Music Review of Star Trek: Music from the Motion Picture

TrekSoundtrack

The first thing I noticed when looking at the track listings of Star Trek was how short a whole slew of them are.  Track one, “Star Trek” is a mere minute of playing time, and the aptly named “To Boldly Go” a miniscule 26 seconds.  Though 15 tracks in length, the total playing time is only 45 minutes.  By comparison, last summer’s 14-track The Dark Knight OST ran for a whopping hour and thirteen minutes.  To be fair, TDK was a longer film whose composer is known for long, suite-like tracks, but I can’t help feeling slightly cheated by how Trek seems to whiz by.  I suppose the burning question is: are the 45 minutes actually good?

In short, yes.  They’re quite excellent actually.  Composer Michael Giacchino has created a wonderfully nostalgic yet refreshingly original piece of sonic entertainment.  Alexander Courage’s original Trek themes are subtly hidden throughout the soundtrack until their triumphant emergence in “To Boldly Go.”  Giacchino’s new themes are fresh, fun and in constant motion.  In fact, Star Trek is the perfect vehicle for Giacchino’s frenetic style of composition.  Following the stately grandeur of Jerry Goldsmith’s Trek scores, the bombastic energy of James Horner’s, the Holstian rumblings of Cliff Eidelman’s, and the cheesy-yet-enjoyable made-for-TV Courage scores, Giacchino’s jazz-laced, whistle-able and fast-paced soundtrack is a perfect compliment for a re-furbished Trek.  Bringing a youthful energy and enthusiastic exuberance that’s never been present in a Trek soundtrack, Giacchino effectively channels elements of all who came before and takes them somewhere entirely new.

For example, the afore-mentioned one-minute opening title “Star Trek” is not a trumpet fanfare, it’s a slow, tense, flowing horn introduction of the new theme that perfectly establishes a sense of the unknown and concludes with jarring dissonance that segues into the intense “Nailin’ the Kelvin.”  This second track captures the frantic nature of the opening scene and its main villain Nero.  Undercurrents of the main Trek theme are present beneath blazing string runs, driving percussion, and emphatic brass dissonance.  Never, though, does Giacchino go entirely atonal.  This decision, so unlike the styling of more and more film composers, grounds the action with a sense of purpose and motion.  Rather than punctuating tension with screeching strings and jarring, indiscernible chords, Giacchino builds a tonal momentum that never loses its wind.  In fact, the third track, “Labor of Love,” is an even more powerful conclusion for this energy.  The track, which coincides with Jim Kirk’s birth and the heroic sacrifice of his farther, is not grand or noble.  A slow, sweeping string motion of romantic angst and tragedy, “Labor of Love” proves that a talented composer can effectively create edge-of-your-seat tension with beauty.

The first transitional point in the soundtrack occurs with track 4, “Hella Bar Talk” (clearly a pun on the name of composer Bella Bartok).  Starting with a melancholy string rendition of Giacchino’s new Trek theme, it segues into a more percussive, optimistic run (coinciding with Kirk’s decision to join Starfleet).  The next track, “Enterprising Young Men,” introduces the shuttlecraft theme (a six-note, staccato motive) which precludes the first bombastic fanfare of the new Trek theme and escalates into a canon-like snippet as the Enterprise punches into warp.

Track 6, “Nero Sighted” isn’t especially revolutionary.  Essentially a rehash of the Nero themes introduced in “Nailin’ the Kelvin,” it is notable for the forward momentum it generates without introducing many new elements.  A brief visit to a significantly more percussive shuttlecraft theme is also noteworthy.  “Nice to Meld You,” to me, sounds like an amalgamation of elements from Goldsmith and Horner.  Vertical string ostinatos ring beneath brass bombast sans very much percussion.  Over the course of the track, new layers of sound are added upon each other, culminating in a very thickly textured work which dissipates into a new theme: the Spock theme.  The following track, “Run and Shoot Offense,” starts percussive and punctuating, perhaps the most traditional action cue Giacchino has composed on the soundtrack.  A fairly short, two-minute track, it concludes with string sweeps that add urgency to the situation (Kirk and Sulu fighting on the mining platform).  Track 9, “Does it Still McFly,” begins Giacchino’s introduction of emphatic percussion.  A vibraphone motive underlies a transition into a fast action cue.  Xylophones, timpani, snare, and bass drums move the track forward into a low, slow, final diminuendo.

“Nero Death Experience,” the tenth and most singularly epic number on the soundtrack, incorporates elements of each previous theme.  Perhaps the most interesting aspect, however, is Giacchino’s instrumentation.  The track begins with a grating string harmonic buzz, but establishes minor tonality almost immediately and plunges into a chase-like tempo punctuated not with brass but with strings.  The incorporation of a choir adds a decidedly dense, operatic feel.  Interspersed within the chase are brief glimpses of Spock’s theme and the main theme.  This intensity, juxtaposed with the darkness of Nero’s theme, the majesty of Spock’s and the heroic nature of the main theme creates a decidedly unique track.  Track 11, “Nero Fiddles, Narada Burns,” keeps the heroism and epic choir of track 10, and brings an end to Nero’s theme.  Essentially, it’s the track where the bridge crew is all finally in the right place and triumph over adversity.  There is an ethereal quality to its concluding cadences, which leads into the recapitulation of a brassy main theme in “Back from Black,” another one-minute track.

The concluding three tracks of Giacchino’s Star Trek soundtrack are amongst its strongest.  “That New Car Smell” is a sumptuous flow of strings and winds, beginning with an all-string Spock theme with flute embellishment that progresses into a trumpet solo of the main theme.  The five-note underlying cello/bass motive may be a quotation of Goldsmith’s The Motion Picture score, but it’s very subtle and probably unintentional.  The track concludes with an establishment of Goldsmithian grandeur which is quickly invigorated with a jazz-influenced burst of energy.  The 27-second “To Boldly Go” is a simple visit to the Trek fanfare we all know and love.  “To Boldly Go” leads PERFECTLY into the “End Credits” which treat us to a full-blown orchestra-and-choir arrangement of Alexander Courage’s original Star Trek theme for a triumphant two minutes.  Visitations of the other film themes are present after the Courage quotation, from Spock to Nero to the shuttlecraft to the last recap of Giacchino’s main theme (the track lasts for over 9 minutes).  The soundtrack finishes with the familiar Trek fanfare.

Overall, Michael Giacchino’s Star Trek soundtrack is wonderful fun.  An energetic, fast-paced and fresh take on the subject matter, it brings in the new while remembering the old.  Strongest tracks include “Labor of Love,” “Enterprising Young Men,” “Nero Death Experience,” “That New Car Smell,” and “End Credits.”  Unfortunately, it is too short of an album to stand amongst the best film soundtracks (I still feel cheated out of some great music).  Additionally, the five strongest tracks are almost too phenomenal.  All other tracks, though quite good, pale in comparison.  Still, Star Trek: Music from the Motion Picture is great aural fun for the casual or serious fan of film score music.  An 8/10 in my book, I’d recommend it with few reservations.  Necca out.

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