Tag Archives: Aliens

Cocoon (1985) – Remembering James Horner Blogathon

download (2)Two days ago – June 22nd – marked a year after the tragic death of composer James Horner in an airplane crash and in honor of his memory Film Music Central is hosting the “Remembering James Horner Blogathon.” Be sure to check out the other great posts here. For my contribution, I am focusing on James Horner’s score from Cocoon, a sci-fi/fantasy that was directed by Ron Howard in 1985.

As a fan of Don Ameche, I’d been curious to see the film for some time after I’d read that he earned an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. I’m not usually very familiar with actors from the 1980s, but Cocoon is actually full of familiar faces. Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy, Gwen Verdon, Maureen Stapleton and even Tyrone Power’s son, Tyrone Power Jr. (who looks like his father, but has none of his charisma).

The film begins with three friends – Art (Don Ameche), Ben (Wilford Brimley), and Joe (Hume Cronyn) – who live at a retirement home, but sneak into an empty neighboring mansion to swim in the pool. But after four mysterious strangers rent the mansion and charter a boat captained by the somewhat awkward Jack (Steve Guttenberg), they start bringing cocoons up from the ocean and putting them in the pool.

The three men discover that the pool suddenly has regenerative powers. They feel more alive and vital and Joe’s cancer goes into remission. Ben and Joe’s respective married life suddenly comes alive and Art starts going out with fellow retiree Bess (Gwen Verdon). Soon all six of them are swimming in the pool, recapturing the romance and excitement of their youth.

There are no villains in Cocoon. The four strangers are revealed to be aliens who used to live on earth thousands of years ago and are trying to rescue their friends, who are in the cocoons. The aliens seem to have remarkable healing abilities and do not experience old age or death by natural causes. Their leader, Walter (Brian Dennehy), agrees to let the six of them continue to swim in the pool (since Joe will die if he doesn’t), but only if they keep it a secret, which isn’t easy to do because all the inhabitants of the retirement home have noticed their remarkable rejuvenation and want to share in it.


Don Ameche, Hume Cronyn, Wilford Brimley

The movie is a meditation on life, death and love and although the beginning seems like more of a comedy, ultimately there is a melancholy and gentle vibe to the film which James Horner’s score perfectly captures, or rather, frames. His music is as much a star as the excellent cast. I was crying at the death of a green and shriveled alien. That had to be the music. The music is at times whimsical, melancholy, but also full of wonder and I was unexpectedly moved by the beauty of the score.

(plot spoilers ahead)

The wonder is reserved partly for the aliens, with their unique ability to make people feel good when they are around. They are the friendliest, most normal aliens one will ever encounter, who can empathize with the frailty of the humans, even though they do not experience that same frailty. But when Walter is unable to save a few of his friends, he too learns what it feels like to grieve, feel helpless, and he offers to take all the members of the retirement home back with him when he leaves earth.

Its like the adventure of a lifetime for many of these people who thought they were going to live out the remainder of their days in increasing illness as they watch those they love die, but it is still hard not to see their leaving with the aliens as partly a metaphor for life after death.  A new adventure, leaving earth behind forever. The wonderment and difficulty of imagining what that will be like is present…as well as the regret of leaving behind the life that is known. This isn’t as much of a problem for most of the people, who do not seem to have family, but Ben (Wilford Brimley) and his wife have a daughter and grandson, who they are particularly close to, and it’s hard to say goodbye, especially to their grandson.

the alien (as they really look when not wearing their human skin) welcomes them to the pool

the alien (as they really look when not wearing their human skin) welcomes them to the pool

One man believes that the aliens and their cocoon are cheating death and the natural passage of time and prefers to stay “home” on earth. His decision is sympathetic, too, especially after his wife dies. You can see that he and his wife were a couple essentially satisfied with life, with no regrets, and now that she’s gone, he’s ready to go, too.

(end spoilers)

Cocoon provided the first opportunity for James Horner to work with director Ron Howard and they would collaborate on seven films, including Apollo 13 and A Beautiful Mind. But his score for Cocoon is particularly poignant. There is a gentleness to it, a transparent simplicity that also gives space for reflection.

What was also fun about the soundtrack was the inclusion of many songs from the 1940s. As the retirees recapture their youth, they sing and we hear the songs of their youth. Don Ameche sings “I’m in the Mood for Love” and goes down on one knee to sing “Some Enchanted Evening” to the woman he’s wooing. We also hear “Dancing in the Dark” and “You’ll Never Know.” There is even a contemporary eighties song called “Gravity,” which Ameche (and his stunt double) dances to demonstrate the level of his rejuvenation.

This post was part of the “Remembering James Horner Blogathon.” I want to thank Bex at Film Music Central for hosting this wonderful event!


On the website James Horner Film Music, the soundtrack is discussed for Cocoon, pointing out the piano and guitar used during the song “Rose’s Death,” which is a scene guaranteed to have you bawling. To quote the article, “The composer recently said that he wants to look for melancholic colors echoing the past with certain instruments that are the key to unlocking the heart”.

James Horner repeats the theme in “First Tears,” when the alien dies, this time using horn and oboe. I defy anyone not to cry during this scene.

And here are the end credits, which encapsulates the entire score, the entire theme of wonder, awe, longing, loss and love. It’s a remarkable accomplishment.

And just for good measure, here is the trailer.


Posted by on June 24, 2016 in Movies


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Alien (1979) – A Film Noir/Thriller in Space

220px-Alien_movie_posterI recently watched The Horror of Dracula (1958) with Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. I watched it with my cousin, who hasn’t been exposed to too many classic films, and he really enjoyed it. But afterwards, he said that if I liked that sort of thing, I should really watch Alien. I must confess I was skeptical. Alien is a science fiction film and I don’t generally like science fiction. However, I figured I might as well try it, especially since I had once been skeptical about classic horror films and now love the genre.

And Alien does have a touch of the classic horror about it. James Cameron, when he made the sequel, Aliens, said that he was going for more terror, whereas the original is more horror. And Alien, I discovered, is not a typical science fiction film. It’s more like a film noir/thriller that happens to be set in space. It is truly worthy of Alfred Hitchcock, though perhaps with a little more terror.

Alien doesn’t have a complex plot and what is there is pretty patchy, but that’s not really the point of the film. There are seven people on a cargo spaceship returning to earth. What it carries is not important. Who these people are or what their past is is not important. What kind of world has produced this ship is not important; the film feels both futuristic and contemporary. They are all anxious to get back to earth, but they pick up an unknown signal from a planet and protocol dictates that they investigate. They do so and while on the planet, an alien life form attaches itself to the face of one of the members. Against protocol, they bring him on board ship, with the alien still attached.

Alien attached to actor John Hurt's face

Alien attached to actor John Hurt’s face

The alien detaches itself from his face and the crew think they are in the clear. But it turns out that the alien has only used the man as an incubator and soon a new alien comes bursting out of his stomach in all its glory. It proceeds to terrorize and pick off the remaining crew while they try to hunt it through the ship’s dark, shadowy, claustrophobic corridors and air shafts.

The trouble is they are not soldiers (my sister called them glorified truck drivers, essentially) and the alien, instead of having blood, has corrosive acid flowing in its veins that can eat through layers of ship. It also grows much larger than when it originally pops out of the guys stomach.

The film is a masterpiece of suspense. From the moment the film begins, from the moment we first see the credits, and hear the music by Jerry Goldsmith, we are holding your breath, expecting something to happen at any time. As the credits continue the camera moves around the grimy ship, which looks deserted, and the audience is wondering if a catastrophe has already occurred.

The crew

John Hurt, Veronica Cartwright, Tom Skerritt, Yaphet Kotto, Sigourney Weaver, Harry Dean Stanton, Ian Holm

It is not obvious, at the beginning of the film, who the main protagonist is going to be. All seven characters are introduced with roughly equal screen time and importance. There is the captain, Dallas (Tom Skerritt), the Science Officer, Ashe (Ian Holm), the Warrant Officer, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), the two engineers, Brett and Parker (Harry Dean Stanton and Yaphet Kotto), and Kane (John Hurt) and Lambert (Veronica Cartwright). But when the captain, Dallas, and the Science Officer, Ashe, make the decision to override Ripley’s warnings about bringing the alien on board, Ripley slowly emerges as the one we care most about.

There is also an adorable cat named Jones, or Jonesey. I was rooting for this cat to survive from the very beginning and was in a constant anxiety that we would lose him (for fellow cat lovers, the cats survives).

Much has been said about the screenwriter, Dan O’Bannon, and the symbolism in the film regarding how the alien symbolically commits a form of rape (on a man) and impregnates him, with the alien bursting forth in violent birth. However, what really stood out to me was the characters’ isolation from each other. Here are people who have been on the same ship for months, perhaps years (they’ve been in stasis for much of the journey, though) and they don’t seem to particularly care for each other. There is no warmth in the film, no connection between them. The warmest relationship is between Ripley and the cat, Jones.

Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and Jones

Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and Jones

There is a lot of tension, admittedly. Ripley is deeply distrustful of Ashe and his motivations and decisions. She also attempts to get Dallas to use his authority to override Ashe, but Dallas rather apathetically says that Ashe is in charge of science on this journey and he can’t do anything.

That apathy really struck me. Dallas, in particular, seems to suffer from it. These people just want to get home and even when the alien is running about their ship, there is still a sense of unreality, as if they cannot believe this is happening to them. Dallas seems an insouciant captain. Ashe wants to study the alien and is at odds with Ripley, the only person who demonstrates any mental sharpness (for those who don’t mind a few more spoilers, Ashe turns out to be an android who has been programmed by the nameless “The Company” they work for to bring home this kind of alien life form for study, even at the cost of the crew).

I have to believe that the director, Ridley Scott, meant for the crew to come off disconnectedly. It certainly makes for a great story, but is a disturbing representation of humanity. The story could be told thus: on the ship there is apathy, disunity. A threat comes and they can’t pull together to defeat it. Instead, they are picked off, pulled apart. In the end (more spoilers) it is only one individual who can survive. Only alone, does Ripley make it.

Ripley and the Alien

Ripley and the alien

There is a rather bleak moment after Kane has died, after the alien jumps out from his stomach. The crew is in shock, while Dallas is about to eject Kane’s wrapped body into space. He asks expressionlessly if anyone wants to say anything (usually it is a captain’s job to say something). No one says a word and Kane’s body is released from the ship. That’s it. It’s such a bleak moment because no one mourns him, there’s not even music to mourn him. You can see they’re still in shock, but you can also see they are thinking about what is going to happen to them. He’s just dead and that’s the end of him.

That sense of isolation is a very noirish element. The crew is made up of a bunch of misfits, which actually make sense. The only kind of person who would volunteer for a regular job where the journey is so long you stay in stasis for ten months is bound to be a bit of a misfit.

But what really makes the movie so thrilling is the suspense. Crew members walk down dark, shadowy corridors looking for the alien, while the audience waits, heart pounding, knowing the alien is going to get them, but not sure when or how. Some people have commented that it’s a bit like Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None.

The Alien

The alien

But despite the isolation in Alien, you do still root for Ripley (though I was completely expecting everyone else to die and probably would have been disappointed if they hadn’t – thus Alien feeds our more ghoulish nature). Her character is warmed up by her affection for Jones and because she is the only one who is not either insouciant or in blind terror. She’s a survivor who consistently makes smart decisions…and she goes out of her way to save the cat.


Posted by on January 5, 2015 in Horror, Science Fiction, Suspense


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