To mark composer Michael Giacchino’s triumphant return with Star Trek Beyond, Sean Wilson explores the extraordinarily rich legacy of music from the Star Trek movies…
From being initially written off on the basis of the underwhelming trailers to its emergence as a funny, fast-paced and fan-pleasing summer blockbuster, Star Trek Beyond has according to most critics done a bang up job of both honouring and continuing the classic franchise on the eve of its 50th anniversary.
Key to its impact is yet another rousingly adventurous and rich score from Michael Giacchino, whose return to the Trek realm for the third time was launched with a spectacular live concert performance at the movie’s premiere in Los Angeles. But then music has always been one of the most important and powerful weapons in the Star Trek arsenal, several of Hollywood’s most legendary composers having beamed us into the unknown. Here is a guide to each of the Trek movie scores, ones that encapsulate the remarkable breadth of musical diversity and imagination that has coursed throughout the series.
The Cloud – Star Trek: The Motion Picture (Jerry Goldsmith)
Following the 1969 demise of the original TV series, the U.S.S. Enterprise crew were eventually reunited for their seemingly auspicious 1979 movie debut – only it didn’t pan out as successfully as hoped, audiences complaining about the draggy pace, downbeat tone and emphasis on (admittedly jaw-dropping) visuals at the expense of character depth. No matter – it allowed the esteemed Jerry Goldsmith, then in the midst of a purple patch following the likes of Planet of the Apes, Chinatown and Capricorn One (with Alien still to come) to paint on a staggeringly rich and creative canvas. His sweeping new theme, incorporating strains of Alexander Courage’s original series fanfare, only came about when director Robert Wise rejected his initial idea; augmented with a host of swirling strings and Goldsmith’s traditional genre-defying approach (the blaster beam is unforgettable), it’s a landmark in sci-fi scoring, regardless of what one makes of the movie.
Battle in the Mutara Nebula – Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (James Horner)
1982’s rambunctious and joyous sequel blew away the Motion Picture cobwebs with a blast of pacy action and intricate character beats, finally giving fans what they’d been craving for years whilst also luring in newcomers previously immune to Trek’s charms. Director Nicholas Meyer had been planning to get Jerry Goldsmith back for the sequel but he proved too expensive, paving the way for then up-and-comer James Horner to make his imprint on Hollywood. Having already graced numerous Roger Corman B-movies with his gloriously melodic approach (Battle Beyond the Stars et al), Horner wasn’t about to pass up the opportunity to make The Wrath of Khan as exciting as possible and he duly responded with a rip-roaring, emotional score; less cerebral and sophisticated than Goldsmith’s certainly, but way more fun.
Returning to Vulcan – Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
The apparent death of Leonard Nimoy’s Vulcan at the conclusion of The Wrath of Khan informs the somewhat more melancholy and wistful tone of Horner’s second (and final) score in the series, one that plays around with his earlier Spock material to genuinely moving effect. It’s a reminder of how nakedly and unashamedly emotional the Trek scores are capable of being, particularly when the music is allowed to centre around character, as opposed to action. The late, great Horner was always outstanding at composing long-lined, heartrending melodies and the ‘Returning to Vulcan’ track demonstrates Horner’s intuitive grasp of Star Trek iconography perfectly.
Main Theme – Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Given the multitude of different composers the Star Trek movies have attracted, it’s little wonder that the soundtracks themselves span as many different tones and styles as the Enterprise traverses planets. When it came to the fourth movie (forever destined to be remembered as the one with the whales), director Leonard Nimoy broke with the Jerry Goldsmith/James Horner tradition and hired composer Leonard Rosenman to craft a notably lighter, more jaunty score befitting the story’s more humorous, intimate nature. A composer of formidable repute, having worked on such projects as James Dean classic East of Eden, the animated version of Lord of the Rings and the powerful double-whammy of Barry Lyndon and Bound for Glory (winning Oscars for both), Rosenman’s characteristically intricate, upbeat and rhythmic style proves an excellent match for this eccentrically enjoyable Trek outing.
An Angry God – Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (Jerry Goldsmith)
Always a composer cursed with inordinate bad luck, Goldsmith’s long-awaited return to the soundtrack universe coincided with one of its weakest entries. William Shatner takes the helm for the somewhat bizarre story that results in his Kirk having a full-blown barney with God; even so, Goldsmith was never a composer to let lack of merit get between him and some seriously impressive music. Indeed, the religious subtext of the movie, ridiculous as it may seem, allowed the composer to let rip with some of his most spiritually beautiful 1980s material, in many ways anticipating the shimmering, ethereal quality of his landmark Total Recall a year later.
…Click below to continue on The Undiscovered Country through to Star Trek Into Darkness…