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: 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 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

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock

 

Composed by James Horner

The third installment of the Star Trek films and the second of the Khan trilogy is a direct sequel to Wrath of Khan. Leonard Nimoy, who planned to exit (spoiler) the franchise with his death in that film ironically found himself inspired to continue on after seeing how great said film was. However, he only returned on the condition that he would get to direct. Search for Spock deals with the fallout of Wrath of Khan. Spock planted some of his thoughts and identity into Dr. McCoy before dying. At the same time the Genesis device has recreated Spock’s body, starting him over as a child. Kirk and friends disobey orders to go to the Genesis planet and restore their friend. However the Klingons are also interested in the effects of the device, leading to some action sequences. For some reason fans listed (some still list) this film as one of the bad Trek films. I find it to actually be a very underrated movie and think it suffers from being sandwiched by Wrath of Khan and The Voyage Home, the two most highly regarded entries in the series.

Leonard Nimoy wanted his friend Leonard Rosenman to provide the score. Paramount did not allow this, insisting that James Horner return. This resulted in a score that had strong continuity with the previous entry, perhaps too much continuity. Horner doesn’t really create much in the way of new themes. The freshness of the score comes more from new orchestrations of his constructions from Wrath of Khan. Horner always had the uncanny ability to lift his themes and motifs from previous movies but somehow make them stand out in a new setting (he did something similar with the Zorro films). That being said there are portions of the Search for Spock that retread familiar ground. The biggest sinner in this regard is the end credits suite, which is an exact copy of Wrath of Khan’s. Continue reading

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)

Composed by Jerry Goldsmith

In 1979, Gene Rodenberry was able to bring back the cast of his space sci-fi show Star Trek, this time as a movie. Production actually started before Star Wars became a phenomenon, so there was no pressure to create a popcorn action flick (J.J. Abrams would commit this franchise sin thirty years later; also, Star Wars probably did help drive up attendance numbers for Star Trek). Unfortunately, Rodenberry and director Robert Wise went too far in the other direction, creating one of slowest mainstream franchise films of all time. Star Trek: The Motion Picture sees James Kirk, now a Starfleet Admiral, reunite with Spock and the rest of the original characters on the Enterprise. He oversees the investigation of a powerful destructive entity named V’Ger (alternatively spelled Vejur in the tracklisting) that is heading for Earth. Their investigation yields some surprises and also enables the characters and moviegoers to contemplate the definition and nature of life. It’s not a terrible movie. In fact it’s admirable that the cast and crew attempted to create a cerebral big budget sci-fi film, something that could almost never be achieved today.

The composer who would score Star Trek’s entry into cinema was the highly regarded Jerry Goldsmith. This would prove to be one of his most well-known scores, with a couple themes that would permeate the franchise going forward. The film’s plot is not enough to sustain a two hour running time and features several long sequences of the Enterprise being explored and doing exploring. While these scenes drove many moviegoers out of their minds with boredom, they provided an enviable chance for any film composer. With long, slow, dialogue-light sequences, Goldsmith was able to create powerful, lovely cues that could work wonderfully as standalone pieces of classical music. Goldsmith claims that he saw space as a place of romantic potential and, in contrast to the militaristic orchestration of Star Wars and its knock-offs, utilized more in the way of piano, harps, chimes, and similar “soft” instruments. Goldsmith also utilized a fair number of electronic elements in his score. Among these is the blaster beam, a musical instrument patented by none other than Craig Huxley. Huxley portrayed Kirk’s nephew on the TV series. This instrument sounds like an electric instrument, but is really a complex string instrument involving an empty shell casing. The blaster beam is heard in some of the cues focusing on V’Ger, adding to the unusual alien menace of the main antagonist. The use of the blaster beam, electronics, glass tubes, and ominous rhythms make for a decidedly alien musical palette. Continue reading