1992: David Fincher makes a millennial, apocalyptic para-Christian thriller,
Alien 3. The follow-up to a previous film directed by Arnold
Schwarzenegger's favourite director, James (The Terminator, Aliens, Terminator
2: Judgement Day, True Lies) Cameron. The finale features the star making
the ultimate redemptive sacrifice to save mankind. Eliot Goldenthal writes
a great score, one key part of which is a boy soprano singing 'Angus Dei'
over brooding, mournful, atmospheric music.
1999: Arnold Swarzenegger makes a millennial, apocalyptic, para-Christian
thiller, End of Days. It is essentially a follow-up to a previous
film directed by Arnold Schwarzenegger's favourite director, James (The
Terminator, Aliens, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, True Lies) Cameron,
in this case Terminator 2: Judgement Day, with the ultimate enemy
of mankind, the T1000, replaced with the ultimate enemy of mankind, Satan.
The finale features the star making the ultimate redemptive sacrifice to
save mankind, so why shouldn't John Debney write a score, the key part of
which is a boy soprano singing 'Angus Dei' over brooding, mournful, atmospheric
Of course there are differences. The main one is that Alien 3 is a
fine film, made by the director behind this year's Great American Film,
Fight Club, while End of Days is a Peter Hyams popcorn movie.
Elliot Goldenthal is perhaps the most original film composer to make his
mark in Hollywood this decade, while John Debney is certainly a very gifted
musical craftsman and a welcome interpreter of classic scores, who has so
far to impress as a truly distinctive talent.
I would never suggest for a moment that Debney has deliberately copied Goldenthal
- I am sure he has far more talent than to need to do this, and more importantly,
more integrity than to ever resort to such methods. For all I know, Debney
has never seen Alien 3 or heard a note of Goldenthal's music. The
same solution may well occur quite independently to different artists, and
given the subject matter of the two films it is quite believable that two
composers might use the same device independently. Unfortunately, the melodic
elements of End of Days sound so much like Alien 3 that, for
me at least, Debney's score does not work as an independent creation. For
beyond the 'Angus Dei' similarity, much of the action writing, the unsettling
electronic atmospherics and all-round 'weirdness' of the score summon aural
images of nothing so much as the Alien series in general, and Alien
3 in particular.
Beyond these similarities, what is there? Unfortunately, far too much relentless
pounding, hammering, clanging percussion. Certainly such overbearing assault
makes the audience feel uncomfortable, but it is all too easy, and is really
devoid of 'proper' writing. Of course simple solutions are often the most
effective, but this is simply too little, yet at the same, too much. The
sheer mechanical, overbearing nature of much of the score may well evoke
all things hellish (which, it all but goes without saying, includes the modern
night club), and therefore is in once sense entirely appropriate. Yet the
dominance of such combative sounds in soundtracks has only arisen since the
development of modern 'dance music', and I therefore assume that the presence
of so much cacophony is because film producers assume audiences positively
enjoy hellish noise. This is rather confirmed by the appearance on the album
of a final 'End of Days Dance Mix', which unlike the era when the 'pop' version
of a film theme would be a light MOR arrangement, is even more unstructured
bedlam than the score itself. It is almost literally unlistenable.
It is also worth noting that there is no end title music, rock taking its
place, and appearing on the 'other' End of Days album, though there
is an alternative version of the main title, which is rather more rhythmic
than the take used in the movie. What character the score has comes from
the unusual mixture of instruments - everything from orchestra to real choir
and vocal samples, through throat singing and various Tibetan instruments
- though individuality may have been sacrificed to the five additional
orchestrators credited in addition to Mr Debney.
Though some of the choral passages are quite impressive, 40 minutes of
unremitting, spectacular and savage assault, with just brief moments of
melancholy repose and a touch of uplift at the end, is just exhausting. Unless
you saw the film and really liked what you heard, I'd suggest buying Goldenthal's
Alien 3, or Graham Revell's The Crow, (a horror score which
provides a better balance between exotic instrumentation, atmosphere and
assault) or, coming right up to date, Don Davis's House on Haunted Hill.
Gary S. Dalkin