Prometheus (Marc Streitenfeld)

Final Musings: There is much to like in Prometheus. The orchestrations are top-notch, the atmospheric qualities are commendable and the sense of wonder is well conceived. Streitenfeld gives us a score that works quite well in context. But it ultimately ends up being a score that’s rather forgettable by the end. The lack of experience on the composer’s part shows in the music. And when an assistant composer’s contribution –only minutes in length – overshadows the entirety of your work, you know you haven’t quite nailed the assignment.

To say there were great expectations for Ridley Scott’s long awaited return to the science fiction genre is quite the understatement. Oddly enough, the director has only made two forays into this side of film, those being Alien and Blade Runner. Yet the British filmmaker is responsible for singlehandedly revolutionizing the genre as we know it. Alien is universally known for being amongst the finest of science fiction with its masterful degree of craftsmanship rarely seen in today’s films. And after a seemingly endless chain of ridiculous sequels and crossover films, fans were eager to see the esteemed director set the franchise back in shape with his quasi-prequel, Prometheus. What audiences ended up receiving however was a visually stunning piece of work filled with big ideas but ultimately bogged down by absurd character flaws and plot holes. While there is great potential with the film, Promethleus ultimately ends up being the “love it or hate it” film of the year.

The Alien franchise has always been very diverse when it came to its musical sensibilities. From the challenging eerie tones of Jerry Goldsmith’s work for the original Alien to the snare-ripping action of James Horner’s contributions to James Cameron’s sequel Aliens to the dense avant-garde techniques of Goldenthal’s work for the final entry of the trilogy, Alien 3, each approach never really bore any resemblance to each other, despite their individual merits. Signed on to score the latest entry of the series is Scott’s most recent collaborator, composer Marc Streitenfeld. The young composer worked under Zimmer’s massive production company for many years before being sought out by Scott for 2006’s A Good Year to replace his previous collaborator, veteran Hans Zimmer himself. Streitenfeld has had the privilege of scoring every Ridley Scott production since. Now considering the modern blockbuster scoring methodology that Zimmer’s clones have so clearly established, one would expect a film like Prometheus to be scored with the awful sound design concepts of Jablonsky’s intellectually devoid score for Battleship in mind. But listeners will be surprised to hear Streitenfeld offer a more organic and intelligent alternative.

With Prometheus, what you’re getting is a largely pleasant atmospheric experience mixed well with hints of melodrama and introspective beauty. The score’s greatest strength lies in its sense of thoughtfulness. And in that sense you can tell that the composer did put some thought into the score. It’s interesting to note the extent to which the score goes to pay tribute to its predecessors. Aside from the nostalgic surprise of a direct quote of Goldsmith’s original theme in “Friend of the Past”, listeners will be reminded of several past scores in the franchise thanks to the composer’s keen attention to orchestration. Goldsmith’s syncopated flute rhythms from Alien are intelligently incorporated through the use of woodwinds and synths. Much of Goldenthal’s harsh avant-garde ruckus is mimicked by the combined efforts of the orchestra and the electronics in the horror sequences. And there are certain synthetic effects that will harken back to John Frizzell’s work for Alien Resurrection.

The score also succeeds in the manner of which Streitenfeld’s subtle themes come together as a unified whole.  The most consistent thematic element of the score is a repeating minor third motif. Often integrated in diverse forms ranging from the tragic expressions of melancholy in the opening to the modern electronic exploration passages of “Going In” to its eerie fluttering nature in cues like “Birth”, the motif is probably Streitenfeld’s most memorable contribution (which might go on to say something about the nature of his themes). The main theme is introduced in the first cue “A Planet” and it does well to fit into the Alien universe in its lonely attitude. The composer’s theme for the engineers of the film is a progression rooted in the bass region (often accompanied by a male chorus) that makes its debut in “Engineers” (who would have guessed!) and its not hard to hear its origins as its clearly built off the basic constructs of Zimmer’s The Thin Red Line. There is also a musical idea to represent the characters’ search for answers, which can be heard in full form in cues like “Invitation” and “Weyland”. Last but certainly not least is composer Harry Gregson-Williams’ own contribution to the score. The composer was brought on to assist Streitenfeld by composing music for the more philosophical, existential questions raised by the film. The life theme is a melody played out in 2 cues in the score; “Life” and “We Were Right” (slightly reminiscent of John Williams “Planet Krypton” material for Superman and specific passages of The River).Those two cues being Williams’ only additions to the score, they seamlessly fit into Streitenfeld’s work. This is also easily the strongest theme in the score and it seems like Ridley Scott certainly thought so too as he replaced many portions of Streitenfeld’s score with Williams’ theme in the film (as is common to the director’s well known score-butchering habits).

Muse On These:

–       A Planet

–       Life

–       Earth

–       Collision

–       Invitation

Regardless of its strengths, this isn’t a score you’ll be coming back to often. This is largely because the score fails to make an impression on listeners. Outside of the harsh Goldenthal-like material and the suspense filler music there is only about 15 minutes of harmonically pleasant material to salvage for enjoyment. And while the awe-inspiring nature of cues like “Earth” (built off the progressions of William’s life theme) are worthy highlights, Streitenfeld’s themes are largely forgettable in their subtlety. Audiences will come out of the film remembering only Williams’ theme, a disappointing fact on Streitenfeld’s part. The score also falters in its apparent lack of development. Prometheus ultimately goes nowhere musically and remains stagnant. There is no apparent attempt heard to musically represent a the story as a whole. In fact, it comes to the point where the music becomes simply a pattern of suspense, awe, horror, and action all on an endless loop. The problem is that there is no definitive narrative arc here, which is rather disappointing considering the potential that lies in this score. To go on, one can’t help but feel that Streitenfeld never really made great use of the 80-piece orchestra he worked with, only letting it truly flourish in the climactic sequences of the last few cues. The result is a diminished sound in force and impact.

But all was not in vain. You’ve got to appreciate the fact that this is no generic soundscape entry to add on to the pile of RC/MV suspense thriller trash. This was a genuine effort from the composer, as proven by his attempts to take an intellectual approach to the score. Streitenfeld has confessed the daunting nature of scoring such a big film and his attempts to be unique while doing it. This is exemplified by certain techniques like having the orchestra play portions of the score backwards for a real sense of unease (as can be heard in “David”). At times the score succeeds to impress however. The explosive tragic statements of the main theme in “Space Jockey” and “Collision” are certainly monumental highlights. In the end though, you really get the sense that Prometheus might have been a bit overwhelming for the young composer. Not every composer gets lucky enough to score a blockbuster of this size. And perhaps assigning a task as difficult as this one to a composer who has only scored 7 films in his career (with only Robin Hood demanding big “epic music”) wasn’t the best of ideas. Considering Harry Gregson-Williams’ lovely portions of the score, the thought of what could have been if he had taken on the whole project will cross your mind and it’s a good, liable question. His contributions, as minimal as they were, clearly demonstrated that he could have crafted a wonderfully thought out score for this film. But we can go on endlessly about alternate composer assignments for any film these days. With what we have, Prometheus won’t stand amongst its predecessors in the franchise, but its nice to hear that Streitenfeld is indeed learning as a composer and not following the mindless rabble of his peers at Remote Control Productions. A surprisingly good but flawed score.
Rating:  * * * 


One Comment on “Prometheus (Marc Streitenfeld)”

  1. Theodor says:

    Well, after watching the film I’m quite shocked by the “music” and I’m wondering how it is possible that a legend like Ridley Scott hires an amateur composer for a movie of this kind.
    (Regardless if the movie itself is disappointing or not)
    The problem of the score isn’t the melodic language; it’s cleary the lack of harmonical knowledge: the banal chords used by Streitenfeld simply don’t work; a movie like this would often need an elaborate subtile, dissonant harmonic language which is able to combine fascination and revulsion.
    Of course, this is not the only problem: it’s typical for the remote-control (former media-ventures) productions that during a film, there is no increase in the music’s complexity.
    It remains on a simplistic level; which of course often perfectly fits the beginning of a movie but doesn’t reflect the dramaturgic cumulations.
    So, this movie has the same effect on me like the one in TDKR: lot of sounds, but in fact no music that would open an additional (psychological) dimension to the movie.

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