In a chaotic universe plagued with aliens, androids, and a deadly virus, it might seem strange to hear Chopin’s Prelude, op. 28, no. 15, playing delicately in the background. But in Ridley Scott’s Prometheus (2012), a prequel to the world-renowned Alien (1979), it works perfectly—a juxtaposition of a romantic masterpiece from the past against mechanical and biological masterpieces from the future.
This is not the first time Scott has paired his work on the big screen with great works of the classical repertoire. The original Alien film contains Mozart’s famous Eine Kleine Nachtmusik as well as a more obscure composition: American composer Howard Hanson’s Symphony no. 2.1 In a film bordering on horror, it is oddly refreshing to hear a quintessential Mozart piece. The music reminds viewers that the characters seek to enhance their otherwise mundane lives in a spacecraft thousands of miles away from Earth.
Hanson’s symphony, nicknamed Romantic, has a much more heroic effect. It accompanies the film’s final scene after protagonist Ellen Ripley blasts the titular alien into space and puts herself and her cat into a hibernation pod.2 Scott’s choice to include a symphony dominated by triumphant brass and strings is his way of highlighting Ripley’s courage and determination. The primary composer for the film, Jerry Goldsmith, was not pleased that his music was replaced by Hanson’s for the theatrical release, as the symphony was originally used as a stand-in. Nor was Hanson pleased that it had been used without his permission, but he decided not to press charges after realizing that Alien helped him attract new interest.3 Today, it is difficult to imagine the ending of Alien without this music. . . .
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2. “10 Times Classical Music Starred in Movies,” Houston Symphony, March 25, 2020, https://houstonsymphony.org/10-times-classical-music-starred-in-movies/.
3. “The Curiously Cinematic Case of Howard Hanson’s ‘Romantic’ Symphony,” Classical New Orleans, May 23, 2019, https://www.wwno.org/show/classical-new-orleans/2019-05-23/the-curiously-cinematic-case-of-howard-hansons-romantic-symphony.
4. David Ng, “‘Prometheus’ Seeks Out Classical Music in Deep Space,” Los Angeles Times, July 5, 2021, https://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/culture/la-et-cm-prometheus-chopin-science-fiction-classical-music-20120704-story.html
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19. Nicholas Barber, “Film Review: Does Interstellar Reach the Stars?,” BBC, November 6, 2014, https://www.bbc.com/culture/article/20141107-film-review-interstellar?referer=https%3A%2F%2Fen.wikipedia.org%2F.