ALIENS LIVE 2016: OUR REVIEW
As Titanic Live once again returns to Royal Albert Hall where it began in 2015, we start off by reliving the experience of Aliens Live from November 2016, which was the second of James Horner’s scores to be presented in live form with the picture playing. As with Titanic 18 months before, the score was conducted by Ludwig Wicki.
James Horner’s three collaborations with James Cameron offer three very distinctive scores, each with very different characteristics from the rest. The exotic and other-worldly music of Pandora in Avatar evokes different emotions than the Celtic influences in Titanic. Equally different is the horrifying and animalistic score for Aliens. Horner’s experience on the movie is a story in itself, which left the composer and director James Cameron on bad terms for several years.
After the hugely successful Titanic Live concert in Royal Albert Hall, launching a tour around the world that is still ongoing, it came as no surprise that more Horner-composed films would follow. Last year marked the 30th anniversary of Aliens, and on November 4th the film was shown twice, to a fully-packed Royal Albert Hall.
Aliens is a markedly different score from Titanic. It relies less on themes than on the sheer power of the orchestra, with forceful brass blasts and thundering percussion, punctuated by moments of eerie serenity and calm. The scariest moments are often not where the composer unleashes the orchestra, but rather the subdued and restrained cues, especially when applying the distinctive two-note fluttering flute motif together with staccato trumpets, “echoing” freely out of time with the rest of the piece, signaling to the audience that not all is what it seems. These small touches again show how James Horner masterfully elevated each scene to new levels.
To hear this performed live brought a whole new dimension to the score. At least to this author, the original recording is showing its age, and to have the full orchestra right in front of you, truly brought forth a far more dynamic experience from the score.
The film was shown in its theatrical cut, meaning a tighter, shorter running time compared to the extended director’s cut released in 2001. With regards to the score, this also meant that the music heard was not Horner's work as originally intended, but the results after James Cameron went away and cut and rearranged the majority of the score cues. However, this was expected and the audience was there to relive the Aliens experience as they remember it, which also meant having the score edited as heard in the final film. Still, it would be interesting to one day have a new cut restoring Horner’s original cues where they were intended. Using the theatrical edit of the score in this setting also revealed just how much editing was done and how many segments are reused throughout the film.
The atmosphere of the concert was enthusiastic. Here you had thousands of die hard fans, eager to experience a favorite film on the big screen yet again. The high point was the reaction to Ripley’s “Get away from her, you bitch!” in the finale of the film, launching the crowd into enthusiastic cheers! Along with the great performance, it made the whole experience even more satisfying.
In terms of the orchestra, their quality was nothing short of impressive. I attended the evening performance, meaning this was their second time in one day playing through a relatively complex and demanding score. The brass in particular performed spectacularly! Hats off to Ludwig Wicki as well, for literally not missing a beat through the entire film, even in the most intensive action sequences, amidst both frequent sync points in addition to the often rapid-fire edits done by Cameron to the score in the editing room, requiring exquisite precision from the orchestra.
The evening was already a success when the credits rolled around. I think everyone in the audience were even more surprised, when suddenly Sigourney Weaver herself came out on stage, shortly followed by James Cameron and producer Gale Anne Hurd. They remained on stage for a few minutes, paying their respects to a large dedication image of James Horner being projected behind them, as the audience applauded.
All in all it was yet another great musical experience from the late James Horner. It would come as no surprise if there are even more concerts like this with James Horner’s music in the works for years to come.
The original Aliens line-up: Gale-Anne Hurd (Producer), James Cameron (Director) and Sigourney Weaver (Actor) at the world première of Aliens Live at the Royal Albert Hall.
Photo credit: ©Paul Sanders
The official website : Aliens-live.com