Well, Sir Ridley Scott said he wanted Prometheus to cause debate, didn’t he? I don’t think he entirely meant having his much-vaunted and highly anticipated return to the classic Alien universe being pulled apart over its lousy script, poorly developed story, badly conceived characters and woefully hamstrung pacing, though. He wanted his BIG IDEAS to be pondered-upon, his thesis on Man’s existence and his place in the cosmos to be conjectured and dissected and analysed from a philosophical standpoint like with the genre greats of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Contact and his own Blade Runner. He wanted us to question accepted beliefs and to address the collision of religion and science, and what it means to be human in the greater scheme of the universe, and he wanted us to acknowledge the fact that he was moving steadily in a direction far from planet LV-426. At least for now.
His ambition was far-reaching and truly commendable in its size and scope. For sure, this was a premier fabulist working to attain something of a pinnacle in imaginative hard SF speculation. The bad news was that his delivery tumbled, crashed and dashed itself upon the rocks of an illogical screenplay that bears all the hallmarks of having been cut-up, condensed, dumbed-down and simply cast out in a clearly incomplete form. Having the idiotic false-prophet of Lost’s hackmeister Damon Lindelof break down the DNA of his grand creation and reassemble it in such a ramshackle, half-baked stew of tangents, contradictions, blatant conceptual fallacies and galaxy-gulping plot-holes was his really BIG MISTAKE.
Don’t get me wrong, however. There is still much of worth in this truncated stumbling mutant of a movie – the sets, the visuals, the overall mood, Charlize Theron in a figure-hugging spacesuit and Noomi Rapace in her cosmic undies, and some exciting set-pieces. But when groundbreaking ideas are thrust forward by a genre artist, they are invariably quilled with arrows from the producers and the studio putting up the cash, who are fearful of something deep, philosophical and intelligent being birthed when all they really want to give audiences are thrills, chills and space-monsters. That is still no excuse for a project that we were told was going be mind-expanding, high-brow and profoundly intelligent … when it appears to be stuffed with uneducated bilge of the most generic order.
For all of its many flaws, I actually enjoyed the film whilst still picking it to pieces and banging my head against the meta-wall of my own expectations and the blatantly derivative and endlessly formulaic cop-outs that Scott seems so blithely unaware that he is trotting out. Why are so many of us annoyed and irritated with Prometheus? It’s only a film for God’s sake, and let’s face it,Alien was just a glorified B-movie SF shocker that just managed to ladle on superb production values and revolutionary art direction and have, at its core, a stunningly imaginative concept. We are annoyed because this had so much potential and so much promise. Ridley Scott has taken us to worlds we never dreamed of, shown us things we people couldn’t believe and fashioned neo-cultures with the sort of cinematic genius that has been studied and assessed over decades now, monumentally re-evaluated in the case of Blade Runner, and considered not just to be classics of genre, but actual masterpieces. And we justifiably expected better from him than this. We are irritated because, after all the hype and that simply superb viral ad-campaign, we were supplied with what is merely an undercooked, hastily thrown-together teaser for things to come. What was supposed to be the SF event of the year has crumbled under the weight of anticipation that Scott and co. placed very deliberately in our hearts. As with the ill-fated Robin Hood, he seems to be placing his bets very consciously upon audiences wanting to see more beyond what are glaringly obvious first instalments.
As tactical as this may be, he can’t help but, ahem, alienate many people who were led to believe that they were getting something else … and certainly something more “complete” than what he is actually handing out. We’ve seen before that a director’s cut from Scott can wrestle majesty from a broken mess, as was the spectacular case with the magnificent full version of Kingdomof Heaven. Perhaps, just perhaps, a fuller, richer, more rounded and better constructed version of Prometheus lurks just over the even horizon.
We can only hope.
Well, my friend and colleague, Cas Harlow, has attempted to unravel the mutation that Prometheus has clearly undergone, and delivered pretty much the final word on the theatrical cut. I didn’t envy him the task to be honest. But, like Scott’s oft-spoken intention, I will explore a different part of the same universe, and discuss how Prometheus sounds in relation to its admittedly jaw-dropping visual splendour with an in-depth and spoiler-rife review of Marc Streitenfeld’s score for the film.
The Alien films – and make no mistake, this is an Alien film – have all had amazing, deeply atmospheric and unusual scores. (I’m discounting the AVP efforts altogether, by the way.) I’ve already covered Intrada’s phenomenal release of Jerry Goldmsith’s outstanding score for Scott’s original movie very extensively, but then there is James Horner’s iconic and massively cult exposed entry for James Cameron’s follow-up, replete with skin-prickling dread and now-legendary action motifs. Elliot Goldenthall then did the honours for the series’ darkest hour, providing a tragic opera of horror and sacrifice for David Fincher’s exquisitely morose Alien 3. John Frizzell then came up with an unexpectedly brilliant and alarmingly sensual score for the otherwise disappointing Alien Resurrection – a work that combined pulsating action and demented cosmic sexuality. Like David Bowie, he was clearly loving the alien.
Thus, Marc Streitenfeld has a really tough act to follow, but it is a challenge that he definitely rises to. No matter how Ridley Scott intended this film to differ from its xenomorphic brethren, his theatrical cut contains space-jockeys, astronauts with alien things inside them, androids with sinister hidden agendas, an alien planet with something ancient and dangerous waiting for the foolish to come pay a visit, and a crew that repeatedly probes dark corners and goes inside places that common-sense screams out to avoid, and gets picked off one by one as a direct result. Therefore, it would seem, from such an overview, that it is business as usual. But to his credit, Streitenfeld takes Scott at his word and his original proviso, and embarks on a voyage for a soundscape that is totally new, fresh and often incredibly lyrical. He quotes Goldsmith lovingly with one track, but he also doffs his cap with certain bellicose guttural percussive lurches and belches from the Wagner tuba that definitely contain some of the same DNA as the more monstrous moments from Jerry G.’s Alien. And he really embraces the grungy dread, unease and sudden raucous savagery that made Goldenthall’s Alien 3 so darkly disturbing and unnerving. In fact, that is the score that this work, at its most guttural, bears the closest similarity to. Which is no bad thing in my book.
Don’t misunderstand me, this is a beautiful and thrilling score … but it doesn’t seem to fit this theatrical cut of the film.
I have sung the praises of Streitenfeld before. Although a fresh name to big event movie scoring, he has worked with Scott on many other films as part of the soundtrack team under the command of Hans Zimmer. On his own terms, he delivered a forgettable score for Scott’s A Good Year and so-so ones for his equally ill-thought-out Robin Hood (which was nothing more than another surreptitious prequel, itself), American Gangster and Body of Lies, but then provided Joe Carnahan with the terrifically nightmarish and profoundly moving music for The Grey, which he wrote shortly after he had begun constructing ideas for Prometheus. Regular readers will know that I’ve covered that film and its score to death already, but it is very definitely worth mentioning here, and even quite pertinent to recall that perhaps the best theme in that score actually hailed from someone else, and Streitenfeld simply absorbed it and then proceeded to lace throughout Liam Neeson’s tragic, wolf-afflicted plight through the wilderness. But I gave him the benefit of the doubt over that and still praised his use of it and his own material very highly indeed. Now, with Prometheus, an inarguably larger and more expansive showcase for his talents, we find that the best, the most beautiful, the most haunting and most awe-filled theme in his score also hails from another composer entirely … in Harry Gregson-Williams, who is another Zimmer-pupil and a former colleague and friend of Streitenfeld’s. There is no reason to disparage the project for this, though, and in the case of Prometheus, Gregson-Williams is given full credit for his additional music. But it certainly seems a little, well, off that the single most recognisable and memorable piece of music in the score comes from somebody who just stepped-in to provide something when the work-rate proved too much for the original composer. This theme, entitled Life (found in Tracks 4 and 12, and heard several times more in the movie, itself) is the closest thing we have to a main theme, or a signature track and I will discuss this in due course. But, for now, I feel compelled to say that, once again, Ridley Scott reveals something of a distrust and even possibly a contempt for his composer. Jerry Goldsmith learned this the hard way on both Alien and Legend – having a miserable time on the former, with his music routinely chopped and changed and rejected all over the show, and having it entirely thrown out and replaced on the latter … and by Tangerine Dream, of all people!
This director-meddling may have proved beneficial this time out, but my opinion of Ridley Scott (still the man behind some of my favourite movies of all-time) can’t help but be lowered by such an attitude. Streitenfeld says that Scott is very open to suggestions and liberating, but this has never really seemed to be the case with anyone other than Hans Zimmer. And, to back this up, Streitenfeld has also said that Scott had very definite ideas about what he wanted and where the score was supposed to go – which is obviously understandable from a director, but doesn’t quite meet with the supposed freedom that the composer had on the project.
I have not seen the film enough times to know where these tracks properly fit in, and the cue titles can be quite misleading in this regard. The album does not play out in strictly film chronological order either, and nor is this the “complete score” with some subtle cues and thematic variations omitted to cater for a more personalised and pleasing album experience. I won’t, therefore, go into a full track-by-track analysis in comparison to the onscreen action unless I know what the scenes in question actually are, and even then there is some guesswork taking place. But I will take you through the musical landscape that Streitenfeld and Gregson-Williams create, and the moods that they are able to evoke. Moods that are so much better than the story they decorate actually deserves.
It won’t come as a surprise to anyone who heard his music for The Grey to learn that much of what Streitenfeld does here is in the realm of dissonance and atmospheric sound design, rather then being traditionally musically textured. Very much in-keeping with Zimmer’s ethic, he incorporates a huge array of wacky and way-out percussive elements – literally everything including the kitchen-sink is bashed and hammered-upon to make you wince and recoil. Very interestingly, he wrote some of the music down backwards so that his 90-piece orchestra (recorded at Abbey Road) then played it as it was written – reversed. Streitenfeld then digitally flipped the cues so that the music played forwards, but with a backwards-sounding orchestra, if you follow. This creates a very unusual, unsettling and eerie cadence that remains melodic, but with an odd sensory twist that is really effective at times. This meant that he used decrescendos to accentuate certain notes, and that his rhythms were off-kilter yet still supremely smooth. It is a terrific trick.
Yeah … but what are we doing all the way out here?
Scientists Elizabeth Shaw (so named after the third Doctor’s companion, played by Caroline John, in Doctor Who, perhaps?) and her Tom Hardy lookalike lover, Charlie Holloway, discover ancient hieroglyphics that would indicate the human race has been engineered by alien beings, and that the symbols they find in various sites around the world might suggest an invitation to our creators’ home in the distant universe. Funded by uber-wealthy industrialist Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce), they board the research vessel, Prometheus, and together with a crew of other specialists, including Theron’s ice-queen, Vickers, Idris Elba’s charismatic but irredeemably stupid ship’s Captain Janek, and a paternal android, David, they make the voyage to the location found on the ancient cave-drawn star-map. And, after two years in hyper-sleep, David awakens them to begin their doomed investigation of what has been christened Planet LV-223. Shaw (the often brilliant and wonderfully alluring Noomi Rapace, who reminds me of my wife in this film so much that it hurts) becomes the veritable Ripley-ite protagonist of the saga as an ancient pyramid is located, penetrated and all manner of alien evil is unleashed. As the crew are whittled-down by snake-like predators, parasitic infections or intergalactic possession, serious questions are raised about the nature and intentions of these Engineers, and the android David (a startlingly effective Michael Fassbender, who can seemingly do no wrong these days), commences upon a secretive and deadly hidden mission of his own.
The film, I feel, is not unlike one of Alien’s own rip-offs. I was constantly reminded of things like Titan Find, with its possessed crewmen on the rampage, and Galaxy of Terror, with its ancient archaeological structures wielding powers best left alone, and even the lavish, yet appropriately soulless Event Horizon, with its hodgepodge of disparate hellish phenomena and unfulfilled search for answers. And the score has plenty of elements that bedeck the experience with moving cerebral tones, dense, sliding layers of extraterrestrial beauty and eulogy, and bravura sections of deep, dark and primal violence. Both film and score claw for a new identity, but they both build towards one out of the bones of previous productions, almost like H.R. Giger at work in his ghoulish fossil-filled studio.
Streitenfeld goes for the ethereal with sweet, yearning strings that glisten like star-shine. He pushes out undulating tones in the lower register that sound not merely like a pulse, but like the vast subterranean breathing of a biomechanical dragon. His experimentation and innovation is a rare delight and something that pokes the eye of detractors who cite his work on The Grey as being just so much sonic mush.
The opening track on the album, A Planet, contains what is essentially the main theme for the film, almost like the signifying cue for anything that is discovered. It is heard several times throughout, yet this cue actually sounds to me like it could be from practically the very end of the movie, when Rapace’s last survivor of the Prometheus, along with android David’s severed head, blasts off to go looking for the real home of the Engineers. After a hushed, but burgeoning beginning with woodwind, earnest strings, distant shuddering metallic percussion and mournful bass rise to a serious, darkly toned crescendo with painful brass accompaniment. This is almost like a musical statement of impending war – deep, irrevocable and sombre. A statement of grim, worried commitment. Listen for a sustained cymbal clash like the far-away crashing of surf. This is wary and ominous, and it will make a few returns across the album is varying forms.
After distorted klaxon-like flutter, Track 2 has that biomechanical breathing that registers with a brilliantly rolling satanic surge that comes blurting out from the imperious Wagner Tuba, as played by Richard Watkins. Entitled Going In, I’m thinking that this cue refers to the scientists’ first skin-crawling foray into the alien temple. The beat is infectious, and it gets bolder and more emphatic, almost like the relentless bounding of some gigantic beast across some alien savannah. The tuba makes rising clutches at us, very reminiscent of both Goldsmith and Horner. This is a great, deeply resonant and curiously catchy passage.
In Engineers, the music turns gleaming and machine-like. Synth, chimes and exotic rattles and shakers are combined to create an unearthly warble with little hints of the tribal and the ritualistic. There is the impression of engines grinding ceaselessly in the deep, and a sort of gothic, almost Gregorian vocal that has been recorded and manipulated into some sort of epic artificial heartbeat. After reaching a sort of crescendo in the middle, the piece then shifts and shimmers to another more scratchy, reed-rustling and more unearthly crescendo. This is the music of the underground, restless and infernal. Streitenfeld wanted to instil a sense of religiosity in conflict with the droning remorselessness of technology. Whereas Goldenthall went very heavily into theological music, the German composer opts for a less overt level of spiritual turmoil.
The standout cue of the score and the album comes next.
The main signature Life theme is surrendered to us in its entirety in Track 4, and it could well be the greatest piece of music that Harry Gregson-Williams has composed, thus far. This is achingly gorgeous – at once euphoric, wondrous and spellbinding. It is an elegy written for both the promise of the stars, and a spiritual fanfare for the miracle of life, itself. If Sir David Attenborough gets put into hyper-sleep and is then defrosted to make a Life on Another Planet series then this cue would be its perfect title theme.
Suffused with the sort of celestial glow that John Williams was able to conjure for Superman’s Kryptonian introduction, or the sort of revelatory scope and grandeur that Jerry Goldsmith brought to his first and fifth big screen Star Trek outings, this rapturous slice of divine harmony really gets inside you and makes you thirst for visions, and for answers. Richard Watkins puts the tuba down and picks up the solo French Horn to play a lonely, lilting fanfare for those who long to reach beyond the stars. You can clearly imagine this as some sort of NASA flag-song for a parade of former astronauts saluting the next generation of interstellar explorers. With a female choir (The Metro Voices, Bach Choir and Apollo Voices all perform gloriously on the score) providing a dreamy reverie that is both optimistic and timeless.
I adore this track ... and it is hard to keep from just repeating it over and over. It is almost a sideways evolution of Goldsmith’s famous solo trumpet that was originally supposed to cry out over the impenetrable blackness of deep space until the Nostromo slowly appears ... but got mucked-around with by Scott. There is even a trace of Vangelis to the high, bending string tones and the curling French Horn that reminds of his resplendent synthetic layers for Blade Runner, which surely isn’t merely coincidental. This theme is returned to on the album in Track 12’s We Were Right, but in a far more subdued and pensive mode, the transcendental qualities swapped for a grimmer essence of much darker possibilities.
In Weyland an apprehensive, echoing two-note phrase then settles into a bed of long mid-tones that sounds like a cave of wounded angels attempting to comfort one another. It is not quite soothing and there is fear nestled deep within, but there is a level of peace here … albeit clearly of a fragile and temporary nature. Discovery then carries on with eerie dissonance. Early on there is a sound not unlike a muted version of the pitch-break that the blue light gives off when Kane disturbs it in the egg-chamber in Alien. Lots of small metallic shuffles and effects jangle amidst clouds of creepy textures. This track sounds icy, cold and lined with heartless steel. The Wagner Tuba returns to puncture the nerves in Not Human with that fat, bilious flatulence. This is definitely the Alien sound we already know and love to shudder to … and when worried strings begin to scurry back and forth, an anvil clangs and aggressive brass lurches spit venom into the mix – just like the devious David with his nasty DNA-poisonings – Streitenfeld reveals that he can plunge us into the depths of space-born fear just as well as his predecessors in the franchise.
Too Close continues this nightmarish passage. Wobbling synth murmers alter pitch as strings edge closer to lattice the gathering maelstrom with further jolting terrors. Wonderful effects like echoing woodblocks, skittering percussion, rattling cans and a variance on that lurching biomechanism add a cascade of surreal chaos. Score-fans may also a similarity to John Carpenter’s and Alan Howarth’s score for Prince of Darkness with some of the cavernous belches of devilish fury.
Bubbling with an almost underwater blurring, Try Harder begins thickly and unnervingly. Tones build and fall, the faint presence of the choir emanating from somewhere very far away. The beginnings of a slow and tectonic Dies Irae theme threatens to hove in, which makes for another disturbingly diabolical touch. Shivering metal percussion and waterphone also appear. In David, Streitenfeld incorporates the rapid oscillation of circuitry, almost as though the cue is plugged in to series of monitors. A slowed-down bell clang reverberates. Weird electronic effects waver in and out as the android studies the dark goo that he has brought back onboard to ship to analyse and infect various human crewmembers with. Muted horns and bizarre accompaniment from gentle choir voices make this a track of steady, insistent suspense. In another lifetime, this would be purely orchestral, louder and rise to a more insistent against-the-clock beat … and it would be in 60’s James Bond movie.
Track 11’s startling and frenetic Hammerpede must surely refer to the fate of the two geologist retards – Rafe Spall’s Milburn and Sean Harris’ ginger Mohawk – who have stupidly gotten themselves lost inside the alien temple suddenly going against their previously stated fears of all that isn’t merely unthreatening “rock” and attempting to pet a penis-headed alien serpent that has come to size them up. The encounter does not go well for either of them, and this track could well be the music of their macabre demises. Spider-like harsh strings, vicious chunks from Streitenfeld's weird and wonderful battery of recorded sounds and textures, grunting tuba and unrelenting bass are thrust together into one heaving mass of contorted, flesh-shredding orchestration. A final “stinger” erupts as the second idiot discovers that the mission to meet their makers actually meant meeting his maker. Surprisingly enough, considering the sort of material we are dealing with here, the score doesn't actually have that many stingers bouncing out at you.
The sombre, reflective woodwind-and string-led incarnation of the Life theme in Track 12 then blends straight into Track 13’s Earth which is, I think, the musical accompaniment to either one of two of the film’s most gorgeous sequences. It could be for the utterly superb opening scene that Scott uses to depict what looks like the seeding of humankind by a member of the race of Engineers, or the beings that we understand to be the space-jockeys that we’ve met previously. In one of the film’s most awe-filled and purest hard SF images – creating a mood of mystery and majesty that I wish Scott had been able to maintain - we see one of these god-like creatures standing beside a mighty waterfall as a huge spacecraft slowly moves across the sky above. Disrobing to reveal an eye-poppingly muscled body, the creature drinks the foul looking dark goo that causes the crew of the Prometheus so many problems when they touch down on LV-223, and begins to decompose and fall apart. As the spacecraft departs, his crumbling remains tumble over the waterfall and we witness his DNA breaking down and then reforming, in the swirling water, into what will surely evolve into the human race. Or … it could be playing over the terrific sequence when David returns to the Engineer’s operations platform and engages its wondrous three-dimensional holographic star-map to study the beings’ knowledge of the cosmos, finally grasping hold of the crystal-shimmering orb of the Earth, itself, as it floats in mystical orbit above his head.
Whichever sequence it supports – it could even be both – it is a cue that is magical, wondrous and absolutely captivating. Streitenfeld’s orchestra, led by Ben Foster, who works so well with Murray Gold on the Doctor Who scores, sparkles with ethereal radiance. A low thrumming, very Vangelis-like, acts as a foundation for the long-line sonoration that will literally lift off into the firmament above us. It sounds like he’s got a church organ ascending with heavenly fervour in there too, the whole piece gradually swelling in bright, shining passion until it soars away out of reach. This is mesmerising and beatific. You want to catch hold of it and be taken on its celestial voyage. Again, there is hope here and a sign that all is not necessarily darkness.
Like that mood's gonna last!
Streitenfeld will gleefully drop us back down to dark alien turf with a bang in the next track, though, for Infected, as it sounds, is full of raucous violence from barrelling tuba, brass blindly hitting out, jangling chimes and pounding percussion. This sequence could well be for when Charlie Holloway succumbs to the Engineer goo that David infected him with and begins to mutate as the team try to get back aboard the Prometheus. Unhelpfully, Theron’s cold-blooded Vickers, armed with a flame-thrower, does a Ripley on them about the rules for quarantine. Before Shaw’s horrified eyes, Charlie begs to be incinerated by Vickers to stop his agonies … and Vickers obliges, roasting him in a neat switch upon Ripley’s merciful immolation of the cocooned Dallas in the bowels of the Nostromo. The track peters-out on a lament from anguished strings - which could also be sorrowful orchestral reaction to the confused jumble that the film swiftly degenerates into.
Dark, cavernous tension shimmers and roils throughout Hyper Sleep. More Horner-esque surges and embedded metallic echoes resound, and Streitenfeld adds shuffling reeds and a recessed inner pulse until a glacial string-line and delicate harp creep in to draw the track to a close. Small Beginnings brings back that whirring circuitry motif for David, but the cue swiftly moves into mournful strings and choral wailing to humanise the synthetic threat that the android now poses to Shaw when he breaks some very bad new to her.
What follows is one of the film’s most stunning and horrifying sequences.
The blistering, high suspense of Hello Mummy (Track 17) plays mad musical midwife to the terrifying predicament that Elizabeth Shaw finds herself in when David informs her that she is three months pregnant. Previously infertile and only having had her first sexual intercourse in two years just ten hours before, this understandably comes as something of a shock. Even more so when it becomes clear that the foetus within her is not exactly human. Streitenfeld snatches some of the fury from Goldenthall’s Alien 3 for a sequence that is totally galvanising and, indeed, gut-wrenching. In desperation to have the “thing” removed, she gets to the auto-med lab and, after a swift rundown of the instructions, locks herself inside the pod and commences a DIY C-Section-cum-abortion. The horrid thing that is hauled from her body then sprouts tentacles and goes for her. In a sequence that is designed to make you squirm, Scott is clearly nodding to poor John Hurt’s agonising fatherhood in the original film, albeit with proactive femininity prevailing. The music is intense, locked down with lashing swipes from synth, furious stabbing from brass and the demonic slicing of strings. Streitenfeld recorded lots of household appliances and other odd sounds to create a library of crazy sounds, and he adds welters of this arsenal to provide a sort of hi-tech gleam, denoting the amazing equipment that Shaw is relying upon, and this mashes-up against the more organic and primal roiling of the orchestra that epitomises the physical nature of the trauma unfolding. All manner of effects have been hurled at us, the orchestra clearly becoming possessed, themselves, in the process and almost certainly needing counselling afterwards. Bass drums peel out, flutes and brass trill. The tuba growls, strings scream. It is a litany of demons, an orgy of banshees.
The album then needs to calm down again, and it does so in the best of ways.
Fittingly entitled Friend From The Past, Track 18 is Streitenfeld’s homage to Jerry Goldsmith. Incorrectly labelled in the film’s credits and upon the album as being the “Theme from Alien”, this outstanding cue is actually a modified version of that glorious solo trumpet from the original score’s Main Title, Landing and End Title cues. In Prometheus, it seems to come at the wrong time. For such an ethereal ambience and something that delivers a clear sense of “awakening”, this cue would have much better served proceedings placed during the introduction to the Earth ship as it cruised through space, its crew in hyper sleep. Instead, Streitenfeld’s glacial reworking of it – much more synth and a slightly modified tone – comes as Weyland’s holographic message is replayed to the amassed scientists and crew to inform them of just why they have journeyed all this way from home. Something that they would surely have known about from the start, to be honest. Hearing it in the film was a lovely harmonic umbilical chord to the saga we know and love, even if it didn’t fit the sequence in question. Hearing it here in displaced chronological order, it works infinitely better, sliding with hypnotic ease across the decades that separate Scott’s films.
This sounds like a finger being run around the rim of a glass of water – it shimmers with a fluid caress, with an almost Vulcan-style of spiritual harmony. Gleaming. Iridescent. This was one of the major cues from Alien that Scott messed around with, so it almost feels as though he is atoning for past sins with its amazing inclusion here. Of course, Streitenfeld would know of the historical importance of this cue, as well, and he delivers his variation of it with ghostly reverence.
Track 19’s Dazed is the longest passage on the album. It probably covers the patently truncated section in which the now-stapled Shaw discovers that an aged Peter Weyland (Guy Peace in terrible old-man makeup) has been onboard all along. He delivers his grandiose (if also decidedly selfish) ulterior motives for funding the mission and, together with David and some disposable support staff, and Shaw, who should really have passed-out by now, suits-up for a trek out to meet the one Engineer still alive in his own hyper-sleep chamber. This is a slow, dirge-like piece, but listen out for the weird insectoid electro-chirruping that goes on in the last section, which seems to signify that already the human angle is being usurped and superseded by another race.
Space Jockey must, therefore, denote the awakening of the Engineer and his callous hatred for these pesky human creations who have dared to disturb his slumber. Lots of clangourous metal rolling fills the background. The choir, both male and female voices, undulate with Gregorian mystery, and then the track turns quick and nasty as the Engineer skittles the humans and wrenches the noggin off David. The intense series of brass wails at the end of the cue remind me of John Barry’s King Kong score.
The film has now entered its most thrilling, yet most infuriatingly idiotic phase.
Collision covers the preposterous set-piece in which Shaw realises that the Engineer wants to continue his mission to wipe out the botched job of mankind on Earth. With stunning ease she is able to persuade Elba’s captain that he has nothing to return home for, and that he would be better off crashing the Prometheus into the slowly rising alien ship in the ultimate sacrifice. Yeah, right … he’s just going to accept her word on this. But, dutifully, Janek does just that … and with the willing aid of the two numpties he has on the bridge with him, to boot! Seriously, folks, this is the point at which the last tiny remnant of logic and credibility that the film had leaves the building and goes supernova – in an admittedly big, bold and beautiful image of hardware devastation. Streitenfeld honours this simply ludicrous turn-of-events with a rousing and heroic fanfare, courtesy of a driving rhythm from the orchestra, some walloping percussion, climbing woods and horns, rattling exotica and a macho beat. The choir joins in at the finale as with a last-minute quip and a big bang, the Engineer’s plan is reduced to smouldering rubble.
The next track, Debris, would appear to address the frantic attempts of both Vickers, who made her own devious escape from the Prometheus just in time, and Shaw to evade the falling wreckage of the two starships. The brief cue is filled with shuffling dissonance and sweeping, yet muted impacts.
Energised violence and shrieking aggression tumbles all the way across Planting The Seed, which could be the sequence in which Shaw, the last human alive, comes face-to-face with a very angry Engineer who has tracked her to Vickers’ crashed emergency life-pod. Armed with an axe, she is still no match for the big guy … but then she remembers that her alien offspring is just behind the door to the med-lab. Streitenfeld’s music captures the hideous struggle of the Engineer as he grapples with the now massively tentacled beastie that Shaw unleashes with the flick of a button. As she makes her escape, the Engineer falls beneath the creature, who thrusts a slimy tentacle down his throat in a very prophetic fashion. The amassed swarm of orchestral fury crashes all around with demented, jangling epilepsy – sizzling brass, screaming kamikaze strings and choral howling leading the assault.
Invitationbegins quietly and forlornly, gradually building with female choir, strengthening strings and a subdued percussive beat. It is an “endless road” type of cue, suggesting that the journey is not yet over and that more perils are waiting out there somewhere for the sexy space archaeologist and her blonde robot head. It almost sounds like a terrific basis for a new TV series, doesn’t it? Just don’t let Damon Lindelof write it.
There’s no prizes for guessing what’s happening beneath the last track, Birth. In what looks just like a pathetic tacked-on finale a la the climactic image from AVP, Scott gives the die-hards a patronising glimpse of what they’ve been expecting to see all along. The poor Engineer, having been wrestled and smothered by the great-granddaddy of the face-hugger, now suffers the eruption from his body of something that looks eerily familiar, although naffly tweaked by CG. Streitenfeld gives us another tense and very ominous cue that now totally deserves that bellicose Wagner Tuba. There are human voices inside that final, spine-tingling rush of warped alien hullabaloo.
Without a doubt, Prometheus is Marc Streitenfeld’s greatest achievement so far. It moves with a sense of cosmic beauty and soaring momentum, but lashes out with galactic savagery when necessary. It combines awe and mystery with passages of shrieking anxiety, but its most affecting element comes courtesy of Harry Gregson-Williams, and his cue Life absolutely elevates the score and the film to an entirely different level. The film, itself, is lucky to have such wonderful music to lend it class and gravity. The mess that Scott and the irresponsible Lindelof have made simply does not deserve such beauty and power as this.
Sony Classical’s UK pressing of the score CD comes with an illustrated booklet, some orchestral credits and copious thankyous from Strietenfeld. In the years to come, I can certainly imagine another label getting hold of the licence and producing the full score with comprehensive notes. For now, though, this offers the majority of the film’s music in a different, but wonderful album presentation, and with scintillating clarity and detail.
I may have some considerable reservations about the film, itself, but I have absolutely no hesitation in recommending its eerie, hypnotically melodic and expertly violent score.
Full Track Listing
1. A Planet (2:37)
2. Going In (2:03)
3. Engineers (2:29)
4. Life (Harry Gregson-Williams) (2:30)
5. Weyland (2:04)
6. Discovery (2:32)
7. Not Human (1:49)
8. Too Close (3:20)
9. Try Harder (2:03)
10. David (3:00)
11. Hammerpede (2:42)
12. We Were Right (Harry Gregson-Williams) (2:43)
13. Earth (2:35)
14. Infected (1:56)
15. Hyper Sleep (2:01)
16. Small Beginnings (2:11)
17. Hello Mommy (2:04)
18. Friend From The Past (contains the "Theme from Alien" by Jerry Goldsmith) (1:14)
19. Dazed (4:29)
20. Space Jockey (1:29)
21. Collision (3:05)
22. Debris (0:44)
23. Planting The Seed (1:35)
24. Invitation (2:16)
25. Birth (1:24)
All this talk of Alien-muzak has given me a strong desire to revisit the other scores in this xenomorphic series. I’ve covered Goldsmith’s already, but there’s still classic material from James Horner, Elliot Goldenthall and the hugely unappreciated score from John Frizzell. Hmmm …
This is a great score that works tremendously away from the film, but possibly distracts from Scott’s wayward narrative by being too beautiful, smoothly ethereal and violently intense for the messed-up, tonally chaotic low-brow sprawl that Ridley Scott has masquerading as intelligent, thought-provoking SF.
The Life theme, with its swooning Star Trek/Superman ambience is full of legitimate wonder and true awe. It is, without doubt, the signature theme that you carry away from the film and that must now become a thorn in Marc Streitenfeld’s side. His last two scores, as great as they are, have become dominated by haunting themes that he, himself, didn’t create. Thankfully, as awesome as Life is, it doesn’t come to dominate the album presentation and it is, quite rightly, his excellently composed and produced music that swirls the senses and creates imagery and moods that the film they were devised for doesn’t even come close to mimicking.
The film is a deflating affair for a great number of reasons, and most of them crushingly fundamental, but the score is a consistently fantastic piece of work that can certainly up against its forbears in the franchise. In many ways, this score feels like an evolution of Goldsmith’s original Alien as well as the thematic beauty of Vangelis’ Blade Runner, which seems only appropriate as Prometheus serves as something of a kindred spirit to both.
Whatever your opinions of the film – and I enjoyed it, faults and all – this is a superb score with a dazzling album presentation. Highly recommended.
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