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: 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 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 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