It is interesting to see how the progress of time can mellow people’s attitudes towards a film. “Prometheus” is one such film. Ridley Scott’s film divided opinions on release, with the majority deploring it, however as time has passed many more people have come around to the film itself. The reason? Too much hype. People were expecting an “Alien” type film, especially after being told that it was set in the same universe as the Alien films. However, this is not what Scott promised. And so while people struggled to place “Prometheus” as either a space set horror (like “Alien”), a space set action movie (like “Aliens”) instead it really was a film about a discovery and origins. While many have warmed to the concept and delivery of the film, unfortunately, the score is not something that will grow on you as time goes by.
The score to “Prometheus” is delivered by Mark Streitenfeld, who you might ask; well unfortunately Mark has the unenviable title of being the man who scores most of Scott’s divise films. While Gregson-Williams and Zimmer got the choice movies, Streitenfeld was left with “A Good Year” and the much maligned although enjoyable “Robin Hood”. What he produces on “Prometheus” are 25 short sharp tracks which all blend into one with very little to write home about in between. The longest piece clocks in at 4 minutes and 29 seconds with most averaging just 2 and a half minutes in total.
The reason why the score fails on “Prometheus” is a familiar story. Too much hype. You may well recall the trailers for “Prometheus”, by god, what a trailer. It drew people to the cinema in their droves expecting a terrifying standoff between humankind and a long lost side story from the “Alien” films. The droning music, flecked with industrial groans and a piercing stellar scream which was audibly arresting simply made the trailer. However, nothing like this exists in the score at all. Instead we are given what is essentially a horror soundtrack. It is clichéd, and works very little without the visuals on screen. Nothing stands out, any melodies or motifs can’t really be discerned and it essentially becomes a sound effects track. Don’t get me wrong, when combined with the visuals on screen the score works wonderfully, but as a standalone piece it will drag and drained the life from you.
Opening with “A Planet”, the tone is set for the score. It’s a brooding number, with low strings and a trumpet guiding us through a spooky world. At this point there is some hope for the score. There is a feeling of purpose and design about the music, it is stirring and has intent…the clever thing is that it mirrors the opening action to the film very well. However, from here on in, the score descends into nothing more than a standard horror movie. Rising strings piece the air, rumbling brass marks impending doom and taut strings stab to give tension and foreboding.
“Discovery” is a good example of the classic horror movie sound, which is followed swiftly by “Not Human” which ticks the standard moment of panic and worry of a lone character stuck in a scary environment. The result is that the score lacks any unifying moment or melody, no motif or even a couple of notes that appear to make us think…”oh here comes the thing” or “don’t go in there”. What was needed was that industrial droning and high pitched scream that was used so effectively in the trailer. Annoyingly the opening few tracks try really hard to get something going. On “Engineers” what feels like the clunk of a machine engine is joined by a deep male voice choir to give something with momentum and power. This then grows from a mechanic and rhythmic thud to a feeling of a march. It’s clever stuff.
The irony of the whole score is that the pieces which have the most melody and sembalance of score music are those not composed by Streitenfeld. “Life” and “We Were Right” which are stirring and sound like good classic pieces of music with form and direction are composed by Harry Gregson-Williams. While “Friend from the Past” is literally that, a reprise of the original “Alien” theme.
But the fact that the final track on the score “Birth” feels like it should be track 12 and not closing a hitherto enjoyable romp through another world sums up the entire message of the score. There is nothing to bind this all together other than the visuals of the film itself and as a result, it is very difficult to listen to as an independent piece of music. Thankfully you won’t need to listen to the score on its own, but you should go rewatch “Prometheus”, as I’m sure you’ll find something now your expectations have died down.