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Prometheus by Marc Streitenfeld

Prometheus

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Prometheus (Soundtrack) by Marc Streitenfeld

Prometheus
Composed by Marc Streitenfeld
Sony Masterworks (2012)

Rating: 7/10

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We Were So Wrong
Review by The Tracksounds Gang

As the world had become engrossed in a new, family-friendly, fantastic, galaxy not too close to here, Ridley Scott was preparing to unleash altogether different kind of sci-fi film upon us; one that was all too close, too real, and too scary. In 1979, ALIEN made us fear the front-rows of movie theatres again and helping to make the film something beyond just a piece of horror set in space was the great air of mystery that surrounded it all. Thirty plus years later, Sir Scott returns us to that universe with a film that was to finally shed some official light on those questions - PROMETHEUS.

While Jerry Goldsmith’s score was nominated for several awards, it had, at the director’s hands, morphed (or was manipulated) quite dramatically away from the composer’s original concept. Regardless, it’s effect on audiences remains as menacing as ever and is among Goldsmith’s most beloved works. The music for the Alien franchise continued to greatly evolve with each successive sequel, from JAMES HORNER to ELLIOT GOLDENTHAL to JOHN FRIZZELL. And now, this “para-prequel” finds itself in the hands of Scott’s most recent favorite composer-collaborator, MARC STREITENFELD.

The film and score was discussed at length in episode 49 of The Soundcast, but at the time of the launch of the home video release, the Tracksounds Gang returns to tackle the original score for PROMETHEUS.
 

Marius says...

"It has grown on me (or inside of me?!) as I’ve listened to it more. "

PROMETHEUS broke my heart — right from the first trailer. It was mostly my own fault for letting my expectations be raised unrealistically, but in my defense it was supposed to be Ridley Scott’s glorious return to the franchise that I adore so much. It was supposed to be many things.

The one aspect I appreciated from the start is MARC STREITENFELD’s score. Not typically impressed by his work, I enjoyed his approaches to refreshing the classic Alien sound without falling into the broad Hollywood goop of mediocrity. It has grown on me (or inside of me?!) as I’ve listened to it more. Some called the score too upfront, but those are ears tuned to the dead ambiences of film music as a wet carpet, slumped unceremoniously over hollow scenes. PROMETHEUS is a score from the past, come to the future beckoning us to follow it to a mysterious new place…and it is not ashamed.

Unsettling techniques like offering the musicians the music in reverse and then flipping the melodies the right way around digitally contribute to the superb atmosphere of tracks like “Too Close”. The liberal use of woodwinds is a rare and magnificent treat, with the earthy tones of bass flutes providing eerie doublings for “Going In”, while their higher counterparts whisper the same alternating figure throughout later tracks. Combined with the reversal trick, Streitenfeld’s acoustic palette for the film is striking, recognizable, and wholly appropriate. I could not simply transplant this music to another film, and that’s a mighty compliment.

Harry Gregson-Williams drops in a couple of well-received contributions, notably the beautiful theme introduced in “Life”, which I considered to be the film’s main theme even though that responsibility actually falls to the opening cue, “A Planet”, and its motif. On album, the “Friend From the Past” cue puts a smile on my face with its tender nod to the original Jerry Goldsmith theme for Alien; the film may have mishandled the homages, but Marc was on the ball. On album, the listening experience includes material that may be difficult to properly appreciate out of context, but taken as a whole I prefer experiencing PROMETHEUS through this CD.

In fact, I have to conclude that my impression of the PROMETHEUS experience could be summed up exactly like that: every aspect of the production was pushing their A game — except for the director & writer, who failed to wrangle their ambitions into a coherent product. But all my respect goes out to MARC STREITENFELD & Harry Gregson-Williams, who remained focused and delivered one of my favourite scores of the year; memorable not necessarily for its thematic strength, but for its unwavering aesthetic integrity.

Marius' Rating: 9/10

 

 

Edmund says...

"It is competent in all of its parts, and probably the most accomplished score of STREITENFELD’s young career, but its unspectacular demeanor makes it a cautious recommendation at best."

The career of MARC STREITENFELD has caused more than a few raised eyebrows among film music disciples. He emerged from HANS ZIMMER’s Remote Control stable to suddenly, unexpectedly and – some argue – undeservedly become the composer of choice for RIDLEY SCOTT, a man whose films have produced some remarkable music, but whose reputation for being difficult for a composer to work with is second to none. One of those difficult partnerships was between SCOTT and JERRY GOLDSMITH on the groundbreaking sci-fi/horror film ALIEN, where the director saw fit to hack, rearrange and generally mutilate the composer’s score beyond recognition. Over thirty years later, SCOTT returns to the same universe with his 2012 prequel PROMETHEUS, with STREITENFELD along for the ride. Still, it wasn’t long before SCOTT got up to his old tricks – apparently dissatisfied with some of his usual composer’s thematic material, he called in a former collaborator, HARRY GREGSON-WILLIAMS, to provide some additional music.

Unfortunately for STREITENFELD, it is the GREGSON-WILLIAMS contribution that makes the greatest impact, particularly in the film itself where his cues were repeated several times. On album, his contribution is limited to two cues, “Life” (4) and “We Were Right” (12), both of which presenting a lonely, hopeful theme that grows outward in layers from a solo horn. STREITENFELD’s own thematic material is less memorable, but workmanlike enough and sprinkled intelligently throughout the score in fleeting references. His main theme, structured around four-note phrases, is first fully introduced in “A Planet” (1) at 1:24 and reaches its dramatic peak in “Collision” (21), STREITENFELD’s highlight cue. Gnawing its way insistently throughout the bulk of the score is an effective, see-sawing, GOLDSMITH-like string line that both underpins the thematic material mentioned above and wanders off into the more suspenseful cues of sound design, such as its creepy processed sound at the outset of “Going In” (2) or more frantic pace in “Not Human” (7). GOLDSMITH’s ALIEN is even directly referenced in “Friend from the Past” (18), a slightly forced-sounding but appreciable tip of the hat.

The bulk of PROMETHEUS is made up of suspense and horror underscore, words that usually strike fear into the heart of a film music collector. Fortunately, STREITENFELD’s sound design in these cues is suitably interesting, subtly integrating electronics and tense, rumbling percussion into the largely dissonant orchestral performances. Surprisingly little all-out action exists, with the score’s loudest moments expressed as unpleasant atonal roars (e.g. “Hammerpede” (11)). The choral element is used subtly but effectively, offering hopeful backing to thematic cues such as “Life” (4) and “Invitation” (24) but also dropping down into the unsettling lower ranges in a cue like “Engineers” (3).

The trouble with a score of PROMETHEUS’ genre is that, by necessity, it contains a lot of music that supports its film moreso than a listening experience on album. While this is also true of its peers in the series, PROMETHEUS never reaches quite as high, with even its best cues never rivaling what GOLDSMITH, JAMES HORNER and ELLIOT GOLDENTHAL came up with for the series. It is competent in all of its parts, and probably the most accomplished score of STREITENFELD’s young career, but its unspectacular demeanor makes it a cautious recommendation at best.

Richard's Rating: 6/10

 

 

Richard says...

"PROMETHEUS is largely made up of atmospheric tension, occasionally punctuated by action and dissonant passages of pure dread. While the atmosphere is entirely functional within the movie, it becomes something of a chore away from it. "

For just a moment, one could genuinely be forgiven for believing that the music of PROMETHEUS was born out of a visual introspection of humanity - simultaneously vast and deeply personal in nature. HARRY GREGSON-WILLIAMS’ contribution to PROMETHEUS may have been small, but it shines like a beacon of unfulfilled intent. His compositions present on the soundtrack seemingly exist as remnants of something PROMETHEUS once was, but was never destined to remain as.

Outside the spectacular visuals, RIDLEY SCOTT’S sci-fi was at it’s best when it was contemplating rather than declaring the origins of humanity. These moments of curiosity, however fleeting, have remained as the film’s moments that had the greatest effect on me as the viewer. Thankfully, these moments endure largely through Gregson-Williams’ two tracks - “Life” (4) and “We Were Right” (13), and Streitenfeld’s “Earth” (13). The brass, strings and vocals in “Life” and “We Were Right” have a wondrous sense of optimism to them, an optimism that is the beating heart of so much that makes Science-Fiction so enthralling. The melody heard throughout these cues is inverted somewhat sinisterly in “We Were Right” (12), but it still maintains that air of introspection so innate to the film’s premise.

While there’s no doubt that it is the aforementioned tracks that provide the highlights, the remainder of Marc Streitenfeld’s work makes for a consistently fitting score, albeit one that never excels. PROMETHEUS is largely made up of atmospheric tension, occasionally punctuated by action and dissonant passages of pure dread. While the atmosphere is entirely functional within the movie, it becomes something of a chore away from it. Apart from the three tracks mentioned previously, it’s unlikely that many tracks will ever be revisited to great effect. “A Planet” (1) is memorable for its forceful brass climax, whereas “Collision” provides the most enjoyable action sequence on the score, yet they both still fail to ignite the senses as one would hope.

The score is an altogether different beast when heard in context - the creeping “Not Human” (7) and unnerving pulsing of “Too Close” (8) accompany the often baffling decisions of the film’s characters as well as one could ask for, but lack the same punch without the visuals. The same can be said for most of Streitenfeld’s score.

For many, PROMETHEUS was a film that promised so much yet delivered so little. It’s hard not to feel the same way when such brief moments of brilliance are so outnumbered by the average.

Richard's Rating: 6/10

 

 

Christopher says...

"Like the film, the score contains some interesting elements, but few, if any, get developed into something truly meaningful."

Buried amidst the depressingly, half-baked script of PROMETHEUS lurks MARC STREITENFELD’s mostly ominous (and, well, mostly Marc’s) original score. The score, unsurprisingly, matches the arc of the film (or should I say “radical, 90-degree-bank of the film) as it moves from would-be, thought provoking, sci-fi film to nonsensical horror.

What’s most interesting about the score, albeit not the most entertaining, are its connections Jerry Goldsmith’s work for ALIEN. In PROMETHEUS, we are teased with the Alien main theme in “Discovery” (6), and then finally given a full performance of it in “Friend from the Past” (18). While Goldsmith relied upon a solo trumpet to deliver the memorable motif, Streitenfeld uses strings, “Ooo” choir, and synths - keeping it in mysterious-atmospheric harmony with the rest of the score.

More subtly, but perhaps more interestingly, Streitenfeld, takes an 8-note, undulating, segment from the Alien score, varies it slightly, and makes it the most oft-used motif in PROMETHEUS. It’s found in at least 9 of the 23 tracks presented here. Perhaps it’s most important inclusion is found in “David” (10). Here, the motif is prominently featured, layered over precise, machine-like effects. Is this then Streitenfeld’s musical representation for David and his machinations throughout the film?  MARC STREITENFELD’s second most-used signature is a 4-note, arcing motif, usually played on brass or oboe, but is vocalized in “Small Beginnings” (16). It is slightly hopeful, but not without it's own edge of melancholy.  My first inclination was that this represents the franchise’s new heroine, Dr. Elizabeth Shaw.  Further examination would lead me to believe otherwise.

Like a musical-chest-burster, came the inclusion HARRY GREGSON-WILLIAMS on this score.  His two tracks “Life” (4) and “We Were Right” (12) lifts the score out of its suffocating mystery and interjects some much needed grandeur and light - a fitting bit to contrast against the weight of the rest of the score. The core of the piece is played majestically on french horn, then strings and choir. Helping to keep Gregson-Williams’ pieces from sticking out like a soar hammerpede, Streitenfeld puts his own darker spin on the theme in “Earth” (13).  Gregson-Williams contribution was a surprise, to be sure, but, in the end, it was a welcome one.  The main motif found within is regally played on french horn as is used much more often in the film then represented on this soundtrack.  It often plays while something signficant is happening with Elizabeth Shaw and so, in my book, supplants the motif introduced in "A Planet" as her representative theme.

Lastly, Streitenfeld delivers a very non-human, musical identity for the apparent progenitors or creators of the human race. In tracks like “Engineers” (3) and, to a less degree “Hyper Sleep,” the music is ripe with methodical, mechanical churnings, gutteral vocals, and ghostly wails, which do recall thoughts of ALIEN but moreso 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. Aside from the more direct, horror pieces, tracks like these which help keep the audience curious and on edge.

There’s little doubt that my opinion of the score is negatively affected by the tragedy that was the execution of this film as a whole. Undoubtedly, scores I have previously reviewed have benefited from this effect in the opposite way.  Like the film, the score contains some interesting elements, but few, if any, get developed into something truly meaningful. Again, like the film, the corporate-effect of the score on its own is much less than the parts themselves.  If you are a fan of the film, then PROMETHEUS might prove to be an enjoyable listening experience; however, if not, there are only going to be selected moments that you'll find very engaging.
 

Christopher's Rating: 7/10
 

 

Summary

The Tracksounds Gang members have each experienced different levels of appreciation for the film and its associated score.  There's agreement that Streitenfeld's score fits the visual environments of this film-spectacle that lacked almost any narrative cohesion, but their ratings differ, ranging from slightly, above-average to a near-classic for the score as a whole.  In the end, that leaves PROMETHEUS with an above-average rating of 7/10.  Let us hope that if there is more coming from this new strand of Alien lore, that film-host will at least be as good as its incubating score.

Rating: 7/10

 


Track

Track Title Track Time Edmund Marius Richard Chris  Ave Rating
1 A Planet 2:37  ****  *****  *****  ****  *****
2 Going In 2:03  ***  ****  ***  ***  ***
3 Engineers 2:29  ***  ***  **  **  ***
4 Life - Harry Gregson-Williams 2:30  *****  *****  *****  ****  *****
5 Weyland 2:04  ***  ****  ****  ***  ****
6 Discovery 2:32  **  ***  ***  ***  ***
7 Not Human 1:49  ***  ****  ***  **  ***
8 Too Close 3:20  ***  ****  ***  ***  ***
9 Try Harder 2:03  ***  ***  **  **  ***
10 David 3:00  ***  ****  ***  **  ***
11 Hammerpede 2:42  **  ****  ***  ***  ***
12 We Were Right - Harry Gregson-Williams 2:42  ***  *****  ****  ***  ****
13 Earth 2:35  ****  *****  *****  ****  *****
14 Infected 1:56  ****  ***  ***  ***  ***
15 Hyper Sleep 2:01  ***  ***  ***  ***  ***
16 Small Beginnings 2:11  ***  *****  ***  ***  ****
17 Hello Mommy 2:04  ***  ***  ***  ***  ***
18 Friend from the Past 1:14  ***  *****  ***  ***  ****
19 Dazed 4:29  ***  ***  ***  ***  ***
20 Space Jockey 1:29  ***  ***  ****  ***  ***
21 Collision 3:05  *****  *****  ****  ***  ****
22 Debris 0:44  ***  **  **  ***  ***
23 Planting the Seed 1:35  ***  ***  ***  **  ***
24 Invitation 2:16  ****  ****  ***  ***  ****
25 Birth 1:25  **  ****  **  ***  ***
    Final Rating 6/10 9/10 6/10 7/10  
  Total Running Time (approx) 57 minutes          

 

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