FourScore Match-Up #8: “It Came From Outer Space”

We’ve heard that expression tons of times and proceeding those very ominous words we’ve seen a wide range of alien life come to Earth via the Silver Screen. Some want to help us and some try to collect us. Others want to either meet and greet us, or just plain eat us. One thing is certain, whatever their objective, cinematic aliens are fascinating. Sunglasses, glowing fingers, human facades, or acid blood, you name it, it’s all so mysterious. But what makes these better than the rest? Well aside from great designs (K-Pax not withstanding) few extra terrestrial films have been given such top notch orchestral treatment and the movie is that much better because of it.

So which of these scores make these close encounters the most exciting and/or emotional?? Is the the wandering space traveler (that may or may not really be an alien), the classic tale of a boy and his alcoholic and tech savvy other worldly best friend, the shape-shifting alien playing hide and seek in the Antarctic, or the steel-toothed xenomorphs that only Sigourney Weaver seems capable of handling? Find out after the jump…

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K-Pax – Can’t say as I had heard of Edward Shearmur prior to seeing this for the first time but his score for K-Pax was just impressive as all get out. Sly, unassuming but emotionally moving it has a very ethereal feel to it. Shearmur is able to achieve something that feels nostalgic that, while still other worldly, brings it down to Earth. There is a certain elegance that surrounds each scene and much like A.R. Rahman’s work it goes beyond traditional film music. Doing so it becomes something new and different than we’re used to hearing. It’s new age and magical and almost as foreign as Proat himself the score is like a dream that I don’t mind getting lost in.

(Favorite Tracks: Taxi RideGrand Central and C0nstellation Lyra)

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E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial – John Williams does two things very well; he makes sophisticated scores and the rarer of the two, he makes them very memorable. One of my very favorite end credits done my my favorite composer. Williams already has a handful of legendary sci-fi scores to his credit and I believe this doesn’t get the credit it deserves. It has a very heartfelt tone to it all and does it’s best to get you to feel the emotional bond between a boy and his alien. Moreover it feels organic at times and while most people can hum the theme to Star Wars or Close Encounters in their sleep, the music of E.T. is one that most anyone will be able to recognize and identify with. I bet kids and adults alike still imagine themselves on their bikes flying across the sky.

(Favorite Tracks: Escape/Chase/Saying Goodbye and End Credits)

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The Thing – Probably the weakest of the 4 but still, it doesn’t have to be complex to be effective. But that’s the beauty of Ennio Morricone where he proves time and time again that less can most certainly be more. Going for an ominous but ambiguous feel, his synthesizer work is one that doesn’t date itself like others from the 80’s (read: Tangerine Dream or Goblin). There’s a foreboding that is so repetitive it’s like your ears are being methodically followed by The Thing. Unlike Chinese water torture, you do know when it’s coming and his music plays off Rob Bottin’s highly effective effects work making it all double intense.

(Favorite Tracks: Contamination and Despair)

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Aliens – James Horner’s trumpets and heavy brass makes this almost as energetic as going up against Aliens yourself. Tense, bombastic, with a military cadence this music seems tailored to especially for the Colonial Marines. Horner’s go to instrument (the trumpet) kicks serious brass as it heightening the already taught carnage on screen. Simply put, Horner is a master of the big action sequences and this score is no exception. Just when you think he’s done he goes deeper and hits you with an orchestral barrage leaving you breathless til the credits roll.

(Favorite Tracks: Ripley’s Rescue and Resolution and Hyperspace)

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FourScore Ruling:

K-Pax. I really have to give it to the underdog of the bunch. Sure Williams, Morricone and Horner are seasoned professionals and icons in film circles but Shearmur really created the more remarkable music. It’s one of the most beautiful and ethereal scores I’ve ever heard even if a great many people never saw the movie. Shearmur really went toe to toe with the big boys and aside from the win here, his score has incredible replay value. I can listen to it any day of the week even without wanting to watch the film and that doesn’t happen often.

Shearmur’s magical score brings those far off stars just a little bit closer…

  • ET is far and away the most emotional, but I’m a total sucker for The Thing. Might be my favorite horror movie of all-time.

  • MarcC

    Agree with you there bud. Emotional factor goes to E.T. but to me K-Pax hits me in a different way than E.T. does. Spacey is really convincing in the scene by the river and even the end, subtle as it is makes you smile in a way similar to seeing E.T take off (ok, maybe that’s a stretch).