What Happened to the Real Score for Invaders from Mars by Ford A. Thaxton
Originally published in CinemaScore #15, 1986/1987
Text reproduced by kind permission of the editor and publisher Randall D. Larson
Christopher Young and the Invaders from Cannon
Composer Christopher Young is, in the opinion of many, one of the most exciting young composers on the Hollywood scene. At the age of 28, Young has scored no less than 13 feature films, among them THE POWER, DEF-CON 4, HIGHPOINT (replacing a score by John Addison), WHEELS OF FIRE, GETTING EVEN, TORMENT, AVENGING ANGEL, NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET II, and his latest project for Cannon Films, Tobe Hooper’s INVADERS FROM MARS.
The film is a lavish remake of the acclaimed late-night movie cult classic from 1953, directed with nightmarish flair by the late William Cameron Menzies. It tells the tale of a young 11 year old boy who one night looks out his window and sees an alien spacecraft land in the hills behind his home. Soon thereafter he discovers that his family and friends are being taken over by the invaders, and tries to warn a heedless world of the danger.
The choice of Christopher Young for the scoring of INVADERS FROM MARS has a rather interesting story behind it. The first composer that the director wanted was James Horner, who for various reasons wasn’t available. The next choice was London-based composer Michael Kamen, who wrote the score for THE DEAD ZONE and provided additional music for Hooper’s LIFEFORCE. However, due to the short time allotted for scoring, it was felt by Cannon Films that a Los Angeles-based composer would be a better and less costly choice, so Mr. Kamen was passed over.
It was at this point that unit publicist for the film, and former Varese Sarabande Records producer, Scot W. Holton suggested Christopher Young to the director. After hearing some of Young’s scores and meeting with him, he was hired to score the film. Young knew from the start that INVADERS FROM MARS would be a most difficult job, but he had no idea how much so until deep into the project.
Christopher Young was given only twenty-three days from start to finish in which to write, orchestrate and record the score. The contract called for Young to turn in 15 minutes of orchestral music and 30 minutes or electronic score (in the end he turned in 17 minutes orchestral and 45 minutes electronic). The first part of the score was recorded during one three-hour recording session at the CBS/Radford recording studio in Hollywood. The orchestra on this date was made up of 2 flutes, 4 horns, 3 tenor trombones, bass trombone, tuba, harp, 3 percussionists, piano, keyboard, synthesizer and strings. Cues recorded at this time included the Main and End titles, some tender moments, and the action scenes at the film’s climax. The players had a hard time playing some of the cues due to the complex writing, however they did get everything done on time to the expert conducting of Paul Francis Witt. The style, as the director wished, was somewhat reminiscent of Jerry Goldsmith.
The electronic portions of the score were recorded in a very interesting way. Young had decided to score a number of the scenes dealing with the aliens and their spacecraft in a “musique concrete” style, using such natural sounds as drill presses, waterfalls, and crowd noises. Over these sounds he mixed a number of acoustic instruments with lots of percussion, which he then reprocessed through tape recording and synthesizers to get an effect that reminds one of a cross between Gil Melle’s ANDROMEDA STRAIN and the Ligeti music that was used in 2001 A SPACE ODYSSEY. The final effect was very chilling and worked wonders in the film. Christopher Young was very happy with the score he turned in, and according to sources close to Tobe Hooper, the director was overjoyed with the music, calling it “the best.”
It was at this point that the real trouble began
Young noticed the first sign of problems when he was hired. At that time, Hooper was already in deep preproduction on his next film, and had very little time to talk to Young. In fact, they could only get together for a single meeting to spot the film, and this only for the first six reels. Then the post-production staff at Cannon Films took over and began to change their minds about
the direction of the music. When the film had a temp-track laid onto it, the total amount of music came to 76 minutes. The post-production staff thought that Young couldn’t provide enough much for the film, so another composer was hired — David Storrs, who had worked at Cannon scoring various parts of their “Previews of Coming Attractions.”
When Young turned in his score, the post-production staff did not care for the electronic music at all. According to one source at Cannon, “They didn’t like it because it didn’t sound anything like the temp track music they put in after he had started writing the score. Also, some of the people just couldn’t understand it.” At this point, Storrs was told to provide more music like the temp-track. During the dubbing, neither Hooper nor Young were available to attend the final dubbing session, and when dubbing was finished, only about a third of Young’s orchestral score remained and almost none of his electronic score. When the film was reviewed by Variety, it got a very bad review, and the writer went out of his way to point out that the score wasn’t very good, and of course blamed Christopher Young. It’s worth noting that as the credits stand now, Young’s name is seen during the Main Titles and Storr’s appear during the end credits.
Shortly before going to press, we contacted Young and asked him his feelings about this matter. He replied: “While they may not have used my electronic score, I’m very happy with what I gave them, and in many ways it was some of the best music I’ve done to date. “A number of the musicians who played on it, as well as others who’ve heard it, feel that it’s my best work, and I hope perhaps someday the public will get a chance to hear it.”