Saturday, October 20, 2012

CGAA The Tune: Elliot Goldenthal's Alien 3

Alien 3 Movie Poster

It's 1992 and I'm 17 years old and the teaser trailer for David Fincher's continuation of Twentieth Century Fox's Alien franchise has me busting my guts in almost painful anticipation... 

I'm disappointed, of course.  Just about everyone is.  People hate this film.  People hate the fact that Fincher's Alien 3 begins with the undignified deaths of beloved characters from James Cameron's triumphant Aliens (1986).  I don't.  I love this.  I think it's courageous and sissyphean and European.  People hate Sigourney Weaver with a shaven head.  I don't.  I think Ripley has never been more beautiful, more butch, more frail, more feminine, more Ripley  - and my longstanding teenage crush on Sigourney Weaver gets a little more complicated.  

No, I'm disappointed by Alien 3 because the plot has a massive hole in it, because the film's inciting incident is a cheat, because they've tacked a film distinguished by honest performances to a dishonest premise.  20 years later and the happenstance of that egg in the film's otherwise elegant opening sequence still rankles.

And yet, there is much to admire about this imperfect sequel, not least what is frequently beautiful about its imagery, not least that it is ultimately Ripley's story, whose character arc is now the stuff of full-blown tragedy; not least that as dissertation fodder, Alien 3 is a subtextual goldmine - even more so than the films that preceded it.  (I've seen it sliced up in some truly fascinating ways; as an allegory for AIDS activism or as pro-choice soapbox...).

Elliot Goldenthal's score for Alien 3 skulks similarly in the shadow of all those disappointments - which is another reason for revisiting the film.  Jason Ankeny at all describes Goldenthal's score as "A rigorously intellectual work that navigates with surgical precision between traditional orchestral beauty and modernist dissonance, its eruptions of symphonic anarchy remain extraordinarily potent. Goldenthal's emphasis on operatic elements and religious themes lends Alien 3 a gravitas the interstellar horror genre typically lacks, not to mention a visceral intensity absent from previous scores in the Alien franchise... By no means an easy listen or even a conventionally likable effort, Alien 3 is as challenging as it is rewarding, and mandatory for all serious enthusiasts of film music."

Picture of Elliot Goldenthal

That 'modernist dissonance' can be appreciated most overtly in Goldenthal's cue entitled 'Bait & Chase' - which is percussive, propulsive and evokes insectoid scuttles and galloping panic to chilling effect. 

The 'orchestral beauty' of Goldenthal's score is encountered here in the 'Adagio' - the musical accompaniment to Alien 3's infamously downbeat finale in which Ripley, 'last survivor of the Nostromo', makes her choice.  

Goldenthal's score for Alien 3 is like the best moments of the film itself: gloomy, doomy and achingly elegiac. 

Now - about that egg...


  1. I've only seen Alien 3 once. I really disliked it, but then I'm only a casual admirer of the first two Alien films so anything less than those was never really going to cut it my eyes.

    I just remember it feeling like a made-for-tv movie. Fundamentally flawed in almost every way possible. Poor characters, poor script, poor acting, crappy continuation of story and very bland cinematography. Almost felt as if it wouldn't feel out of place if you put it alongside Futuresport or Robocop: Prime Directives. Oh well, suitably atmospheric music though! :-)

    Maybe I'll give it rewatch one day, but I'm happy enough with Alien and Aliens.

  2. Dont read too much into it. I for example think all four of the 1970's Planet of The Apes sequels are great in a completely non-ironic way. I'm not sure where that ranks as a cineaste faux-pas!