Star Trek Beyond (2016)

Star Trek Beyond (CD Edition) – HQCovers

Composed by Michael Giacchino

After Star Trek Into Darkness J.J. Abrams moved on to Star Wars. Justin Lin filled the director’s chair and actor Simon Pegg, who plays Scotty, took a large role in writing the script. Star Trek Beyond sees the Enterprise go on a rescue mission from the space station Yorktown. It turns out to be a set-up and after a big space battle our heroes crash on the planet Altamid. Separated into small groups, the various characters unlock the mystery around the villains, led by Krall (Idris Elba). Since this is New Trek, Krall is motivated by revenge and plans to use a superweapon to attack the Federation. While by no means great, Star Trek Beyond was a big improvement over Abrams’ film. There’s still too much emphasis on laser battles and the antagonist is another generic vengeance-hungry villain. However, the film shines in the second act when the characters split into small groups and the actors play off of each other. There is even a sense of planetary exploration, albeit one in the confines of uncovering the mystery around Krall rather than any deeper themes or concepts. Michael Giacchino took his music in a slightly different direction that distinguishes his third contribution to the franchise.

Once again Giacchino’s music went through both a single-disc release and a complete Deluxe Edition. This time the first release was longer at an hour’s running time. What is immediately notable is that Giacchino puts more effort into imbuing some character outside space heroics and action. This is fitting as Star Trek Beyond actually has its characters exploring new environments as opposed to sitting in space battles (though there are a couple of those). There is a lot of glassy or primal percussion that, while never reaching the heavily alien sounds of Jerry Goldsmith’s work, adds a unique flavor to the scenes on Altamid. Giacchino makes more use of piano and woodwinds, somewhat evoking Goldsmith’s classical sensibilities for Star Trek: The Motion Picture. There’s also a fair bit of patriotic trumpets and snare drums, fitting into the villain’s motivations and the ideals of the Federation. Continue reading

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

Composed by Michael Giacchino

J.J. Abrams’ follow-up to his Star Trek reboot is a polarizing film. Some say its great blockbuster fun. Others say it’s a horribly stupid or even sacrilegious take on the franchise. Star Trek Into Darkness tries to, as its name implies, be a dark film. It focuses secret governmental organizations, paranoia, and allusions to contemporary terrorism. A terrorist named John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) is launching attacks on Starfleet. Kirk and friends are out to stop him, but it turns out Harrison is part of, and perhaps a victim of, a conspiracy involving Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller) and the unscrupulous organization Section 31. I consider this to maybe be the worst Star Trek movie (going through the Next Generation films I’d say there’s some competition). Like Abrams’ own Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker years later it’s a movie held together by coincidences, convenient tech and abilities that come out of nowhere, and a fast pace that makes sure less attentive viewers won’t realize how absolutely nonsensical it is. Abrams aims for nostalgia to cover his own superficial understanding of the franchise. There’s Tribbles, Klingons, and total rehashes of Wrath of Khan. Kirk and Spock continue to act out of character, with the former still running around like a hothead and the latter far too easily prone to emotional outbursts. Since I have such little respect for the film, I’ll not worry about spoilers when covering the score by Michael Giacchino. I will avoid one major twist though anybody who knows Abrams’ fan-baiting style will probably figure it out easily.

Giacchino score for Into Darkness, is largely a continuation of the previous entry. He liberally applies his own Main theme, but usually does so in small fragments or altered forms. The other returning theme is Spock’s. This time the synth-enhanced Erhu is largely absent, present only in the Deluxe Edition’s “Spock and Uhura.” The actual theme itself is much more present on the original album, featured prominently in action cues such as “Spock Drops, Kirk Jumps” and “The San Fran Hustle.” Thanks to a small section of the film set in the Klingon Empire, Giacchino is able to invent his own music for the iconic race. He opts for harsh warlike textures with aggressive chants and a menacing motif (0:13 in “The Kronos Wartet”). This music features on “The Kronos Wartet” on the original album and gets a couple other appearances on the Deluxe Edition. It’s a highlight of the score, though as a recurring franchise theme it won’t work as well as Jerry Goldsmith’s more famous composition. It’s too simplistically barbarous to apply to any further exploration of their culture and nuances. Continue reading

Star Trek (2009)

Composed by Michael Giacchino

After the under-performance of Nemesis killed the film franchise, Star Trek fell into a hiatus of a few years. It did not take long for Paramount Pictures to revive the series. This time it was to be a full reboot under the direction of J.J. Abrams. The movie was a success and I used to like it. Over time, though, as I’ve watched more original Trek, I’ve found the film to be uninspired and only superficially Star Trek. A Romulan mining ship led by Nero (Eric Bana) goes back in time thanks to some black hole physics. It attacks a ship and kills Kirk’s father. Over twenty years later Kirk (Chris Pine) and his future crew are called up due to an emergency. Nero is out for revenge and plans to use a weapon to destroy earth. It turns out that in the future Romulus was destroyed, despite the efforts of Spock. The time travel creates a separate timeline so Abrams doesn’t have to worry about linking up with the original show (called the Kelvin timeline). The movie is a lot of people running around and yelling and shooting each other so nobody will notice the plot holes or Abrams’ horrible grasp of space distances and physics. The plot itself boils down to bad guy wants revenge, and this story would be told in the two sequels itself. Abrams also has a very superficial grasp of the characters. He assumes Kirk is a reckless hothead (he was actually very considerate and thoughtful), makes Spock is prone to emotional outbursts because of his human side, and replaces Dr. McCoy’s place in the main trio with Uhura, throwing off the character dynamics that fueled most of the Star Trek’s emotional and ethical stakes. In short it heralded the simplistic, uninspired plotting Abrams would conduct for The Force Awakens. At least the music is good.

A common collaborator of J.J. Abrams, Giacchino naturally got the role of composer. 2009 was a big year for Giacchino. He scored three films (while still doing scoring duties for Lost), among them this one, Land of the Lost, and Pixar’s Up (for which he won an Oscar). While he would not regularly compose films for a couple more years, his placement on a globally identified franchise did wonders for his career and allowed him to flex his musical muscles with a larger orchestra. Continue reading

Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)

Composed by Jerry Goldsmith

The Star Trek Next Generation films had an inglorious end with Star Trek Nemesis. The movie sees Shinzon, a Romulan attempt to clone Captain Picard, take over the Romulan Empire, an intergalactic power that has common ancestry with the Vulcans. He claims to want to affect peace between the Empire and the Federation, but soon is shown to have vengeful and ulterior motives. The movie has a very generic and non-unique plot, essentially being a rip-off of Wrath of Khan (just like Into Darkness a decade later) but without a previously established villain. Star Trek in general was approaching the end of its resurgent run and this film killed the film series until the 2009 reboot. In addition to just not being a good film, it was foolishly released in between a James Bond film and the second installment of the red-hot Lord of the Rings trilogy, severely reducing its box-office take. While many have rightfully criticized the recent run of Star Trek films and TV shows, Nemesis surprisingly exhibits many of the problems that have plagued New Trek, from emphasizing action to completely misunderstanding the themes and characters of the franchise. For example, it turned the famously diplomatic Picard into an action hero, walking down hallways and mowing down aliens whilst duel-wielding laser guns. The film score by Jerry goldsmith has also received its fair share of criticism.

Nemesis was the last Star Trek outing for Jerry Goldsmith, who would succumb to cancer a couple years later. The score is considered to be Goldsmith’s weakest offering, a disappointing conclusion to his association with the franchise. Indeed this score does seem to be less innovative, opting for more standard sci-fi action fare. This does reflect the film, which puts too much emphasis on action scenes (admittedly the lengthy space battle is neat, it’s just that audience investment is derailed by the plot). The complete score actually exceeds the space of one disc, a rarity in the pre-2009 film franchise. For those who find the score to be an average output from Goldsmith, this can be viewed as a slog. So how do I rate the last and most criticized Goldsmith Star Trek score? Continue reading

Star Trek: Insurrection (1999)

Composed by Jerry Goldsmith

After witnessing a cinematic showdown with the Borg in First Contact, audiences were let down by Insurrection. The plot of Insurrection revolves around an idyllic village where the human-like inhabitants are blessed with perfect health and, as it turns out, extended lifespans. Working with the alien So’na, a Federation admiral plans to relocate the people so they can tap into the planet’s properties and extend its gifts to its own citizens. Not happy with this forcible removal of people from their homes, Picard and the rest of the Next Generation characters defy authority and seek to protect the villagers while uncovering a conspiracy. If this sounds like a run-of-the-mill episode from the series, then you’ve figured out one of the issues audiences had with the film. Worse, this film came out at the same time the Federation was locked in a galaxy-spanning war with the Dominion on Deep Space Nine. Why the famed Enterprise would focus its efforts on a few hundred villagers instead of fighting on the front lines is anybody’s guess. Also, the moral messaging of the film is undone by plot holes and the ongoing context of the Dominion War. It’s perhaps the dullest and most uninteresting film of the entire franchise, though one would not guess it if he or she were to first listen to Goldsmith’s exciting score.

Goldsmith’s work on Insurrection is not as, how shall I put it, innovative as his previous forays into the series. The plot doesn’t have as much alien elements to work with. However he still takes out the electronics for some unique atmospheric segments. For the most part the score is traditionally orchestral. The primary theme is the Insurrection motif, which usually appears as a rising four-note action signature. In some of its lengthier iterations it almost sounds like Goldsmith’s main theme form The Mummy (which came out the same year). This motif appears in just about every action cue, to the point that it will definitely stick in the listener’s mind. It’s introduced in the midst of the Alexander Courage fanfare at the opening. It frequently appears in counterpoint with a piano rhythm motif that represents the suspense and action. These two motifs are good, but are perhaps repeated too much, producing a potentially tiring listen. Continue reading

Star Trek: First Contact (1996)

Composed by Jerry Goldsmith and Joel Goldsmith

First Contact is considered to be the only truly good film starring the Next Generation cast. The plot sees the Borg mount another assault on earth. This time Starfleet is able to destroy the Borg Cube, but Picard learns that it sent out a time machine. Following it back in time, he learns that the Borg seek to prevent earth from contacting alien life and thus eliminate Starfleet as a threat in the present. The Borg overrun part of the Enterprise and the two sides have a series of fights. On the character side of things Picard’s PTSD from his previous experience with the Borg starts to cloud his judgment as he focuses on personal vengeance. I have some issues with the movie, particularly with how it portrays earth’s first contact with an alien species, but it’s definitely the best of the four TNG films. One thing that definitely works in its favor is the permanent return of Goldsmith to the franchise. The composer would score this and the next two films.

The greatest positive of Goldsmith’s longer tenure is the cohesion of the themes. Now every film would have his Star Trek theme. He would actually use it less, preferring to focus on his newer material. There’s not much in the way of new variations of the theme, but this is more than made up for by both new and other returning themes. Of the new themes, the most memorable one is the First Contact theme. It’s a lovely optimistic melody, symbolizing humankind’s ascent to the stars. Doubtlessly not wanting to simply rehash the main theme again, Goldsmith lets this theme grace the opening credits in “Main Title” (0:38). As with the main theme Goldsmith doesn’t reference it that much, but when he does it’s to great effect. Most of its iterations conclude with a familiar motif. It’s the Quest theme from Final Frontier. Recognizing its reliable flexibility, Goldsmith began to frequently pull it out in his TNG scores. One of its main uses is as an ender for the First Contact theme, where its statements are tied together by two extra notes (2:29 in “Main Title”). Finishing up the heroes’ side of things is the Klingon theme. Though the Klingons are not present as a faction in the story, Goldsmith is still able to bring back this popular melody to represent the race’s sole representative, famed character Worf. One might find it odd that one member of the Enterprise gets a theme and the others don’t, but Goldsmith’s melody is so good that listeners won’t care. It helps that as a warrior in a more action-oriented Star Trek film, Worf is constantly called upon so the theme’s inclusion is appropriate. Continue reading

Star Trek: Generations (1994)

Composed by Dennis McCarthy

Though the original cast had their full ensemble send-off with Undiscovered Country, Paramount still wanted more Star Trek movies and would get them with the Next Generation cast. In 1994 Star Trek: The Next Generation finally wrapped up so it was time to get Captain Picard, Data, Worf, and the rest of the gang onto the big screen. Generations, coming out later in the same year, would be a passing of the torch, with a plot that would literally enable Kirk and Picard to meet. Soran, a human-like alien with an incredible lifespan, is attempting to enter an otherworldly plane called the Nexus. By forcing it open he would endanger space and time. Picard, reeling from the deaths of his brother and nephew, tries to stop him. Also, Data installs an emotion chip and goes wacky while some Klingon villains from the show get involved. It’s not the best film, with some questionable plot holes. The long-awaited team-up between Kirk and Picard occurs far too late, leaving no time for them to play off each other with their combined experiences as captain of the Enterprise.

One reason for Generations’ writing flaws can be chalked up to an unwise production schedule. The film was written by Ronald Moore and Brannon Braga, both seasoned writers of the TNG show. They had already spent much of their creative energies on the show’s season finale and did not have time to flesh out and fine-tune the movie script. The director himself, David Carson, was a veteran of the show, having written some of its most acclaimed episodes. Interestingly the choice of composer was also a carryover from the series. Dennis McCarthy was the primary composer of all the 80s and 90s Trek shows. To be honest I never found his television work all that stellar. The few pieces that I can remember are those that are reused constantly through hundreds of episodes. Film score reviewers also seem to find his sole film outing to be underwhelming so I was interested to explore this score further and see if such criticisms have merit. Continue reading

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)

Composed by Cliff Eidelman

After The Final Frontier shook confidence in the Star Trek franchise, Nicholas Meyer, director of Wrath of Khan, returned to give the original cast a fitting send-off. Undiscovered Country seeks to explain how the Federation and Klingon Empire made peace before the Next Generation TV series. Thus it serves as a prequel of sorts for the 90s Star Trek shows. For some reason this movie doesn’t get as much attention. It was well received at the time and is still highly regarded by those who remember it. In fact it’s considered one of the best films (my personal third favorite). The movie’s plot is a reflection of the end of the Cold War, down to a moderate Klingon sporting the name Gorkon (as in Gorbachev, get it?). After a Chernobyl-like disaster, the Klingon Empire is pressured to finally seek peaceful relations with the Federation. The peace talks are undone, however, when the Klingon ambassador is assassinated. Kirk, who retains an intense hatred of the classic antagonists, makes a convenient target to frame for the assassination. It’s up to him and the rest of the Enterprise crew to uncover the conspiracy to derail the peace talks.

Instead of bringing back Goldsmith or Horner, Meyer planned to have Gustav Holst’s Planets rearranged and used as the score, akin to Stanley Kubrick’s use of classical music in 2001: A Space Odyssey. It turned out that the rights to Holst’s music were quite pricey. Meyer ended up hiring the 26 year old Cliff Eidelman based off a submission he sent in. The young composer was ecstatic at the chance to do a Star Trek score. Meyer instructed him to look to Holst for inspiration but otherwise Eidelman had a massive chance to do his own thing and make his mark. His music is distinctively darker, though there are a few nods to established conventions such as spiritual Vulcan material and a nautical theme for the Enterprise. The most obvious reference to Holst is the dark rhythmic action and suspense. These quite intentionally bring to mind “Mars, Bringer of War.” Continue reading

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)

Composed by Jerry Goldsmith

With Leonard Nimoy having directed two successful Star Trek films, William Shatner felt that he deserved to have his own shot, creating a film inspired by 80s televangelism. The Final Frontier sees Sybok, a Vulcan who rejects the traditional philosophy of logic in favor of spiritual emotionalism, lure the Enterprise so that he can use it to find the fabled world of Sha Ka Ree. Along the way he brainwashes many to his cause with his variation of the Vulcan mind meld, turning most of Kirk’s crew against him. Also, a Klingon warrior pursues the Enterprise in hopes of defeating Kirk and gaining gory. The Final Frontier proved to be the worst of the original cast films. It had many interesting ideas, the best the concept of the antagonist trying to destroy get at Kirk by destroying his iconic three-way relationship with Spock and Dr. McCoy. However a litany of production troubles (ongoing writer’s strike, budget cuts, etc.) as well as Shatner’s ego created a messy film with astonishingly sub-par special effects, inappropriate comedy, and inconsistent storytelling. To be fair, it is at least fun to watch unlike the other bad Trek films. One of the genuine positives is the return of Jerry Goldsmith to scoring duties.

At the time Star Trek: The Next Generation was just into its second season. The producers used Goldsmith’s Star Trek theme for the show’s opening and closing credits. Now Goldsmith would ensure some continuity between films and television. His score for Final Frontier is very different from his previous offering. This time he did not have long dialogue-lite scenes to work with (save one that produces an excellent piece). The end result is a more conventionally structured score, with shorter cues as opposed to lengthy classical pieces and dueling hero and villain themes. The composer is still experimental, though, relying heavily on electronics to create an alien atmosphere. Since the plot concerns such things as spiritual enlightenment and God, there is an abundance of unique synthesizer-laden cues. While The Motion Picture had Craig Huxley’s growling laser beam, Final Frontier has the synclavier, used most noticeably to create disturbing ethereal sounds for Sybok’s mind meld scenes. The synclavier is a digital system through which one can produce a wide range of sounds via a piano-like keyboard. Goldsmith’s Star Trek theme itself is of course back. With more action scenes and moments of heroism, the theme has more of a recurring presence, though as with its previous foray it’s largely absent for a large chunk of the film as the characters get lost in an alien environment. Continue reading

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)

Composed by Leonard Rosenman

With his success directing Search for Spock, Leonard Nimoy was allowed to direct yet another Star Trek film. While Wrath of Khan might objectively be the best of the series, The Voyage Home is my personal favorite. Kirk and friends are in trouble after disregarding Starfleet commands to rescue Spock. They are on their way to earth to face justice when a cigar-shaped probe gets there ahead of them and starts to mess with the environment. The probe is using unusual signals in an effort to communicate with something. That something turns out to be humpback whales, which were hunted to extinction at the end of the 20th Century. Kirk and his crew, remembering time travel methods from the original TV series, go back to 1980s San Francisco to find and bring back a  pair of whales and save earth. The film is very fun and unique. It has a conservationist message without being heavy-handed, has no space battles, and wonderful fish-out-of-water humor with the future Earthlings trying to get around modern society. One further awesome piece of trivia is that this film raised a lot of awareness about the over-hunting of whales and may have saved the humpbacks from actual extinction! James Horner and his acclaimed themes unfortunately did not return. Using his clout from his previous success, Nimoy was able to bring on his friend Leonard Rosenman for the score. The result is a soundtrack that has stirred some debate and strong negativity among Star Trek and film music fans.

The main argument against Rosenman’s work is that it is too light-hearted and out of place. Is this the case? The film is, after all, very light-hearted for most of its running time. One thing to note is that the film did not call for a whole lot of music thanks to all the time spent on contemporary earth. There is about 40 minutes of score, 35 when one considers that a five-minute piece is really an 80s-style track performed by the Yellowjackets (but still composed by Rosenman). Surprisingly the original album did not feature the complete score though it was within possibility. The expanded album is certainly better, with its chronological track ordering making for a better listening experience. Many of the tracks are really a bunch of tiny cues merged together, so as to avoid a long tracklisting of sub-minute pieces.  Continue reading