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  • Stefan Riedlinger

Aliens - James Horner - Soundtrack Review

I decided to rewrite the review because I am writing now on publishing my first book and want to change some wordings, but more important to put this review in the structure I developed within the last months.

I was so lucky to see the movie in the Royal Albert Hall in London November 6th, 2016, with a live performance by the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra conducted by Ludwig Wicki and with an enthusiastic audience of 7500 people. As a special surprise, James Cameron and Sigourney Weaver with Gale Ann Hurd came to the stage after the performance and showed their respect to James Horner who died June 22th, 2015 in an airplane accident. I was living and working at Google at that time and just really shocked when I checked my phone after leaving the building and saw the sad news about Horner’s death.

The movie

“Aliens” is the second movie in the Alien franchise and for me the best in the series. James Cameron followed Ripley as she returns to the moon where her crew encountered the hostile Alien creature.

Aliens is a 1986 American science fiction action horror film written and directed by James Cameron, produced by Gale Anne Hurd and starring Sigourney Weaver, Carrie Henn, Michael Biehn, Paul Reiser, Lance Henriksen, William Hope, and Bill Paxton. It is the sequel to the 1979 film Alien and the second installment in the Alien franchise. The film follows Weaver's character Ellen Ripley as she returns to the moon where her crew encountered the hostile Alien creature, this time accompanied by a unit of space marines.

Cameron wrote a 45 pages’ treatment for the Alien-sequel before he started shooting “Terminator”. The producers liked his ideas, so Cameron was also assigned as director. This movie was heavily action-packed, the audience was now able to see not only one Alien, they see a lot of them, and these Aliens are ready and very willing to kill again. Some critics say this movie was like Vietnam in space. Cameron was given a budget of $18 million, and the film grossed $180 million worldwide.

In an interview with Richard Schickel in “Time”, Cameron pointed out he was inspired by the situation in the Vietnam war: A lot of soldiers with modest equipment find out that these weapons and also their training are totally inappropriate for the situation they are facing. Therefore, “Aliens” can be described as a War in Space. Here is the trailer:

The music

It was the second time that James Horner composed the music to a sequel, and Jerry Goldsmith is very well-known for his music for the original Alien, directed by Ridley Scott. With the second “Star Trek” movie, Horner established himself as a mainstream composer. Director Nicholas Meyer said that he hired Horner for this movie because he could not afford Jerry Goldsmith, but years later when Meyer directed the sixth Star Trek movie, he could not afford to hire James Horner anymore.

Cameron knew Horner from their time with Roger Corman, and Cameron wanted a totally different score than the first Alien scored by Jerry. The music should emphasize the action scenes. Cameron put a lot of pressure on Horner and gave him just two weeks to compose the score. Horner complained about Cameron’s behavior. Therefore, it took them eleven years to work together again, this time on “Titanic”, and Cameron and Horner received Academy Awards for their second collaboration.

“Aliens” is a great action score with fresh new ideas; especially the use of the percussions is remarkable. The London Symphony Orchestra played, conducted by Horner. The Deluxe Edition contains 75 min of music. You can listen to a lot of tracks that were not used in the final movie because Horner was forced to compose the music without seeing the finished movie. Cameron was still directing and behind the deadline.

Even though “Aliens” is a great action score, it is also typical for Horner’s plagiarism. Especially later in his career, Horner became a little lazy and used motives from other scores when composing new film music. From the beginning, Horner liked to use pieces or motifs from classical music. In “Aliens”, for example, he heavily used the adagio of the ballet “Gayaneh”, composed by Aram Chatschaurjan, a piece of music which was already used in “2001: A Space Odyssey”.

The difference with Horner’s use of music is that he does not mention on the CD that he is using this piece of classical music. Listeners to the soundtrack who do not know the ballet, think this great piece of music is composed by Horner. So, why stealing music from other composers? That Horner had just two weeks time to compose the music is not really an excuse.

If you want to buy the soundtrack, and if you do not have it in your collection, I highly recommend to do so, buy the “Deluxe Edition” and take the chance to listen to the just-percussion track on the “Ripley’s Rescue” track. Horner was great in composing fast-forward action tracks such as “Futile Escape” and “Ripley’s Rescue”. He had a great sense of drama and was highly praised for developing melodies and creating emotions. Horner’s piece with the melody by Chatschaurjan is a wonderful example, how lonely you must feel in space.

I found a great live performance of "Futile Escape", the orchestra and the conductor are doing a hell of a job:

On Wikipedia, you can read that some tracks of the soundtrack have been used many times in trailers for other movies. As of April 2011, there were reportedly 24 different movie trailers that used "Bishop's Countdown" alone. James Horner composed a lot of great soundtracks in his career, and I will discuss a lot of them here on my blog, but in my opinion, “Aliens” is far one of his best, and after seeing it live on stage, I have to say that Horner cannot be praised enough for this soundtrack.

Copyright © Stefan Riedlinger, 2014, all rights reserved. The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of Stefan Riedlinger.

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