse, starts off by immediately killing the characters we’d come to care about in the previous film. I’ve never even attempted seeing the fourth one, any of the Alien vs. Predator exercises in lunacy, and I have no interest in Ridley Scott’s apparent Alien prequel.

But I did recently watch Aliens, the second film in the series, for the first time in maybe ten years. This one was written and directed by James Cameron, and it remains my least favorite of his films. But I do respect Aliens a bit more now, for the slick action entertainment it is. I was struck at how little gore there actually is in Aliens, for one thing. I do still have problems with the movie — mainly the way the plot just unfolds in a fashion that is almost grimly predictable. Everything that happens is telegraphed way before it does so; witness the awful foreshadowing of the movie coming to a crashing halt just to make sure that we all know that Ripley’s got some serious forklift-mecha suit-handling skills. Aliens has almost no surprises and mainly succeeds on the strength of the direction, the cast, the effects, and James Horner’s score.

Even there, though, we find problems. I’ve read that Horner had very little time to write the music, which serves as an excuse, but it’s still the case that listening to his music to Aliens is basically like listening to a greatest-hits compilation of Horner’s film music work to that point. He wasn’t a big name at this point; his highest profile work was for Star Treks II and III, but both of these are virtually quoted verbatim in Aliens. It gets awfully distracting at times — but there are still spots in the score where Horner gets it dead on. Perhaps the most famous of these, among film music fans, is the music that accompanies the final escape from the planet surface. It’s one of the best “climactic scene” bits of scoring I know. Here’s “Bishop’s Countdown”.

By the way, there’s a part in the movie where Newt, the little girl, slips into an air duct that goes down quite a ways. She screams as she slides down the metal tube, leaving Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) screaming in horror that she’s lost the girl she’s sworn to protect. Apparently during filming, the actress playing Newt found dropping down that tube a blast, so she purposely kept screwing up the scene so she could keep doing it. James Cameron finally had to promise her that if she got the scene right this time, she could spend the rest of the day playing on her new slide. I love movie-making stories like that!

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3 Responses to Something for Thursday

  1. Jason says:

    Not sure I buy that story about Horner recycling themes because he didn't have time. Horner always recycles himself. You can still hear bits of Star Trek II and Aliens in his score for The Rocketeer, nearly ten years after ST II. I guess all composers reuse some material — even the great John Williams — but Horner is exceptionally obvious about it. I like his work. There's just no denying the repetitiousness of it.

  2. Robert says:

    I broke down and bought the boxed set of all Alien/s movies a few years back, and there are a *lot* of extras on the nine DVDs. I just wanted to mention that one of the deleted scenes in _Aliens_ gives the backstory to Ripley's cargo-handling skills; when she was resuscitated after a long frozen sleep (Alien), there were no jobs she was qualified to do, except for manual labor running a cargo mover. All of her former skills had become obsolete. If this scene had been left in the movie, it would have done a lot to explain why she had that particular skill, instead of just presenting it as a Lampshade moment.

  3. Doug says:

    First, I generally liked the Alien franchise, after reading your post, with some existential soul-searching; I can't really say why I liked it. I haven't seen Alien v. Predator, I never thought the fusion of those two would be any good, individually I thought they stood well on their own.

    The gritty, dark, gloomy feel from Alien made it a movie I'd like to watch on a cold, dreary, autumn weekend.

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