Alien Nation (English)
Story of a Rejected Score
It is not pleasing for a composer to see how his work is rejected, above all, when the final composition ends as an inferior one when compared to the original. In film history there are plenty of examples for this, such as Gabriel Yared’s famous and popular rejected music for Troy (2004), finally scored by James Horner, or the replacement of Elmer Bernstein’s masterful work for The Scarlett Letter (1995) for a more functional one of the great John Barry.
Jerry Goldsmith has been involved in several of these cases, such as Timeline (2003), but also, in some other ones, he was the replacement composer, with such masterful results as The 13th Warrior (1999) or Air Force One (1997).
Alien Nation (1988) is a rather curious case, not so much for the rejected score in itself, but for the curious chain of rejections the same musical theme gathers from 1987 to 1989.
In 1987, Jerry Goldsmith was assigned as composer for Oliver Stone’s Wall Street (1987), but the director did not like the music Goldsmith had written and it was rejected. Finally, they hired Stewart Copeland, former drummer of the legendary The Police, who composed a peculiar score, very percussive and urban, a style he would use throughout his career, and that would give us excellent works such as Rapa Nui (1994) or the series Dead Like Me (2003-2004).
Goldsmith took his theme with himself and, the following year, he was hired by Graham Baker to work in a modest sci-fi, detective story (the human race coexists on Earth with an alien race). Both of them had previously worked together in The Final Conflict (1981), the last installment in The Omen franchise. For Alien Nation, Goldsmith wrote an electronic score, as one may read in Varése Sarabande’s CD cover: Music Composed and Performed by Jerry Goldsmith.
The score is a powerful work, with exotic and mysterious touches that give it an ethereal nature, in search of an alien sound, with great action tracks and a beautiful and melancholic motif, which corresponds to the rejected one for Wall Street.
But, again, Goldsmith’s composition was rejected (rumor has that it sounded too “weird”) and replaced by the score of a music editor called Curt Sobel. His music was a mere accompaniment, shining only in some action tracks, while Goldsmith’s score would have sounded really brilliant in key moments of the film, as the excellent prologue or several of the chases and fights, as the climax or the beach scene. Interestingly, during the marketing campaign prior to the premiere, the trailer music belonged to the rejected score (and even Goldsmith’s name appeared as the assigned composer).
Two years later, Jerry Goldsmith began an intense collaboration with director Fred Schepisi with The Russia House (1990), adaptation of John Le Carré’s bestseller. Its beautiful love theme, one of the best ever written by the maestro, was the rejected one in Wall Street and Alien Nation. The Russia House is, by far, one of Jerry Goldsmith’s best works, combining a beautiful love theme, masterful mystery cues and Eastern sounds and instrumentation, with a great End Title and the presence of clarinetist Branford Marsalis.
And, who knows? Had Wall Street not been rejected, perhaps Goldsmith’s career would have gone in another direction… In any case, thanks to Varése Sarabande, we are able to hear what Alien Nation could have been.
Alien and Human Coexistence
Graham Baker directs this sci-fi movie, where an alien race arrives on Earth, settling peacefully and thus coexisting with humans, with all the problems that integration entails (equal opportunities, racism, new customs… and new drugs).
James Caan plays Detective Sykes, whose partner was killed by an alien, so he will partner with a newly promoted alien detective called Sam Francisco (Mandy Patinkin). Despite Sykes’ initial suspicions, both will end up forming a good team and will work together to stop William Hancourt (Terence Stamp), an alien tycoon who markets a drug that makes the newcomers to work with more energy (though, in excess, it transforms them into a destructive weapon).
The film is a typical Thriller, with a science fiction background, but it keeps the momentum. One may highlight Stan Winston’s makeup and special effects, a good script (with memorable scenes, such as the torture one on the beach, where sea water is like acid for aliens), some well-filmed action set pieces (like the car chases) and, above all, James Caan’s interpretation.
As a curiosity, the film spawned a TV series, where its main players would not repeat their roles. The series remained on the air for two seasons, from 1989 to 1990.
What will you hear?
A fully electronic and synthesized score. There is not an iota of orchestra. Everything has been composed and performed by the maestro himself, but every note shows Goldsmith’s style. Tension, action, drama, dance rhythms (Alien Dance)… Pure Goldsmith. Furthermore, it is easy to find the equivalence between sounds and orchestral elements and, above all, hear the amount of synthesized resources that Goldsmith associates to the different situations (the condition of being an alien race, danger motifs, mystical touches…).
Alien Nation is part of the synthesized trilogy that began with the futuristic thriller Runaway (1984), followed by the rejected score to Alien Nation and ending with Criminal Law (1989). All of them composed and played by Goldsmith and three of his, unfairly, most criticized works.
These works served to underpin the use of synthesizers and electronics by Goldsmith, something he had begun years ago with The Illustrated Man (1969) or Logan’s Run (1976), and merge it perfectly with the orchestra, giving us such masterpieces as Total Recall (1990) or The Ghost and the Darkness (1996) or Star Trek: First Contact (1996).
Summarizing the above, we face a pure Goldsmith work, which would serve to underpin the maestro’s style with electronics, where we may hear some musical resources he would subsequently develop, and a transition work towards Total Recall.
Listening to the score, one may hear two central motifs:
- The alien theme (leitmotiv): its best example is the first cue, Alien Landing. A sort of synthesized voice, followed by a series of (electronic) beats, which reflect the duality of the alien arrival for mankind: expectation and concern. The motif is perfectly developed throughout the score, being an important part of the action cues.
- Sykes’ theme: it is a more melodic theme, the famous rejected motif from Wall Street, which would become the love theme from The Russia House. It can be heard in the second part of the Alien Landing cue, where a synthesized saxophone sketches the theme. Or in the tracks Take It Easy or The Wedding.
As for the action cues, they have the maestro’s distinctive style, always driven by the main motif. We may already hear it in track 2, Out Back (the initial shooting), reaching an incredible rhythm in the cue A Game of Chicken (the final car chase). Goldsmith combines the alien theme with drums and percussive sounds, with synths emulating winds and strings.
The mystery themes are also very Goldsmith, with repeating metallic sounds or electronic loops, which illustrate the investigation or moments of great tension, developing sounds that a year later would appear in Leviathan (1989) or the ethereal sonorities of Total Recall, such as the ones in the cue The Mutant.
Brief comments on some cues
Goldsmith offers loads of action material, such as the mentioned Out Back, or Tow Truck Getaway, the violent Tell Them (with Sam bursting in a meeting with a bomb) and the wonderful A Game of Chicken.
The climax, the battle on the docks, would be represented by the cues A Nice View (when Sykes jumps into a boat, pursued by William Hancourt, who is under the effect of a drug overdose) and the boosting Just Ugly. The first is a propulsive cue, with the main action theme on a chaotic synthesizer base, suggesting urgency and danger, while the second is the climax resolution, one of the best action cues, where the keyboards keep the rhythm, emulating Goldsmith’s piano action sound, for the final fight between Sykes and William.
The cue The Beach, corresponding to the torture of an alien, stands out. It opens with the main motif and with some truly sinister sounds, a malignant breeze, being broken by violent sounds the moment the alien is thrown into the sea, and with the reappearance of the main motif at the end of the cue.
The mysterious synthesized sound, that loop that can be heard for several seconds, opens one of the best tracks in the CD, 772 – I Shall Remember.
We will only find a rest when the Sykes Theme appears (the one that in the last cue, The Wedding, ends up becoming the theme for the friendship of Sykes and Sam Francisco) and in the relaxing piano cue Jerry’s Jam or the rhythmic Alien Dance, putting music to the exotic dance of an alien beauty in a night club, with sonorities from the 80s.
And where The Wedding should be heard, perfect ending for the film, had the score not been rejected, we find yet another song from the 80s for the end credits…
At the end of the track The Wedding, once it finishes, one may hear maestro Goldsmith speaking. A bonus from Varése Sarabande, as they did in Total Recall, at the end of A New Life.
I may only recommend this score to two kinds of people: those diehard fans of Jerry Goldsmith (some of them even do not like this one) or the lovers of the synthesized scores of the 80s.
However, there is something I would like to say: I think this is a score that grows with each listening, where Goldsmith’s recognizable style is heard, well above some other compositions of the same period, with action cues that are not strident, and anticipating great works such as Total Recall or Small Soldiers (1998) or excellent action scores as Chain Reaction (1996), Executive Decision (1996) or U.S. Marshals (1998).
That said, each one may decide whether to give it a try or not, but this is a good work and another example of Goldsmith’s professionalism and of the ineffectiveness of Hollywood producers. Though, thanks to that, we got a wonderful masterpiece: The Russia House.
Bonus: Kritzerland Edition
While the Varese Club Edition is sold out, you can buy the Kritzerland Edition, a edition of two compact discs including the music of Jerry Goldsmith (the same track list that the Varese Edition) and the used music of Curt Sobel for the movie.
In fact, the Kritzerland Edition improves the sound and some anomalies of the Varese Edition.
An interesting and limited edition (1.200 copies) for people who like the used music of the movie and, specially, the unused music of the Master.
Special Thanks to Oscar Salazar for the translation
- Alien Landing (03:47)
- Out back (02:00)
- Are you alright? (01:50)
- Take it easy (02:53)
- The Vial (02:12)
- Jerry’s Jam (01:51)
- Alien Dance (01:57)
- Are you there? (02:01)
- The Beach (03:40)
- Tow Truck Getaway (01:51)
- 772 – I shall remember (04:08)
- Tell them (01:29)
- A Game of Chicken (02:26)
- Overdose (02:26)
- Got a Match? (02:53)
- A nice View (02:34)
- Just ugly (01:57)
- The Wedding (04:43)