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Star Trek - Music From The Motion Picture Soundtrack Review

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by Chris McEneany May 9, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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    Star Trek - Music From The Motion Picture Soundtrack Review

    Before we look at the score for the new Star Trek movie, as heard on this abbreviated album, let me just state that the wonderful piece of music heard in the film's now-classic third trailer is not included here. Nor is it actually in the movie. In the long, long years that I have been obsessed with movies and their scores, I have never encountered such a yearning for a single piece of music from seemingly everyone who heard it. I, myself, was hugely impressed with that driving, emotional core that so captured the raw intensity of the images that trailer bore. Erroneously believed to have come from Brian Tyler, and certainly sounding like his wonderful work for the not-too-dissimilar Sci-Fi cult production, Children Of Dune, this piece is actually from movie trailer company Two Steps From Hell and is called Freedom Fighters, from their promotional album “Down With The Enterprise”.

    But, man, I wish that it had been a part of this movie's score, too!

    Composer Michael Giacchino has a good track record so far, with Speedracer (score reviewed separately), Ratatouille and The Incredibles under his belt. But he is also, of course, a regular collaborator with old JJ, having supplied the scores for his TV shows Alias, Lost, Fringe and his big screen franchise capper M:I-3, and the two have a strong musical sense of what is required for each project. You get the impression that Abrams would be happy with anything Giacchino came up with and, on the other hand, it is easy to assume that Giacchino is perfectly attuned to what his director wants. Either way, the pair have managed to create a sound that has now become recognisable and the sense of pace, excitement, mystery and heart that has propelled all of their efforts so far has been carried over into the music for Star Trek. Which is no bad thing.

    Whilst Abrams had the exacting task of rebooting a cherished franchise and making it both respectful to its fans and its origins as well as making it accessible for newcomers, Giacchino hardly got off lightly, either. The music of Star Trek has always played an extremely important part in the success of the phenomenon. Alexander Courage's immortal title theme for the original show is downright sacred and when Jerry Goldsmith fashioned his momentous score for ST: TMP in 1979, the 23rd Century suddenly became a wondrous, glittering sea of magisterial themes, evocative mystery, eerie menace and powerful action. James Horner took the baton with extreme dexterity and the raw power of youthful enthusiasm with STII:TWOK, fashioning some indelible themes that he, for his sins, would revisit throughout his career. Both composers would return to the series with nice new ideas and help their own, and each other's themes, evolve. Even Leonard Rosenman would get in on the act with ST: TFF, Cliff Eidelman for “The Undiscovered Country” and Dennis McCarthy for “Generations”. But, without a doubt, Giacchino is the one who would feel the most pressure to deliver something that would embrace the much-loved and iconic musical soundscape, as well as fashion something for a new generation that would become an equally exhilarating tour de force as his illustrious predecessors.

    Well, even if only scratches the surface of the bonafide greats that have gone where no scores had gone before, he has made a real go of it. The problem is that there has been a fair few years since we had a Trek movie - a good one, that is - and the musical heritage that the entire series carried with it bears down on this creative endeavour like a starship at warp-speed. Giacchino, rightly or wrongly, tackles the problem in two ways. He not only incorporates Courage's original theme, as well as some tiny, and well submerged motifs and phrases that harken back to the early Goldsmith and Horner days, but he also strikes out with a profoundly “modern” take on the full-blown orchestral grandeur that a Trek film inspires. He loves immediacy much more than elegance. He favours strong character-based passages over long stretches of ethereal beauty. And he prefers to compose for intense drama rather than to sweep an entire future-vision up in rapturous symphonic glory. Whereas the past scores found ample opportunity for sheer space-bound opulence, Abrams has made a movie that moves like lightning and never once stops to admire the view. With a first half that is simply fantastic - full of action, comedy and a non-stop layering of suspense - I think that the movie, as brilliant as the overall production clearly is, drops the ball once Kirk has been marooned on the ice-planet and never returns to the electrifying pace that it had beforehand. The second half bogs itself down with too many time-travelling paradoxes and descends into a purely derivative finale of overly familiar set-pieces. And how many times do we see Kirk - both young and even younger - hanging off the edge of something? Chris Pine does nail the young James T., though, and there are many tiny little nods to the Great Shat amidst his terrific comic timing and helter-skelter run-and-fight, shoot-and-quip scenarios. Zachary Quinto, of course, is Spock, through and through, though Anton Yelchin has the voice but not the charisma of Walter Koenig's Chekov. John Cho's Sulu is surprisingly good, swapping George Takei's Bushido-skills for fencing. Karl Urban couldn't be better as McCoy, but I wish he had been employed more during the second half of the film. Zoe Saldana may not “pack” as much flesh on her bones as Nichelle Nichols for her take on the super-sexy Uhura, but she puts considerably more flesh on them, metaphorically-speaking. And whilst James Doohan's Scottish accent was utterly fake as Scottie, for generations of people that was convincing enough. Simon Pegg, however likeable he is in the role, is short-changed by the screenplay and, with a worse accent, just isn't believable as the miracle-working engineer.

    Still, I loved the movie enormously and it effortlessly trounces Wolverine and just about everything else that I've seen so far this year, and certainly knocks the majority of previous Trek movies for six, especially those from Generations onwards.

    So, now that we've established that the film is a rare delight and one of the most euphoric re-imaginings that we've had - easily sitting alongside Craig's Bond and Bale's Batman - it is time to properly assess the score which, I should point out, does not slacken the pace during the second half.

    The album begins with an ethereal and heavily portentous rendition of what will go on to become the main theme and, although this track only lasts for a mere minute, it sets up a real sense of importance and destiny. In terms of length, this introduction seems to have been designed almost as an anti-main theme, establishing a spectral, almost ominous tone that glistens with the promise of things to come with a devoutly celestial earnest. Those who were expecting a barnstorming title theme should know better. With JJ Abrams at the helm, this wasn't going to be the case. As we shall see, he wants to build up to such things. This new crew of wisecracking and cocky young pretenders have to earn their musical wings and forge their theme with their own blood and sweat. As with Daniel Craig's Bond, who had to battle his way to the reward of his esteemed signature theme, Kirk and Co. have an adventure to survive before the orchestra will fully accept them with anything that the fans will find familiar. Thus, the title theme, in the movie , actually plays over the company logos before seguing into that awesome Starfleet crest turning proudly into view across the screen.

    Then we are catapulted into the movie's and the album's first major action sequence, with Nailin' The Kelvin, in which Kirk's daddy assumes command of his first starship under extreme circumstances. Hints of M:I-3's wild bombast bash their way in with strident brassy injections and searing strings overlap the set-piece. Once again, though, this doesn't last long and, truth be told, sounds a little too generic to properly strike a chord. However, Giacchino counters this initial half-step with the beautiful, elegiac Labour Of Love, Track 3's scintillating and emotionally charged ode to the ultimate sacrifice made by Kirk's dad at the very second of the future hero's birth. In the film, this was a tremendously heart-stopping sequence of real power and pain-wrenched sentiment. Not since Spock's similar altruistic sacrifice in Wrath Of Kahn has the series been quite so moving - and Giacchino does his utmost to make us know and feel the enormous weight of it, too. There is a real growing resonance to the glacial strings and earnest woodwinds and a heightened poignancy to the brass that makes the cue singularly affecting and bitter-sweet. Watching this sequence at the flicks really got to me, folks. It is a crazily operatic and dramatic scenario to attempt, even in a Star Trek movie - and, jeez, does Abrams get it oh-so-right!

    Hella Bar Talk, Track 4, is where Giacchino properly introduces the hero theme. After an amusingly ineffectual shot at chatting-up new Trek's absolutely gorgeous trainee communications cadet Uhura, and indulging in a surprisingly bruising fist-fight, Chris Pine's wild-card James Tiberius Kirk gets an inspirational talk from Bruce Greenwood's Captain Christopher Pike. Giacchino keeps the theme slow and pensive - he's still going for destiny and fate-driven grace. A militaristic drum-beat joins the stirring welter of strings and woodwinds, adding an impetus that will be carried on with Track 5, Enterprising Young Men, which is when the score, as heard here, truly begins to come alive. The main theme - heroic, bold, earnest and joyfully catchy - comes soaring in with solid brass, thumping bass, searing backup from strings and lifts the whole enterprise (if you'll pardon the expression) up several gears. With its simple three-piece signature, it delivers tension and an edgy sense of purpose with the first bar, a rising sense of do-or-die determination with the second and valorous heroism and pure pride with the third. This passage becomes the backbone of the entire score and, as with all the best themes, can be altered in tempo, instrumentation and dramatic relevance to suit the mood of whatever scene it is playing against. Here, set against a backdrop of space dry-dock, we get to see the Enterprise for the first time and there is a terrific sense of youthful vigour and excitement, a sort of Trek-style take on what Basil Poledouris did with his heroic music for Starship Troopers, once the fresh-faced cadets get underway. The sense of scale and the sheer rush of enthusiastic duty is perfectly captured by pulse-pounding percussion, rising horns and full-bodied violins, viola and cello. It is interesting to note that, in the movie, much of this grand stampede of valor is actually see-sawing with some terrific slap-stick comedy as a naughty Kobayashi Maru-cheating Kirk is smuggled aboard the shuttle-craft by Karl Urban's "Bones" McCoy. At this point, I'd like to add that the later scene of Kirk's “BIG” hands and furry tongue had me in stitches, especially considering the importance of the information he has to relay and the sheer tension of the situation.

    The next track, Nero Sighted, begins in absolutely awesome manner. Here is the aggressive theme for Eric Bana's pesky Romulan, Nero. Brilliant jabbing brass is lent weight by deliberately dangerous thrusts from bass trombone and tuba that, together, rise malevolently from out of a quickly trodden-down harp caress. The key essence of this immediately electrifying cue is that it is villainous, yes, but also tremendous fun, too. This is old fashioned, almost pantomime evil, blurting dastardly intentions directly at us with innately remorseless boo-hiss aplomb. The track goes through a couple of swing-shifts, and the harp blithely inveigles its way back into the piece, but the dominant figure is of stabbing brass, Nero's venom spitting forth under the giddy command of Giacchino's simplistic, but dazzling writing. No-one supplied blood-quickening super-nastiness quite like James Horner when he composed his shrieking tribal theme for Kahn, though - and that piece remains one of cinematic Trek's most enduring musical passages. But there is a deliriously addictive quality to this theme - a strangely toe-tapping quality, too - that really announces itself. Listen out for the giddy circular squall from clarinet and flute with metallic enhancement that comes quite early on. Eric Bana's Nero, sadly, isn't one of the best villains that Kirk and Spock have ever faced. The script derails him constantly with cliché and hampers him still further with a severely underused motivation, epitomised by his viewscreen greeting to Greenwood's Captain Pike - “Hi, Christopher ... I'm Nero,” which is so cute and trivialised that Bana's brutish bulk and tattooed bonce become considerably less intimidating. Having your henchmen all strutting about in similar swamp-coloured trench coats is also a horrifically stereotypical representation of tribal malevolence. At least Giacchino provides the Romulans with some cool musical back-up.

    Track 7, Nice To Meld You, applies to older Spock's mental gleaning of the facts from a jettisoned Kirk and his imparting of some extreme visual exposition to the impulsive Starfleet officer ... and us. Giacchino underscores this set-piece but doesn't understate the unfolding future, past and present drama, with a twisting, boiling string vortex that keeps on churning. Towards the end, a fatalistic tone is introduced. Distant glimmers on the harp do nothing to allay the sense of tragedy and of a torn hatred festering across the ages.

    Run And Shoot Offense (their spelling), Track 8, seems to combine a couple of different sequences, but is brilliantly exciting and urgent. Taking its cue very clearly from the composer's own work on M:I-3 for when Cruise's pumped-up Ethan Hunt pegs it across roofs and along a riverbank for what seems like miles, this cue hits a percussive battering ram into the score for its first minute, with fierce trumpet-fuelled adrenaline, breathless timpani and psychotically-charged strings pummelling away from the orchestra like a starship fleeing a supernova. A shrill blast from the flute provides frantic extension to the excitement. Things then submerge beneath a phrase from the harp and the semi-ethnic and ethereal sound of a female voice wailing a lament, and then a grim three-note figure for amassed violins dominates the final phase of the track, relaying the deadly cross-cosmos chaos taking place.

    With yet another tongue-in-cheek track title, Does It Still McFly?, Giacchino opens with some gentle mystery, before gradually infusing, via some long notes of redoubtable spirit, that this new crew have more up their sleeves than mere bravado. A final stretch brings on-board some fresh optimism, but is astute enough to counter this with some sinister percussive wallops to let us know that danger is still at hand and that time is definitely running out for the good guys. Track 10, Nero Death Experience, is the longest cue so far - at 5.38 mins - and develops the action motifs further with the backing of the choral weight of the Page La Studio Voices. Driving percussion, alert and swirling strings in that typical Giacchino fashion from Lost, perhaps his own take on Bernard Herrmann's distinctive stabbing violin motif, push the right buttons on the Bridge and send the score up another Warp Factor. The tuba bursts in midway through, and then piercing strings cut a path for those doom-laden voices to pour out across the roof of the orchestra, and the main theme ripples up to meet them in heroic retaliation. Tension is rife throughout, and it is clear that our boys, battling hard, still aren't winning yet. Another passage of icy strings presents yet more obstacles to overcome, and then the finale, after a glorious brass emblazoned charge has been stalled with large, bass-heavy barrages and a desperate last-ditch struggle to raise the heroic theme once more sounds like it is failing, we hear the saintly, glistening, opening glimmers of the famed “Space, the final frontier ...” cue, that come reaching out of the blackness of the space and across the depths of Abram's altered time. Giacchino only teases us with the opening four notes, but this is enough to signify who has taken over the helm.

    More action follows in Track 11, Nero Fiddles, Narada Burns. The heroic main theme arrives and is then lost in a choral swirl, only to reappear in a couple of subdued guises before the pace quickens and, combined with a wordless choir, thrusting trombones (that sound simply great, folks) and upbeat percussion, drives on with vigour to fashion a fitting, cymbal-clashing pay-off to the final encounter. Giacchino's main theme returns amid flurries of action, hollow tuba and bassoon resentment from a defiant foe and a note of sustained suspense. Back From Black, the next track, offers a brief section of sweaty-browed calm as two certain new-found friends finally realise their true potential, a reconfigured transporter works miracles and an iconic ship makes it to safe distance just in time, as it is destined to do many more times in a now uncertain future. Giacchino's album then allows us to hear what has been his Vulcan theme since the beginning of the movie, as two stars - one an old favourite and the other an unbelievably, nay uncanny, incarnation of his own younger self - bid each other farewell in That New Car Smell. A haunting single note chime echoes, universal yet profoundly intimate at the same time, and then, backed by female soprano, a shimmering, almost Middle Eastern sound yawns over our realisation that Star Trek, the phenomenon, really is back and determined to go where no man has gone before. Giacchino delivers his most mature rendition of the main theme, the playful exuberance has been shifted and a more stoic treatment of the fanfare is issued. He reaches something approaching the beauty and majesty of former scores and, although I cannot help but think of how Goldsmith (who had worked on the previous three films) or even Horner would have dealt with this new brood, it is crystal clear that his music has definitely found its place within the Trek universe and has probably embedded its fresh theme in your mind. Whether or not it will find a similarly implacable place in your heart, as well, it is too early to tell. For now, it fits this re-imagining with Dilithium finesse ... and that is more than good enough for me. Track 14, To Boldly Go, is a serenade-cum-homage to that classic intro, lasting just 26 seconds, but making the hairs stand up on the back of your neck.

    Well, I've been talking about main themes and signature motifs a fair bit, and now, with Track 15, End Credits, we finally get to when Giacchino reaches into Trek's musical heritage and drags forth something instantly recognisable and guaranteed to bring a smile to any fan's face. Alexander Courage's title theme for the original show - zippy, broad-stroked classic embodiment of sixties optimism that it is - gets a slight makeover in Giacchino's hands and is sent streaking out of the score with a cheerful combination of original, semi-lounge, waltz and choral permutations. Coming over like a “warped” mega-mix, this homage to Courage (homage to Courage ... ugghhh, that doesn't sound right, does it?) almost outstays its welcome but, at least, it allows more of the iconic theme to sizzle through than any of the other scores throughout the movie series ever did. The rest of this lengthy track, nearly ten minutes of it, is an overture for Giacchino's new score. Some will, no doubt, cry cop-out, but this actually plays quite well in sweeping elegy, cavorting bombast and eventual orchestral triumph.

    As I say, it is impossible not to compare and contrast the music of Star Trek over the years because it is that important and popular, and its continued evolution fascinating to unravel. What Giacchino does is take a more personal slant on the events and the people who make up this universe, whereas Goldsmith and Horner loved to address the awe and the wonder of such colossal vessels, such larger-than-life adventures and the sheer possibilities of such a future ... with a distinct nobility. For Abrams, Giacchino provides ample action, orchestral dexterity and even some ethnic spiritualism. He quite clearly takes on the challenge of voicing these younger, less-restrained incarnations of the cast we all know and love with a degree of foresight. He understands that we will have to learn to take them to our hearts all over again and that this will undoubtedly take a little bit more time. Thus, he lays the foundation stones of what, I'm certain, will go on to become great themes.

    What this score, well, what little of it appears here, at any rate, lacks is anything bearing a resolutely Sci-fi sound to it. The early scores were filled with eerie tones, synthesised ambience and quirky, but irresistible effects - Goldsmith's famous “Blaster Beam” and Horner's wild Kahn ululations immediately spring to mind - whilst Giacchino and Abrams opt for a more conventional and far less avant-garde approach. Sharp-eared score buffs may also hear some resemblances to John Williams' Battle Of The Heroes, from Revenge Of The Sith, at times, as well as some vaguely Elfman/Batman-esque clamours. Having seen the movie twice now, I can testify that there are certainly more musical cues in the score, but there is also a fair amount of repetition of what is here on this album, which does, in fact, lessen the blow. What is for sure is the fact that all the major themes and incidents are present and correct on this release - meaning that fans and collectors of Trek scores should waste no time waiting for a fuller edition and beam this one up right away!

    Accompanying this disc is a 12-page booklet that is mostly taken up with images from the film. JJ Abrams does offer a few words of thanks and praise for his composer friend, though, and there is a full orchestra run-down. However, this UK release, as well as its American counterpart boasts the same surreal “Enterprise-at-Warp-Speed” artwork as the film's poster image ... and, unlike the score, this is a picture that I don't seem able to take to at all.

    Full Track Listing

    1. Star Trek (1:03)

    2. Nailin' the Kelvin (2:09)

    3. Labor of Love (2:51)

    4. Hella Bar Talk (1:55)

    5. Enterprising Young Men (2:39)

    6. Nero Sighted (3:23)

    7. Nice To Meld You (3:13)

    8. Run and Shoot Offense (2:04)

    9. Does It Still McFly? (2:03)

    10. Nero Death Experience (5:38)

    11. Nero Fiddles, Narada Burns (2:34)

    12. Back From Black (:59)

    13. That New Car Smell (4:46)

    14. To Boldly Go (:26)

    15. End Credits (9:11)


    Verdict

    Well, I like this score quite a lot. It is fast, dynamic and forceful when necessary, yet its calmer side is poignant, dignified and character-led. Sadly, there is not enough of Giacchino's music on this disc. Varese Sarabande have simply put out the bare minimum on a mass-marketed, play-it-safe release. Although Giacchino's work has been extremely well served on disc with extensive tracks and indulgent running times in the past, Star Trek, which is, inarguably the biggest project he has been associated with, fares the least well. At this moment in time, I simply cannot say whether a fuller, more comprehensive album will be released, but the enormous success of the new movie will surely bode well for fan-clamouring to be taken seriously by the label. They do, indeed, have a trend of releasing excellent expanded albums further down the line and we can only hope that the new Star Trek score receives such treatment.

    But be that as it may, as far as this rebooted, overhauled and streamlined score goes, it definitely grows on you the more you listen to it, folks. And it suits the movie perfectly.

    Exciting and catchy, the main theme for Kirk and Spock certainly gets inside your head like a Vulcan mind-meld. Darker themes for Nero provide some swirling glimmers of time-shifting menace. But, despite the meagre assortment of tracks presented here, Star Trek Giacchino-style packs a punch that definitely deserves further spinning. Certainly as engaging and as pulse-pounding as David Arnold's Bond reboot, Casino Royale, and considerably better than his Quantum Of Solace follow-on, there's every hope that Giacchino is able to build upon his work here for the next instalment of the “New” Federation franchise and keep his Trek on track.

    Short, sharp and supremely Star Trek. Not to get this would be illogical, Captain.


    The Rundown

    Movie

    8

    Overall

    8

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