When James Horner accepted scoring duties for James Cameron's sci-fi epic Aliens, the composer was an inexperienced action specialist best known for two unremarkable Star Trek sequel scores that owed much and added little to Jerry Goldsmith's famous theme for Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Aliens, too, was a sequel to a Goldsmith scored blockbuster. But this time Horner's efforts stood firmly on their own, borrowing little more than general mood from Goldsmith's Alien score. The dense ambient orchestrations and inventive electronic percussion used in Aliens were so well received in the film music community that many of the film's cues have become action flick clichés. Aliens also brought Horner his first Academy scoring nomination despite the fact that dissonant sci-fi action compositions by no-name newcomers are not often recognized. (Horner may have benefited from weak competition; ironically, Leonard Rosenmann was also nominated that year for boldly going where Horner had gone twice before: another Star Trek sequel.) Though highly effective in the context of the film, the Aliens score is far from Horner's most listenable. There are some compelling melodies particularly in the opening and closing credits, but the bulk of the CD is dominated by jarring strings and driving percussion that don't work very well as background music. Film music buffs and Aliens diehards may enjoy Varese Sarabonde's 2001 "Deluxe Edition," which contains 16 previously unreleased cues. But casual listeners will probably be more than satisfied with the original version.
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AllMusic Review by Evan Cater