1,361H.R. Giger's bone-designs. A sci-fi horror-fest that combines genetic mutation with extra-terrestrial invasion. Top-flight actors such as Michael Madsen, Ben Kinglsey, Forest Whitaker and Alfred Molina fighting the good fight for humanity's sake against an insidious inter-galactic aggressor that they have virtually hatched in a laboratory. An atmospheric set-piece climax down in the eerie sewers that pays homage to the great fifties genre classic Them!. Do you know the film I mean? What ... no? Erm ... okay, okay ... what if I mentioned a certain Natasha Henstridge? In the buff. A lot.
You've got it now, haven't you?
The thing is, Roger (The Bounty) Donaldson's 1995 movie, Species, is a poor film. A very poor film. It was always designed to be an exploitation flick, though, and was extremely lucky to have been bestowed such a budget as to make it look exceedingly slick and glossy. Alien-designer extraordinaire and skeletal-specialist H. R. Giger took his penchant for biomechanical surrealism to some provocatively new levels with his work for Sil, the captured alien embryo who grows into the statuesque and lethally seductive Henstridge, before embarking on a Black Widow-inspired mate-and-murder spree around present day LA. However, the script was as risible as the characters were off-the-peg. The film even spawned a couple of sequels - but the less said about them the better. Yet what really gave Species the heads-up - besides the luscious Henstridge, of course - was its phenomenal score by genre veteran Christopher Young. Already famed for his momentous themes and broad orchestral verve, with the likes of Hellraiser and Hellbound: Hellraiser 2 and The Fly II under his belt, Young was extraordinarily adept at creating lyrical, sweeping harmonies that helped carry you through strenuous passages of downright intense and brooding magnificence. He was also quite happy to indulge in a little experimentation, often utilising synths and samples and creating musique concrete, which is especially pertinent in the case of his audacious and audience-splitting score for Tobe Hooper's remake of Invaders From Mars. It is worth mentioning that Intrada released the complete score for Invaders summertime 2008, for the first time ever and, despite its rather dubious reputation and distinctly unusual sound design, the disc sold out almost immediately! Such an avant-garde style is acutely fascinating when wrapped around a horror-film score as it allows all manner of glistening, glacial embodiments, provocative depths and a deceptively lulling atmosphere of wonderment and awe to go alongside the more conventionally bravura scare tactics at the composer's disposal. This innate combination of the spectral and the thunderous should make for a collision of chaotic proportions, but Young understands the mechanics of awe and the parameters of the “pulse-pounding” well enough to guarantee an audio experience that can literally dazzle the senses as easily as it takes the breath away.
He has an approach to his music that is also immediately recognisable. He takes the sound of angels and assails them with broadsides of percussion, floating ethereal cues, often backed by soaring choral work, that weave through wild and raucous deluges of frantic action, incredibly sombre stretches of melancholy and the scintillating higher register instrumentation that, all combined, have become his signature stock-in-trade. Even as recently as his (still un-released) Spider-Man 3 score, taking the composing reins away from Danny Elfman, he worked in a truly moving piece that was pure Young - that of Sandman first realising his granular abilities - and this yearning sincerity, a veil of devout, string-led romanticism, can certainly be found in abundance here in Species. His most profound passages are grand and ethereal, descriptive of the heavens and of the heart, yet stabbed-through with an earthy darkness that wisely balances out the dreamy qualities.
What Intrada have done with this release, with the complete participation of Young, is to present the score in its most accessible and listenable fashion - though not the order in which it is heard in the movie, itself. As the film stands, many cues were either dropped altogether or lost amidst a bombastic sound design that tended to favour the effects track over the music. To aid in this more pleasing presentation, several of the shorter cues have been amalgamated into longer tracks and their chronological order slightly altered. Young has even authorised the removal of some of the more percussive elements, as well as many of the extensive flute-figures that crop up here, there and everywhere in the film that simply went nowhere and just served to underscore brief, cross-cutting montages.
Tracks 1 (Species) and 15 (Star Bright) carry Sil's signature theme, and it is one of the genre's more elegant. Celeste, harp and flute put the stars into a sweet cosmic lullaby that is carried by beautifully plucked strings, a soothing choir and swirling violins, yet vaguely ominous undertones of broad brass ensure that we are made aware of the threat of violence and intimidation that will come. This cue is quintessential Christopher Young - delicate, sweeping, pensive and shot through with an undeniable body of mystery. Think Frank's rebirth in Hellraiser, think Sandman's rising from the test-chamber - there's solitude, agony and beauty all interwoven within a soundscape that is both tender and grandiose. You know instantly when you hear a track like this that you are in for a wonderful score - a score that the composer has poured his heart and soul into. The feminine quality of the theme is simply heart-aching and Young's patented gothic licks, embroidering the lilting strain of anguished strings, are irresistible. Detractors often cite that the composer only has two angles of attack - this soft reflection of stunned beatific awe and then the tense, percussive barrage from his usual drum array. But the skill is in how well he combines these elements into a cohesive, moving and exciting whole. You certainly can't argue that you are not getting your money's worth, as Young is totally committed to providing a rollercoaster ride of emotion and exhilaration, incorporating a large string section, powerful brass backup, wild and varied woodwinds and full-on batteries of percussion. Track 3 (Protostar) is a variation on this main theme - but given a distinctly creepier rendition via the use of hushed female voices.
Track 2 (A Vibrant Slime) is a terrific set-piece chiller sequence. The conventional trappings of the horror film score are ladled-out with aplomb. Driven by low brass clusters, tense dissonance and anticipatory string effects, Young creates an ambience that is wildly eerie. Vocalised lines, chimes and piccolos add immense mystery and menace to the piece. Ring Nebula (Track 4) again compares, contrasts and interweaves the gorgeously sinuous with the driving deep-down bass rumblings of darkness. Doubles-basses, infernal low-end woodwinds and tense brass chords vie for supremacy with the long, floating flute-lines that have come to denote Sil and her activities. In Fever (Track 5) we are treated to some intense brass as trumpet blasts rail against the percussion and the undulating low burn of tuba and French Horn. This cue, if I remember correctly, is actually the one used as the film's main title theme, and it is a wonderful, fast-paced section that grabs the attention and informs us of the desperate race against time that will encapsulate the story. This theme is returned to in Track 11 (Fever's Fever), which energises the score with its propulsive nature and light, frightened scurrying strings.
Are You Out There Somewhere (Track 6) features some surreal strings that coalesce into a dreamlike glitter that is then opened-out with a flurry of dissonant chimes and slow-cooked cello-lines. Trombone and tuba reach out towards the end of Species Feces (Track 7), climaxing a cue that has been quite deeply emphatic and exuberant with rumbling bass and frenetic strings. Bax Max (Track 8) winds things down for a brief spell, as Young brings in a delicate piano refrain and melds it with variant strains of Sil's main theme, returning the mystical harmony to the score once more.
One of the score's best tracks comes next, with the amusingly titled Milky Way Breasts. Percussion greets us with energised passion as swirling strings slide around the piece. Alfred Molina's character has come a cropper (literally, ahem) and Sil makes her escape with the rest of the team in hot pursuit and the score becomes embroiled with percussive thrusts and low brass after a delightfully deceptive period of coo, glacial trepidation.
Safe Sex comes next and this is another sinuously string-sliding session of musical effects and elegantly eerie interjections from harp and chimes. After Fever's Fever, Track 12, The Alien Underground, establishes suspense with the wafting sweep from the flute and then Worm Hole takes things into fiercely percussive territory once more as military snare, col legno and the staccato rhythm from a piano add dark savagery to the pot. The flute-lines and fluttering strings that rise above the swelling undercurrent of unease denote the Son Of Sil (Track 14) for a brief spell before Star Bright bows the score out with another fantastic variation of the main theme, enhanced by a larger female choir to give it more of an epic feel.
The score does have many familiar-sounding elements. There is more than a whiff of James Horner's more “floaty”, long deep-chord moments from Aliens, as well as some riffed-on action cues, complete with metallic percussion. There are a couple of sections that can't help but remind you of scenes of the Colonial Marines investigating the wrecked outpost on LV-426 and the classic track “Futile Escape” certainly seems to have been quite influential in the composition of Tracks 7 and 13 (Species Feces and Worm Hole, respectively). Snatches of Goldsmith peep through, though this is par for the course given the orchestral approach and the subject material of the movie. The influence of Jerry Goldsmith on another composer's score cannot, in all honesty, now be used against them - he virtually crafted the syntax and the musical language that inevitably must be utilised in a vast number of cases. Young's use of choir and ethereal-sounding instrumentation is like a sister-act to the type of thing that Elliot Goldenthal once came up with. Goldenthal was fantastic at creating pseudo-religious overtones that raced alongside strong thematic orchestration and vivid action - look at the likes of Interview With The Vampire, Batman Forever and, especially, Alien3. Young attacks the film with the same sort of the style, but has a much more sensitive understanding of the material and concocts an infinitely more lush and buoyant vibe than, arguably, anyone else working in this field. Danny Elfman, himself no stranger to mystery and whimsy, and precisely the sort of practitioner of this musical style very often veers too much either into bizarre slapstick or flamboyance. Young, despite far less prolific, manages to be more on target and less likely to lapse into self-indulgence. But as well as being a composition that strives to be graceful and spiritual, Species is also darkly exciting and contains plenty of “up-and-at-'em” sequences of undiluted agitato and action, some of the rhythms quite powerful and heart-racing.
For this release, Young even supplies us with the synth-composed section that occupied the middle of the movie. Here this is represented by ten minutes of electronic bonus tracks to be found in tracks 16, 17 and 18. It would be fair to say that besides the clicking and hissing, sampled vocal lines and low bass pulses that colour these tracks, there is a slight sound of John Powell-style techno-ambience as well. Strong percussion also helps to colour these extras and, be aware, that these tracks are nothing like the atonal “soundscapes” that the composer created for Invaders From Mars. A little look through the orchestra credits also reveals that a certain Marco E. Beltrami appears amongst the ranks. Could this be the same Marco Beltrami who would go on to compose the classic scores for Mimic, Hellboy and 3.10 To Yuma, perhaps? Well, I think it is, anyway.
If I'm honest, I prefer the liner notes that FSM provide as a rule - they are usually much more detailed and entertaining - but Intrada actually do a fine job here, regular score-scribe Jeff Bond delivering a sound appreciation of both the music and the film and a reasonably detailed look at the individual tracks, as well.
In a year that has seen some simply incredible score releases - predominantly back-catalogue titles - Species is right up there with the best. For many fans this is one of those Holy Grails that has been hugely requested, with it only being available previously as a promo disc, shorn of the bonus tracks. But, in a curious turn of events, the disc, although limited to only 3000 copies, has not yet sold out at the time of writing.
Full Track Listing -
1. Species 3:44
2. A Vibrant Slime 3:34
3. Protostar 2:58
4. Ring Nebula 5:29
5. Fever 2:29
6. Are You Out There Somewhere? 5:17
7. Species Feces 4:29
8. Bax Max 3:44
9. Milky Way Breasts 4:54
10. Safe Sex 2:37
11. Fever's Fever 3:41
12. The Alien Underground 3:57
13. Worm Hole 2:26
14. Son Of Sil 1:54
15. Star Bright 5:14
16. Aetherian Universe 4:30
17. How To Defend Yourself Against Alien Abduction 3:08
18. Angel Hair 3:10
Total Album Time: 67:15
An awesome score, folks!
Christopher Young pulls out all the stops for a movie that simply didn't deserve it. His lush orchestral approach is rich, dark and enticing, yet it carries more than enough action, eeriness and that beautifully intoxicating religio-menacing texture that made his name all those years before with the first two Hellraiser movies. Brilliantly produced by Intrada's Douglas Fake and Christopher Young, himself, this release is an extremely strong one and deserves a place on the shelf of any self-respecting genre-score fan. With a great booklet and artwork and a super new clarity that blows the old promo disc out of the water, Species now sounds much better than ever before. Basically, if you like your movie scores - particularly if you like your horror/fantasy scores - then you simply can't afford to pass up Species. For a long time, a soundtrack-fan's Holy Grail, its release from Intrada is an extremely welcome one. Gothic, haunting and lyrical, yet bolstered by intense action and sly, dreamlike mysterioso. You may recognise elements from Horner's Aliens score and even Young's own Hellraiser couplet, but Species is definitely enough of its own entity to provide a unique and rewarding experience all by itself.
Now, once again, this is a limited release of only 3000 copies worldwide, so my advice would be to hurry up before this particular Species becomes extinct. Unlike the composer's own Invaders From Mars, this is still available.
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