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Alien Covenant (Jed Kurzel)

May 5, 2017

ALIEN: COVENANT

Jed Kurzel, 2017, Milan
22 tracks, 58:57

Drop your linen and start grinning – there’s a new Alien movie out. Covenant sees Sir Ridley at the helm once again as he takes us on another, hopefully, terrifying journey. Jed Kurzel provides the score, ensuring we are afraid, very afraid indeed.

Review by Pete Simons

What is it?

Alien: Covenant is a science fiction horror film directed by Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator) which stars Michael Fassbender and Katherine Waterston. The film, a sequel to 2012’s Prometheus and the sixth in the Alien film series, follows the crew of the colony ship Covenant as they discovered the ruins of the doomed Prometheus expedition on a remote planet. The world soon reveals itself to be inhabited by dangerous creatures that force the crew into a fight for survival.

The original score is by Australian composer Jed Kurzel (MacBeth, The Babadook), who replaces Harry Gregson-Williams. Inspired by elements of the original 1979 Alien score by Jerry Goldsmith, Kurzel’s work invokes feelings of isolation and abject horror in the face of an unavoidable mounting catastrophe.

What does it sound like? And is it any good?

The Alien movies have delivered some of Hollywood’s finest scores, from Goldsmith’s eerie original, to Horner’s action-packed sequel, Goldenthal’s elegiac third and Frizzel’s more straight-forward though no less enjoyable Resurrection. More recently, Streitenfeld wrote a score for Prometheus that relied heavily on sound design and a spooky main theme; augmented with a beautiful theme by Harry Gregson-Williams. The latter was set to score  Covenant, but got replaced by Kurzel.

Jed Kurzel is no stranger when it comes to action and horror films – The Babadook, Assassin’s Creed – yet his filmography is, perhaps surprisingly, dominated by drama. I was also a little surprised to see that, whilst he’s been scoring movies since 2000, it’s only in the last few 3-4 years that he really started getting regular assignments.

On to Covenant then. The opening cue consist of sound design. Low thumping bass, something that sounds like a processed bell and various reversed noises. It sure sounds like a sequel to Prometheus (in which Streitenfeld also utilised reversed sounds), but it also sounds like the non-descript droning I feared we’d get.

But then… Kurzel only goes and brings back Goldsmith’s original Alien theme from 1979. Of course it briefly and only once showed up in Prometheus, almost like source music, but here Kurzel makes it the movie’s main theme, along with various other bits and bobs from Goldsmith’s score, and reprises these elements throughout his score. It instantly gives Kurzel a solid base on which he can sculpt his score. There is instant recognition. There’s an instant link to Alien and the franchise. And there’s some solid material (melodic, motivic and harmonic) that’s proven to be dramatic, scary and awe-inspiring all at once.

Does that make Kurzel’s job any easier? No, probably not. Goldsmith’s score is considered a classic and even vaguely hinting at it would likely unleash hordes of fans ready to curse this mimicry. So if you’re going to quote the original, you’d better do it well. And thankfully, Kurzel does it very well indeed.

So what exactly has Kurzel brought across from the original Alien score? First of all there is the trumpet-performed main theme. This appears several times; and I like the ‘warm’ sound that this trumpet has to it. Then there is the (in)famous 2-note echoing flute motif. If I remember right, in the original it denotes the passing of time; and it has basically been the franchise’s signature motif throughout most (if not all) of the movies. There is also a rising motif, usually preceding the main theme; and a descending (tubular) bell motif. All of this can be heard in cues like “The Covenant”, and the splendid “Planet 4 / Main Theme”, which goes into full-on romantic Goldsmith mode.

There is plenty of growling taking place throughout the score; some of which I personally associate with Aliens more than its predecessor. There are moments (e.g. “Wheat Field”) where I’m just waiting for Horner’s snare drums to appear (but they don’t). Some of the orchestral clusters may remind of Goldenthal (e.g. “Lonely Perfection”), though whether or not it’s deliberate, I’m not sure. Furthermore, the electronic elements remind mostly of Streitenfeld and to a lesser extent of Frizzel. I would expect similarities to Prometheus to be deliberate, anything else only Kurzel can tell us.

I’d think that it goes without saying that Covenant is a very dark score. It relies heavily on sounddesign (both electronic and orchestral) and is largely unpleasant to listen to – due to the very nature of the film it accompanies, of course. There is no doubt that it’ll wreak havoc on your nerves during the movie. Cues like “The Med Bay”, “Cargo Lift” and “Terraforming Bay” are hugely effective. The few lighter moments, add some emotional gravitas. Unexpectedly, “Chest Burster” is an incredibly pretty little cue, to the point I wondered whether it was labelled incorrectly. And the inclusion of Goldsmith’s material really cements it in the Alien universe.

Covenant is a very effective score. It is very well conceived. Like many others, I didn’t really know what to expect from Kurzel; and I am pleasantly surprised. There is nothing particularly original here, but Kurzel presents his score with plenty of conviction and confidence. As much though I like it, I am a little torn. What I think I’m missing is a unique voice. It tries so hard to fit in with the franchise that, whilst succeeding, it’s difficult to pinpoint what makes Kurzel’s score unique in this series. In many ways Covenant is better than Streitenfeld’s Prometheus, yet I can’t help but feel that (even) Prometheus had more of a character of its own. That said… I think Covenant makes for a great horror score; and makes for a good Alien score. Undoubtedly it’ll be shredding nerves in the theatre. Kurzel had some tough acts to follow and, whilst not perfect, I think he delivered a hugely satisfying soundtrack.

Rating [3.5/5]

Tracklist:

01. Incubation
02. The Covenant
03. Neutrino Burst
04. A Cabin On The Lake
05. Sails
06. Planet 4 / Main Theme
07. Launcher Landing
08. Wheat Field
09. Spores
10. The Med Bay
11. Grass Attack
12. Dead Civilization
13. Survivors
14. Payload Deployment
15. Command Override
16. Face Hugger
17. Chest Burster
18. Lonely Perfection
19. Cargo Lift
20. Bring It To My Turf
21. Terraforming Bay
22. Alien Covenant Theme


Review (C) 2017 Synchrotones

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