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 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

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 II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

James Horner - Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (Newly Expanded Edition) -  Amazon.com Music

Composed by James Horner

Though it made money, Star Trek: The Motion Picture turned off many audiences and critics with its glacial pacing. Paramount Pictures was also not enthused by its high production costs. As a result the sequel would have a significantly lower budget. In spite of a severely scaled back production (they couldn’t even get the main hero and villain actors, William Shatner and Ricardo Montalban, onscreen together because of tight scheduling issues) the end result was a far more critically successful and audience-pleasing film that ensured Star Trek’s survival. The film sounds like it has a generic plot. Khan, a superhuman antagonist from the original show, has escaped from his penal planet (turned into a wasteland by a cosmic explosion) and wants revenge on James Kirk. In the meantime one of Kirk’s old flames, Dr. Carol Marcus, is developing a device that can turn a dead planet into a rich paradise. The movie was elevated by director Nicholas Meyer, who wonderfully weaved in themes of old age, ramification of past actions, obsessive vengeance, and life in general. There are even strong allusions to literary classics such as Moby Dick and the Bible. The film also notably started a trilogy within the film series that showed Kirk dealing with the fact that he cannot always win. In fact William Shatner’s character goes through an extraordinary amount of character development in these films, not possible in the confines of a weekly pre-recording television show.

Jerry Goldsmith did not return for the sequel, deemed too expensive to hire, and Paramount turned to the young up-and-comer James Horner. Horner did not carry over any of Goldsmith’s themes, yet his own creations would be as iconic. Also, many of the sounds of his music would be inspired by Goldsmith’s work. The alien percussion for the Klingons, for example, would be carried over into the motifs for Khan. Craig Huxley, who devised the blaster beam in The Motion Picture, also returns with “Genesis,” a diagetic synthesizer piece that is somewhat mismatched against Horner’s material but does add some variety. Elements of this cue are present at the conclusion of “Genesis Countdown.” Now let’s look at James Horner’s actual music. 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