Crunched to his limits, Horner understandably began to remix and reuse whatever he could get away with to fill in the gaps, from the original Goldsmith score for Alien to his own previous work. Ugliest of all, once Horner had done what he could, Cameron, without Horner’s oversight, turned Horner’s compositions into a jigsaw puzzle, jamming it into the finished film however he thought best.
But let’s go back to that overnight kaiju battle theme. Called “Bishop’s Countdown” on the official soundtrack, it’s classic Horner. Metallic percussion and wailing horns create three minutes worth of pure tension. It’s instinctively familiar stuff, awakening our fears as Ripley fights to protect Newt. That’s not the only way it’s familiar, though. A dozing Star Trek fan with Aliens playing in the background of their home might jerk up as the theme starts, wondering why they’re hearing Klingons. That’s because… we pretty much are.
Anyone’s overnight cram sessions can bring out the best in us under duress, crystallizing our previous work into something new but accidentally familiar. Under James Horner, the attack of the Klingons had fully evolved into the terror of the xenomorphs.
Werewolves, Klingons, and Xenomorphs, Oh My!
But wait, there’s more! It’s ironic that Cameron has (more than once) talked about his conflict with Horner on Aliens, and blamed himself and his familiarity with Brad Feidel’s more easily changed-up synth score for The Terminator. Horner was no stranger to remixing his work to suit new requirements, and it’s part of what made his music so useful to Roger Corman, and, affectionately, there’s plenty of compilations on film score sites and forums that list all the times Horner has, um, plagiarized his own work.
But in the case of “Klingons” and “Bishop’s Countdown,” the pieces are in two different keys, and it’s difficult to verbally describe the audible similarity beyond their shared percussion and war horn crescendos. Let’s link two videos that show the sheet music, this one showing “Bishop’s Countdown” matched to its big scene, the latter, a piano arrangement for “Klingons” that, while adapted to protect the copyright on Horner’s original, still shows enough visual pattern similarity to catch the eye of anyone vaguely familiar with reading music.
A third piece of sheet music can be layered on these near-identical parallels, and that’s that werewolf movie that got Horner his Star Trek gig: Wolfen’s symphonic score, audible here at the 30 second mark on, also includes that same little tune we know from everything else we’ve already talked about—and dozens of movie trailers, besides. Say what we will about Horner’s tendency to remix his work, but he knew a good tune when he heard it.