I’m reminded of a previous time. What it was once like to be a kid dreaming of movies promised by trailers. Where summer guaranteed maybe not the award winners of the year, but quite possibly the most entertaining, most awe inspiring, most rewarding moments of time a young mind could soak up. A time when anything was possible and many of the caveats were not recognizable or easily disregarded for the larger whole.
It’s a time when all is original. Not enough experience is had to allow for a larger vision.
The best we can hope for right now is a better derivative. Hollywood has no interest in anything without a preformed base and the best expectation is a gathering of the finer creators so if a retread it must be, it can at least possibly add to what has already been established. Maybe rewrite the circumstances – establish new laws of order – bring about a broader realm of thought as it aligns with the previously known and unknown.
For the last number of months my focus has been on one film: Prometheus. The new film in the Alien franchise has gathered more of my interest than I have possibly devoted to any specific creation since childhood. While this summer does boast a large number of possibly quality filled continuations, this is the first time we’ve seen the franchise since 1997 (yes I am choosing to not count Alien vs. Predator because merit aside they speak to a wholly different beast than what the first four films brought to the world) and through the slow proliferation of information (is it or isn’t it a prequel/sequel) building up to an onslaught to which my eyes and ears have been glued, I’ve been reminded of what it felt like when I was a child anxiously waiting for what Hollywood could dish out of the long summer months – long before the malaise and disinterest of growing up, studying hard and adding to the onslaught of multimedia proliferation became a gateway to realizing that what I dreamt was not so much a reality, but a version I wanted to be true.
If the film works it will be in large part due to Marc Streitenfeld, the unsung hero behind the weight of the project. No matter your connections to the original Alien films, whether they be the distinct visual styles of each incarnation or the variations of narrative or just the good old fashion love of lore that was established in the initial; the music has always played a crucial role to the establishment of the narrative and the force it holds over you.
Each of the films have a very distinct approach to the music that established a way of being. Much of what Jerry Goldsmith created established a new base for horror. The quiet, angelic slam. Though James Horner can speak nothing, but ills toward the process of creating the score for Aliens, his score is the action score. Since its release the cues and ideas have been stolen countless times and to this day his work feels like the key to what we experience with the genre. It’s probably the best thing he has ever composed. And then we reach Alien 3 and Elliot Goldenthal’s first attempt at major film scoring. It’s an impressive evocation of experimental composition; very distinct from the other films, but also very much connected. As with the first film, Goldenthal’s work ushered in new ways of composing for film. Blending seamlessly into the sounds of the narrative to create a oneness that was very much unique at the time. The fourth film is scored by John Frizzell and though many may consider it the weakest of the scores (seeing as many see the fourth as the weakest of the films) it is mostly because what Alien Resurrection did was embrace the b-movie drive-in quality of the franchise that had not yet been done and while it also lessened the overall lasting power of the narrative it does hold weight as being a blending of sorts, combining many attributes of the previous versions into an all out action film.
Something Prometheus seems to be embracing, though with maybe a bit less drive-in and a bit more of the class referenced in the first consideration.
Behind all these derivations though are particular considerations of percussion, horns, strings and atmospherics. Something not entirely orchestral as one typically considers it to be, but more wrapped in the sound of the environment so as to create an alternate space and time. These particular considerations link all the scores together despite their differences. The percussion is often heavy and at times more breaking apart in rhythm than assembling. Horns often blare out, creating walls of sound, and the atmospherics are often difficult to identify as to what is the what with strings making one feel a bit twitchy for lack of any sensible calm.
On May 15th, when I heard iTunes had released Marc Streitenfeld’s contribution, I did not hesitate to download it. I had been waiting feverishly to get my hands on his ideas and to discover it was being released digitally almost a month before physical content was very exciting. It made my day and totally continued the childish thrill ride that had been building me up for months.
This is how I remember being a kid. Anxiously getting my hands on every clue. Every bit of attachment to the dream I desperately wanted to experience. More often than not its images and interviews, but these days scores are often released prior to a film’s theatrical run and offer a layer of the experience prior to the screen.
I’ve taken particular interest in Streitenfeld’s work over the last few years. His origin in sound design and editing allows for a particular approach that not all composers have. He understands the unity of elements and how to approach music as a part of a whole rather than a separate entity that has to be mixed in or upheld.
As he applies this to the Alien consideration the history is especially valuable. It would seem he was working up to this point his entire career. Projects such as Body of Lies and The Grey present an already developing sensibility that brings in the blaring horns, string atmospherics and erratic percussion.
He also has a keen awareness of scoring in a way that propels the narrative. Even in Alien’s calmest moments there is an incredible sense of rhythm. The films are constantly moving forward. They do not linger too long on any moment. Details are built upon one another to allow for ideas presented yet left unspoken fully.
This is how we develop a mythology. This is why films, in their greatest terms, become our new myths, our new gods. They have the power to guide us through life as with entertaining. They are stories that speak to truths through the absences of always absolute logic or complete iteration. They can have holes because it is not so much an absence of quality as much as an absence of needing to fill in all the gaps. This is often turned against as a moment of faulty craftsmanship, but I dare so they are there to let us in. The narrative is incomplete without your willingness to partake. We can take it and run and continue with the dreams we hold so dear.
These films are about more than simply aliens from a distant world. Audiences have connected with them because of their connection to our world. Their evolution with our evolution. They maintain relevance by using a text to speak to a reality – our reality – and in doing so present a series of ideas that make a damn good yarn.
Prometheus’ styling as compared to the rest of the franchise is much cleaner. It’s flashier. More defined lines and exacting design.
It’s a discontinuity in the myth we currently understand. It looks more like something we can identify as well made in the HD world. Everything is visible. Everything is big.
On the one hand this could seem disconnected from the rest of the films which have a certain industrial, dirty feel. But, on the other, it is connected in a way that quite possibly expands the previous. The design speaks to our current age with extensive technology and clearness of vision. It’s a world before collapse from its own weight and self importance. No end could be imagined for we can resolve to fix it before it comes (except of course for our own willingness to get in the way of difficult choices).
As with the rest of the franchise this speaks to a plateau and eventual decline of what we know to be true – a point where we can no longer limitlessly expand in every direction. We may now reach other worlds and live in far off places besides Earth, but it’s a declining existence; one constantly attempting to reclaim its own superiority; one desperate for a rebirth of the expansion that once seemed so endless.
If all we can hope for these days from Hollywood is a better derivative, it would seem this kind of interpretation is the best of what we can hope to arrive. An expansion of ideas; a re-articulation that complicates what we have come to know and forces one to reevaluate everything previously understood.
The narrative becomes something of a chronicle – a chronicle of collapse. The fall that does not happen with a bang, but with a slow, almost unrecognizable decay into flatline – malaise – a death post-death.
It’s no longer so simple.
There is a grander narrative at work here. Something that couldn’t be worked upon until much time and narrative had passed.
It almost necessitates even the fourth installment and drive-in novelty to allow for this all to take shape.
Inevitably the film will not please everyone. There will either be too much or too little action – too much or too little myth – too much this or too little that. It’s the nature of the beast. The building creates a need to tear down. Myths are always embraced with skepticism and a need to control by dramatizing its lacks.
As if somewhere down the line myths were put in place by gods who could see all, we feel the need to remind the world that these are just films made by individuals who are not gods. As if somehow that is a fault.
I have always found the human element the most endearing, the most inclusive of details that allow one to find a way into something that may in fact be the answer to our prayers. If allowed to be, maybe we enable something to become what it could never imagine. If allowed to be, we might just have an experience worth remembering.