John Frizzel is possibly the wild card out of the three “J”s: considering that, as the composer, he is the least well-known of the three, Frizzel has nevertheless worked on such films as Dante’s Peak, Ghost Ship, The Woods, and a number of television shows. Having submitted four tapes to Fox, Frizzel was chosen based on his work on The Empty Mirror. Jeunet specifically requested that Frizzel compose a score that was unlike the previous three scores in the Alien films, so Frizzel went about his task, utilizing 40 tracks of electronic equipment, 40 tracks of live orchestra, and blended them together.
It should be said up front that Alien Resurrection is one of my favorite soundtracks, and one of the first that I bought in 1997. The score itself, heard apart from the film, is pulse-pounding and almost erotic at times, powerfully utilizing the electronic and live aspects of the recorded music in blended effects. Frizzel stepped up to a plate that had been held by Jerry Goldsmith, James Horner, and Eliot Goldenthal before him, and delivered a fantastic soundtrack that worked like a blitzkrieg. “They Swim” is a six-minute long staccato, a brilliant action theme that combines the synth of the electronica and the woodwinds and horn sections of the live section to dizzying effect. Alien Resurrection, is one of sci-fi action’s best soundtracks ever written.
Until you actually watch it with the film.
While most of the themes hold true, the cues themselves come at horrible timing. Blatant, dramatic themes punctuate and overstate obvious cues: the revelation that Call is a synthetic is accompanied by a loud burst and swell, which instead of being dramatic and adding to the moment, detracts from it and makes it feel eye-rollingly overdone. Other moments, like the evacuation scene, play almost comically with a “hurry up, hurry up!” kind of tone, stopping and pausing to dramatically swell once more as the crewmen in the lifeboat perish. There are plenty of quieter scenes where the undertone of the score glues things together and carries the emotional weight that both the story and the direction look for, but the best moment of scoring comes in the silence: the clone scene, which by now I cannot overstate is the best moment in the film, is wisely left without any music, leaving Weaver’s acting to do the job of telling the audience what they need to know. But erratic movements of the compositions throughout the rest of the film, ranging from an out-of-place techno beat during the mess hall fight, to the strong tempo of the Newborn’s death, don’t just hurt the film, it makes the proceedings downright corny at times.
Which then leads me to wonder: is this a bad score? Or bad timing? My bias for the score aside, it really does listen well, and is recorded with skill and with professionality; out of the sci-fi scores I own, Alien Resurrection is high among them. But when placed with the film itself, everything feels out of place. But the score wasn’t just shoehorned in to fit the action; it was cued TO the action. How can a great film score be so nauseating when actually set to the film it was written for? This is another aspect of Alien Resurrection that confounds me: here we have a great soundtrack that works as a stand-alone piece, but when actually viewed with the film, it’s terrible. How that can be, I don’t know.
But this is what makes Alien Resurrection important: there are three people who are chiefly responsible for what we see and hear in this film, Whedon, Jeunet, and Frizzel, and separately they are all extraordinarily talented men. On paper, any one of them working on this project would be cause to nod in approval. All three together should have created a monumental rejuvenation for the franchise. But somehow this combination creates not so much a bad film, but an oddity: a film that works, but doesn’t, but does, and yet can’t. It’s a film that exists to be seen not for how bad or good it is, but for how potentially good it could have been. Which then makes the film even more interesting: imagine the Whedon script directed by Danny Boyle, or if, say, John Ottman had scored the film instead of Frizzel. We won’t know; we can’t know. All we can do is look at the disjointed puzzle image the individual pieces created, step back, and wonder how it could have turned out so…strange.
It’s as if Frankenstein’s monster had been designed to be human, but had ended up purple. Not entirely what we were trying to get, but at the same time, it’s just what we wanted. Only not. Only…
Alien Resurrection, ultimately, is entertaining, if nothing else but as an oddity of how good talent can create something that does not entirely demonstrate that talent.