CS Score: This Is Us Composer Interview, Alien 3 2-CD Set Review

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Hey there, film score lovers! We’ve got another fantastic lineup for you in this edition of CS Score, including a terrific interview with the Emmy-nominated composer of This Is Us, Siddhartha Khosla, who dove into his scoring process and detailed his unique, Indian-influenced take on the music for the hit TV show. Plus, we also got a chance to talk to composer Dino Meneghin, who talked about his phenomenal score for Netflix’s animated series DOTA: Dragon’s Blood.

Finally, we also got our hands on La La Land’s 2018 Alien 3 Limited Edition 2-CD Set — and it did not disappoint! 


NEWS


REVIEWS

ALIEN 3 LIMITED EDITION 2-CD SET
ELLIOT GOLDENTHAL

Alien 3 remains one of the more unique blockbuster films ever made. Released on May 22, 1992, the highly anticipated follow-up to Ridley Scott’s horror masterpiece Alien and James Cameron’s rip-roaring classic Aliens was always going to underwhelm no matter which direction it took. Except, rather than play towards audience expectations, 20th Century Fox and first-time director David Fincher, after considerable and well-documented production turmoil, rolled out a decidedly bleak (and weird) science fiction drama that felt closer in spirit to Scott’s original 1979 shocker than the action-driven, crowd-pleasing spectacle of Cameron’s 1986 film.

Naturally, audiences dismissed the final product, which, by the time it hit theaters, had succumbed to any number of studio demanded editing changes and barely Fincher’s original design. The film flopped in the U.S. but had surprising legs overseas, where it collected over $100M.

Years later, in 2003, Fox pieced together an “Assembly Cut” of Alien 3 and included it on the terrific Alien Quadrilogy box set. While this release still failed to live up to its predecessors, at the very least, it shed new light on what can best be described as an ambitious misfire. Alien 3 works as a standalone film thanks to Fincher’s directing, Sigourney Weaver’s powerful performance, and a handful of unique ideas, but simply doesn’t work as a sequel to either Alien or Aliens; and fails to move the story in any interesting directions, even while serving, oddly enough, as a fitting end to Ellen Ripley’s journey.

That said, out of all the films in the franchise, Alien 3 entices the most mainly due to its behind-the-scenes production issues and the numerous hints at what could have been. Whether Fincher’s original design (or the many previous iterations) would have made for a better movie remains unclear, but the disastrous production remains a fascinating story in its own right.

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All that to say that while the film itself doesn’t live up to the high bar set by Alien or Aliens, the score by Elliot Goldenthal absolutely smashes the barrier established in the earlier films. Hyperbole? Sure. But the score for Alien 3 has, ironically, become the sound of the franchise, what with its buzzing synthesizer, a cacophony of drums and orchestra and eerie boys choir. Where Jerry Goldsmith’s Alien captured the romance and horror of space, and James Horner’s Aliens pumped the adrenaline to maximum overdrive (in a very good way), Goldenthal’s score drags the listener into the cold, bleak darkness of space — a literal descent into Hell where death practically lingers around every, shadow-drenched corner.

Truly, the score for Alien 3 outclasses the film, which is never quite as scary as Goldenthal’s menacing soundtrack. Cues such as the “Main Titles,” which kicks off with a deliciously sinister recreation of the 20th Century Fox theme before plunging the listener headfirst into a literal nightmare, and “Alien’s Lair,” an atmospheric, even chilling composition, are downright terrifying despite their minimalistic design. While other cues, notably “The Cremation” and “Adagio” are grand in design, but ultimately little more than brief somber, even emotional detours from the darkness.

Yeah, this isn’t a happy score. Goldenthal refuses to lean on traditional horror beats or action motifs. While there are exciting cues such as “Explosion and Aftermath,” which utilize the blaring horns Goldenthal would later employ for Batman Forever and Batman and Robin, and the stellar “Bait and Chase” with all of its chaotic buzzing effects, such bits are more unsettling than exhilarating. Even the grand and heroic “Adagio,” played during Ripley’s final sacrifice, quickly gives way to dark and somber underscore that marks the end of our heroine’s sad story.

Goldsmith’s work may be the best of the bunch, Horner’s the most accessible, but Goldenthal’s Alien 3 is the only score that truly evokes an emotional reaction. It’s sad, dark and poetic … an absolute masterwork from start to finish.

Luckily, for fans of the score, La La Land Records has re-released its 2018 Alien 3: Limited Edition 2-CD Set that expands the original 1992 soundtrack release with an additional 40 minutes of score presented in chronological order over two discs; and also includes alternate cues, previously unreleased tracks and a remastered version of the original album. Set also includes a booklet with in-depth liner notes by writer Jeff Bond and sharp art direction by Mark Banning.

This set won’t last long, so head over to La La Land to pick it up today!


SIDDHARTHA KHOSLA INTERVIEW

Siddhartha Khosla is a two-time Emmy-nominated film and television composer, singer/songwriter, and producer of the critically acclaimed band, Goldspot. Khosla received Emmy nominations in 2020 for “Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics” for his original song “Memorized” (shared with Dawes’ Taylor Goldsmith) and in 2019 for “Outstanding Music Composition For a Series” for his work on NBC’s Golden Globe and Emmy-winning drama series, This Is Us, now in its fifth season. Khosla has the distinction of being the first South Asian person to be nominated in the Primetime Emmy score and song categories. Khosla’s music can also be heard on the critically acclaimed Hulu limited series, Looking for Alaska; Marvel’s Runaways on Hulu; the 2019 Netflix hip-hop drama feature Beats, the award-winning indie drama feature, The Sounding, from director Catherine Eaton; and more. Khosla’s upcoming projects include Hulu’s comedy/crime series Only Murders in the Building; Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly’s comedy film Queenpins; and Jason Orley’s comedy film I Want You Back.

ComingSoon.net: What drew you to the world of composing music for film and TV?

Siddhartha Khosla: You know I’ve always I’ve been making music since I was a kid, and for many years I had a band that I still — the band is called Goldspot — and a friend of mine, Dan Fogelman, he and I went to college together, Dan called me back in 2014 asking me if I wanted to score the second season of his show The Neighbors. He was showrunner of that show. And I took the gig, and I kind of fell into it. And it was something I fell in love with. I didn’t know that this was what I wanted to do. Earlier on in my career, I had aspirations of being the singer/songwriter of a band; and so I kind of fell into it when Dan called me. But it also sort of started this whole other chapter in my career, which has been so exciting. I can’t believe this is not something I knew I didn’t want to do before, given how much I love doing this.

CS: What specifically made you fall in love with it? 

Khosla: I think generally with film and television you’re serving the need and the goal of whoever wrote, you know, whoever wrote the film or the show. So, with that, there’s like this really beautiful collaboration that comes from it. I think I spent so many years in my band where I did collaborate with other people in my band, but oftentimes it was sort of just me in a room by myself for several months, and telling my own stories about my own experiences and writing about them. A lot of these records were my vision. What’s really nice about this work is that this is not just about my vision, you know, it’s about fulfilling somebody else’s story in a way — fulfilling the telling of someone else’s story. And I just find that collaboration to be really beautiful. There’s friendships that come out of this. I’ve worked very closely with a lot of the editors on our shows, and I’ve become really tight with them and on my movies, as well. When you spend so much time together with people over many years, friendships emerge, too. And so there’s a little community that sort of develops around these projects. That just feels special. And I think that’s what draws me to it. There’s this sense of an artistic community that forms around each of these projects.

CS: What would you say is your process? 

Khosla: I think it varies project to project. You know, there are some projects that are show run by the same group of people and those where the process stays the same. I see a very early cut that comes from editors and directors before producers are even involved, where I can respond to the picture a little bit and come up with some thematic material that can be helpful for the editor and director to cut with. So, my process generally is that where I can come in early enough where I let the pictures really inspire what I’m doing. I very rarely, in most of these projects, very rarely do we have any sort of temp music in there — temp music is placeholder music that composers have to ultimately replace with their own music. But what’s nice about this is that it allows collaboration with editors and directors early on. And for This Is Us, particularly, so much of what I do on that show is inspired by the performances of our amazing cast. In one of our episodes this year, the “Birth Mother” episode with Sterling K. Brown — you know, Sterling K. Brown is an incredible artist to collaborate with behind the scenes. I don’t really collaborate with him directly, but in a way, I am because I’m collaborating with his performance. He and Susan Kelechi Watson were unbelievable in that episode, as was the actor that played his birth mother. So, you know, when you have actors like that, like Sterling K. Brown, it’s a dream to get like, to get a picture where he’s delivering an incredible monologue, and I get to score it.

CS: Your music is very cinematic, and I would think that speaks to how much television music has evolved over the years …

Khosla: Yeah, television is everywhere. We’ve been in this Golden Age of television now for some time, and it’s really, really exciting for composers. I mean, this is the best time ever to be a television composer. I think a lot of it is that the bar now is so high for content to sort of cut through — first of all, there’s so much content, and everyone that I seem to be working with is making an effort — it’s really cool — and making an effort to do something really, really special, because they know that there’s so much content out there, and we have to find ways to differentiate ourselves from the rest. And so what you’re starting to find is a couple of things. One way you differentiate yourself is that you create something that’s original, and that’s unique, that no one else does, and This Is Us is a perfect example of a show like that. It starts with Dan Fogelman’s storytelling, which is such an original concept for television. Even though at the core, this is about a family, and there have been stories about families for generations, but the beauty is that it’s being told through a very different lens where we’re seeing multiple versions of the same characters at different stages in their lives. That inspires a pretty original take on the sound of that score, for example.

I grew up in India. My parents came here from India in the late 70s and then I was born here, and they had to send me back to India to be raised by my grandparents for some time, while my parents tried to make the food on the table here. In my formative years, there was a lot of Indian music that became a part of my DNA. And so, on this show, I was asked to write something based on the picture that I was seeing. And as I started seeing that this show was about the larger connectivity of life or this idea that your great grandmother made a choice or a decision that ended up affecting her child and that child; and that affected the child that came after and ultimately affects you … and then whatever affects you affects your lineage, as well. I started bringing in the sounds of my childhood. And so, if you listen to the score of This Is Us, it has a very Indian classical feeling, very subtly. That’s another example of what we were talking about with this age of television. When you have original content and cool content, it just inspires you to do interesting stuff. You would never expect a very Indian-sounding score on network television, let alone the biggest drama on television for the last four or five years. So to your point, as authentic, original stories are being told, the need for originality in the music becomes that much more important.

CS: How do you believe the music has evolved on This Is Us over the course of 85 episodes? And how do you keep it fresh, not just for yourself, but for the audience?

Khosla: Frankly, I love this show so much. I live and breathe this show. So, for me, when I get a new episode, I’m just so excited about creating a new theme and coming up with a new sound. For me, it’s like I’m making a record every week. I feel like I’m back in my band days where I’m — because on the score of This Is Us, I basically play everything on the score. Everything that you hear I’m performing in my studio, whether it’s playing the drums and percussion — I’m using my fingers on a wooden table to create all those sounds — to piano to these cool little analog effects that I have, to guitars, everything! You know, with the exception of cello — I work with wonderful cellist Ginger Murphy, that plays on the score — I kind of do everything here in my studio. And so it feels very sort of me, you know, and it’s so much fun. Honestly, I’ll be so sad on the day that we stop doing this show and keep thinking about it. So, I guess for me, the desire to evolve the sound and develop it comes from my love for the show. And it’s what I want to give back to the show, and what I want to put into the show, really.

CS: What would it mean to win an Emmy for your work on this particular show?

Khosla: It would mean a lot. We’re five seasons in, and I’ve put my heart and soul into this project. Frankly, I don’t do it for the awards. I do it because I just want to put work out there that I’m really proud of; and that Dan Fogelman and the rest of the producers and writers and directors and editors are proud of as well. So I guess for me, it would be an icing, or like a cherry on top type of situation. But it’s certainly not something  I aspire to get. For me, it’s just I aspire to do great work and work that I’m proud of. And if it results in accolades, then great! And if it doesn’t, then that’s great too, because I feel so artistically fulfilled it doesn’t really matter.


INTERVIEW WITH DINO MENEGHIN

Composer Dino Meneghin (Lore, Teen Wolf) composes an astonishing score for the fantasy adventure series Dota: Dragon’s Blood and creates an entirely unexpected score – electronic, synthy, and sometimes even abstract. It’s really something marvelous to experience, especially in context to the high fantasy atmosphere of Dota, and both fans of the video game and newcomers alike are in for an auditory treat!

ComingSoon.net: So what drew you to Dota: Dragon’s Blood?

Dino Meneghin: Well, Ashley Miller and I had worked together on a show on Amazon, and he was the one who mentioned it to me. He said, ‘Hey, I’m doing this animated thing with Netflix. Would you be interested?’ And then we got together and talked about it, and it just sounded so wild. The way he described it to me, the first time we talked about it, I really didn’t understand what the show was about because I didn’t really understand all the lore and all the interconnecting storylines. But it just sounded like such a cool world. And it just seemed like it’d be something we could do a lot of fun stuff with. So it was really, honestly, it was really Ashley that drew me to the project because he just had so many great ideas for the music, and he was so open to experimenting and trying different stuff.

CS: What was your approach to this particular show?

Meneghin: The main thing that I think I came to it with was the idea that, well, there were two things: one, because we were coming to it from this huge already established property, I wanted to make sure that I understood the world of Dota, and understood the characters, and really did them a service. But as far as the music itself, I was trying my best to include some elements that weren’t, maybe, typical of the fantasy genre. Because I wanted to try to keep the show from feeling like it was of a particular place or time, I wanted the viewers to feel like this could be happening — that this could be happening in the past, it could be happening in the future. Because in Dota, there’s a lot of metaphysical aspects involved with the Invoker and all the different timelines, and so things are kind of happening all over the place.

CS: Was there a particular moment in the show that helped inform the musical style for the rest of the score?

Meneghin: Yeah, there actually was a scene … when Ashley and I first met and talked about the show, I pitched him the idea of having it not be an orchestra forward show, having it be more synth and guitar-heavy. So I said, ‘You know, I can tell you what I’m going to do, but why don’t I just do it, and then you tell me if you like it.’ So, I eventually was able to get a hold of an animatic, which is like a — it’s not a fully rendered animation, it’s just sort of like a rough animation — for the scene in episode three when Mirana is in the cave with the crystals. That scene really was the first thing I scored. And that was the thing that sort of crystallized the idea of — that one is probably the most extreme version of what we were trying to do with Dota. That was the most sort of synth forward — there’s a lot of sampled manipulation and stuff like that in that piece, and we sort of worked backward from there. But that piece became our touchstone.

CS: How does a project like this differ from a live-action project like Killing Gunther?

Meneghin: You know, honestly, it really doesn’t. The only thing that’s different with this is that — you know this is, as opposed to a live-action thing, if you’re doing it on like a cable or a network schedule where you’re delivering 42 minutes of music in five to seven days if you’re lucky! With this, we have more time because of the animation — because if there are any changes made to the animation, a lot of things have to be redrawn and re-rendered. So there’s a lot more time to experiment. With his being [produced on] a streaming platform, and also it being animated, it stretched out the schedule a bit. So it’s allowed us to have the freedom to go where I can say, ‘Hey, what if I try it like this?’ And, and then, you know, Ashley Miller, who is normally the person I talked to about music, he’ll say, ‘Yeah, try it!’ And if he doesn’t like it, then there’s time to rewrite it. You don’t always have that luxury on a different kind of schedule.

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CS: How has composing for an animated TV show changed over the years?

Meneghin: Well, in the early to mid-2000s, TV used to kind of be this place where, if you were a TV composer, it was like, ‘Yeah, okay, but when are you gonna do a film?’ And then TV became a much more prestigious place. And then you had a lot of film composers, just like you had a lot of film actors all of a sudden showing up on TV. All of a sudden, TV became incredibly competitive. And I think the thing about animation that I — this is the first animated thing I’ve done, so I can’t speak to it from the perspective of having worked in animation for, you know, 10 or 15 years. I think in America, it’s taken a while for us to understand the potential of animation. I think that when you look at DreamWorks and Pixar, what they’ve done, they make just beautiful, beautiful movies with great storytelling, but Studio Ghibli was making beautiful animated movies a long time before we got that in this country. I think that just like in America, that perception of what you could do with an episodic format for TV has changed. There’s also been a change in the perception of cartoons — it’s not a cartoon just for kids. This is just another way to tell a story is through animation. So that’s why you see a lot of these very different views towards what you can do with animation.

CS: For Dota, do you have music in mind for Season 2 when that (hopefully) comes out?

Meneghin: We would love to have a Season 2, and I feel pretty positive that there’s been a very positive fan response. So, I feel like it should hopefully happen. With any show, you’re always planting seeds for a possible next season. There are a lot of character themes that can carry on, but when you’re writing a lot of times, you might talk to the writers or the producers, who will be thinking to two or three seasons ahead because they’ve already mapped out an arc. So they’ll say, ‘Okay, yeah, but when you do this scene with this character, this is actually going to turn into this next season — if there is a next season.’ You’re always aware of those things because, obviously, you want to set it up so that if you have the opportunity to do a second season or a third season or whatever, that the groundwork is laid. So yes, you’re always kind of working toward that following season.

CS: Is there a particular theme for a character or a motif that you’re excited to re-explore or expand upon if there is a season two?

Meneghin: That’s a good question. I think one character that has a lot of layers that I haven’t gotten to explore as much as I wanted to is the Invoker. His theme is very metric. It’s very cool. The Invoker is never shaken or surprised by anything, and I hope that I get to explore some different aspects of his character.

CS: Do you have any other projects coming up that you can share with us?

Meneghin: Nothing that I can talk about yet, but hopefully some stuff before the end of the year that I can talk about. I’m excited about this year!