(Aliens, 1986 – 20th Century Fox)
On Sunday afternoon I was lucky enough to watch Aliens Live at the Royal Albert Hall in London. Live meaning that Ludwig Wicki and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra played the score in the flesh. I was somewhat anxious of how this was going to play out. The score, sound effects and dialogue are all mixed in post production and I was aware that the score (and the fact it was played live) could possibly drown dialogue and effects but I was happy to see a mixer at the back of the auditorium, to mix the live score in and out.
Now James Horner’s lifetime of work doesn’t hold catchy and iconic film music in the same manner of John Williams and Hans Zimmer among others. I think that Horner’s scores are much more subtle in their execution, which is exactly the case for Aliens. The score isn’t complicated, isn’t tied down to multiple leitmotifs and therefore isn’t one of the soundtracks I listen to in isolation from day to day. The score isn’t overused or relied on, the film allows for many silent moments which were highlighted through the orchestral use. I had the most fun watching the strings pierce each horrifying moment and watching the drums carry out their repetitive war march. These things I had noticed before yes, but seeing them play out before my eyes was a rewarding experience.
I will always be the one to argue Alien as superior to Aliens, but I know this is a unimportant argument really. Alien is at its core a simple, artistic horror. But Aliens is something quite different, it’s action. It embodies the tone of war films, builds great action that contrasts to the Alien’s horror based nature. From one Alien stalking a ship’s crew, to thousands of aliens in a war zone. It’s less about not knowing where the alien is, and more about the overwhelming nature of the relentless creature and their life cycle.
In that sense, Aliens starts out cleverly. The first 5 minutes of the film feel very much Ridley Scott’s. The camera movement is the same, the score is in the manner of Jerry Goldsmith’s first score. It’s James Cameron taking the audience who know the first film, giving them a bit of what they expect and then quickly changing course, and paving new ground. The score does this too. In the first film, dialogue and sound effects are used to build the big fearful moments, in Aliens the big moments are without much dialogue but are led by James Horner’s score.
It was one hell of an experience. The auditorium is just one of the nicest places to be in for both its history and acoustics. Though it was not meant to happen, I could hear occasional sound effects being reflecting around the hall. The couple who shared our box bought us wine. It was a great communal experience, it felt like how every big film of that stature should be treated. The audience was vital to this, each comedic punch from Hudson was well received by laughter across the hall. There were moments when the score was so powerful it made you wince, perfectly matched to scenes full of terror.
Yes, I’m a little bit gutted I went to the 3pm showing over the 7pm showing, as Sigourney Weaver and James Cameron showed up, but it was still one of the best cinema experiences of my life (so far).