Usually, this will be the point where I tell you that there will be massive spoilers ahead and that you probably shouldn't read any further unless you have already greatly spoiled yourself (I'm sure the Ed loves me doing that). But today is not a usual day, not to mention that there are some big potential spoilers in the track titles and even the music (not quite on the 'Qui-Gon's Funeral' level, but still). Therefore, I will not even mention the track title if I consider it spoilerish. However, I will be talking about a few things that are out in the open regarding the film, so if you are paranoid of knowing one iota about the film, are pregnant, or have a nervous disposition, you should probably stop reading.
Still here? Good. Other than that international trailer everyone recently went nuts over, Streitenfeld's score is the clearest signal that Prometheus is indeed a prequel to Alien and that Ridley Scott is either a big fat liar or has been carrying out a very careful misinformation campaign. Nope, the film is basically Alien -1, at least going by the music which – in time honoured fashion of the series – is designed to not only thrill and chill you, but to also scare the living daylights out of you.
That’s not to say that Prometheus is just terror in aural form, it certainly has flashes of beauty and wonder (which perhaps tie in with Ridley’s comments about 2001-style aspirations) as well as those more traditional fill-your-underwear moments. Like the other scores that followed Jerry Goldsmith’s Alien, Streitenfeld’s music (which also includes contributions from previous Scott collaborator Harry Gregson-Williams) builds on the musical styles of the classic 1979 score whilst still being its own beast.
And a beast it is, in the best possible way. Things start off in familiar territory in ‘A Planet’, with a muted horn solo evoking the sense of foreboding that the series thrives on, the subsequent brass swell presumbly scoring our first look at the starship Prometheus. While the motif is suitably noble there is still an unsettling feeling behind it, a sense that soon becomes a running theme.
But more about that later. As I mentioned earlier, the score is not wall-to-wall terror and certainly has some more traditional sci-fi musical moments to give it a different dimension. The quartet of 'Life', 'Weyland', 'Track 12 and 'Track 13' almost form a mini-symphony, with 'Life' (which together with 'Track 12' was composed by Gregson-Williams) using a brass solo and female choir to invoke a feeling of nobility and hope which is continued by Streitenfeld in 'Weyland', although there's a reference from the original film which gives the latter track a slightly unsettling atmosphere.
'Track 12' reprises the theme from 'Life', albeith in a more downbeat and reflective version, giving the possible indication of a big moment where something has gone very wrong. However, by the time 'Track 13' rolls around we're back in the realm of hope with an extreme sense of wonder at whatever it is we and the characters are looking at. I can't wait to see what it is, and how thematic the quartet is in the actual film.
One of the most appropriate ways to describe Streitenfeld's score is bio mechanical. Orchestral and electronic - or natural and synthetic - elements are thrown together, sometimes deftly blended other times intentionally jarring to create a sonic landscape that never leaves you completely comfortable. Obviously due to the nature of the alien creatures this is a nice thematic line, but it also works with Michael Fassbender's David who, if you've read anything about this movie at all, you will know is an android . Subsequently the track 'David' is suitably mechanical with an electronic "heartbeat" that runs continuously through the cue alongside mysterious and playful strings and a reflective choir, almost questioning, which certainly is something that's sort of a mini-theme within the series with the androids, at least up to this film.
But while the brass is noble and the electronics androidesque, the rest of it is dedicated to making you feel uncomfortable, creeped out and downright scared. Of course, it's a slow burn - lots of mechanical rhythms and discordant horns ('Going In'), low choirs and swarming strings ('Engineers'), dissonant strings ('Hyper Sleep') - but when it gets going, well let's say if the film matches the intensity they'll need to have to wipe down the seats after every showing.
'Track 11' kicks it all off, and to put it bluntly, it's like being lovingly serenaded by H.R. Giger and the Regan MacNeil's. This is a good thing and it's one of the scariest tracks on the album, to the point where my track by track notes on this one ended with 'OH GOD PLEASE HELP ME!" It's an uncomfortable mix of fast and piercing strings, jarring horn blasts and a building cacophony of insectoid voices and screams, and to be frank just writing about it has made me need a quick bathroom break.
'Track 17' is a cousin of 'Track 11', using the orchestra in a more traditional way, with strings and brass doing their best to unsettle the hell out you while someone blasts away manically on the drums before an ear-piercing noise gives way to more horn blasts and really low strings. It's not hugely long, but enough to make you reach for the nearest flamethrower. 'Track 20' isn't necessarily the scariest, but is very specifically named for something and given the couple of glimpses of said thing in the trailers, I have a feeling this is going to fit amazingly well in the film. There's a real sense of movement and urgency, with some desperate horns and strings that bring a sense of both hopelessness and wonder.
Back to up the scary stakes is 'Track 23', being instantly uncomfortable with swirling serpentine strings and what can honestly be described as the devil's horns, giving you a good idea that something really, really bad is happening. The horrendously dissonant choir doesn't help either (props to Goldsmith's The Omen?) and by the end of the track when you're left with a chorus of disembodied moans, I can honestly say I was scared shitless.
Luckily, 'Track 24' gives a brief respite with a beautiful and wistful string section that indicates a kind of finality, introspectiveness, maybe even regret. Unfortunately it's backed by a terrible drum machine percussion that kind of takes the power away a bit. The final track, 'Track 25' takes us straight back into the realm of the terrifying, beginning uncomfortably and building slowly, flashing with dissonant melodies and a rising horn until it rises up at hyper-speed to an abrupt conclusion.
It's worth noting that with that final track, the whole album ends on an appropriate but unresolved note, so if you have the Alien soundtrack it may be worth putting 'End Title' at the end if you make a playlist, just for a different listening experience. And it wouldn't be the only nod to the earlier scores either, as while there are certainly stylistic homages to James Horner's Aliens and Elliot Goldenthal's Alien 3, there are a few overt references to Jerry Goldsmith's original score. The haunting two-note 'Nostromo' theme is heard in 'Weyland', 'Track 12', and 'Hyper Sleep', while the swarming insectoid noises heard in 'The Passage' make a couple of appearances. But the one fans will enjoy most is the full direct quote of Goldsmith's main theme in 'Track 18'. It's an ethereal and ghostly rendition but is a rather concrete example of Prometheus' heritage, especially to those who believe Ridley Scott's porkies.
I have to say, the few things I have gripes with about the score are a bit nitpicky, mostly to do with the spoilerish track titles and the abrupt ending (which I have to admit is fitting). The percussion overlays do get a bit much at times, and there was a couple of times where I wanted them to dial it down, but I guess it wouldn't be as terrifying if they made it more pleasant to listen to. The choir is occasionally a bit thick, but nothing where it spoils, and the references to previous scores are thankfully few and far between.
Overall, Prometheus is an impressive entry in the franchise's musical body, especially considering I haven't really been impressed with the previous work of either Marc Streitenfeld or Harry Gregson-Williams. I admire its purity. It's wondrous and beautiful at times, but is often brutal, uncompromising and just plain unsettling. Let's hope the film is the same.
Prometheus is available in digital audio formats now. The film is released on June 1 in the UK and June 8 in the US.