CD Review: Star Trek (2009)

Let’s get it out of the way right at the beginning. Michael Giacchino’s score for STAR TREK (2009) is not the “instant classic” that Jerry Goldsmith’s STAR TREK – THE MOTION PICTURE was. But then, how could it be?

Goldsmith’s score is a work of, dare I say, genius. Not simply a great sci-fi score, but a great film score, period. Every succeeding musical entry in the STAR TREK franchise has been unfairly (yet understandably) compared to Goldsmith’s lightning rod and found wanting. The use of Goldsmith’s main theme for STAR TREK THE NEXT GENERATION TV series only further cemented the score’s classic reputation outside the film score fanbase, creating ridiculous expectations for later composers.

Giacchino admitted that he was daunted by the prospect of following in the footsteps of earlier TREK film composers. “I grew up listening to all of that great [TREK] music, and that’s part of what inspired me to do what I’m doing,” Giacchino said in an interview with SciFi.com. “So, yeah, it’s horrifying to think that I’ve got to go and stand in line with those guys.” He added: “You just go in scared. You just hope you do your best. It’s one of those things where the film will tell me what to do.”

So if Giacchino doesn’t match Goldsmith’s standard bearer, how does it fare? It holds up quite well, with goosebump-inducing moments simply from the raw power of the music.

This review will focus on the music as presented on the soundtrack album. A more detailed discussion of the score will follow in Friday’s post after I see the film.

One of the biggest complaints so far on the message boards has been the lack of previous STAR TREK themes in Giacchino’s score. The only instantly recognizable melody is Alexander Courage’s classic main theme, which is cleverly worked into the end credits. “To me, that fanfare, boom, that says it all right there,” Giacchino said. “And this film is about everything that came before that. So, yes, I want to keep that. But everything that was done after that, it shouldn’t be about that. It needs to be about these characters now and how they met and all of these things. So it’s a very kind of specific place and time.”

This STAR TREK score is one of melody and muscular energy. Whether or not you like the themes, Giacchino is to be applauded for not amping up the electricity and creating the electronic aural wallpaper that is so common in blockbuster film scores these days.

The CD begins with a somber reading on French horns of the brief, five-note main theme. In “Enterprising Young Men,” rhythmic motifs recycle upon themselves, pushing forward and gaining ground, until the main theme heroically soars in the trumpets.

Enterprising Young Men
Click Track: Enterprising Young Men

“Labor of Love” contains a truly beautiful—and unexpected—love theme, while Eric Bana’s villain, Nero, is given an ominous, belching theme in the low brass.

Most STAR TREK scores succeed or fail on the strength of their action cues, and this one is no exception. Cues such as “Run and Shoot Offense” and “Nero Death Experience” (Giacchino sure knows how to cleverly title his cues) use rhythmic motifs in the percussion to ratchet up the excitement. Chorus and exotic instruments add variety to the score.

My only complaint at this point is directed at the brief 45 minutes of music on the Varese Sarabande CD. That being said, the album provides a satisfying listening experience on its own.

Fans of Giacchino’s work will find the STAR TREK themes, rhythms, and harmonies reminiscent of everything from CLOVERFIELD to RATATOUILLE. And that has been one of the biggest problems with film score fans.

The message boards have been buzzing that Giacchino’s music just doesn’t sound like a STAR TREK score. It may not sound like a STAR TREK score as we’re used to hearing it, but it breathes new life into a moribund franchise and sounds like a STAR TREK score for today. Whether or not it succeeds will depend on how the score works in the film. More about that in Friday’s post.

If the film lives up to its hype, may the STAR TREK franchise—and Giacchino’s role within it—live long and prosper.

14 comments

    1. Thanks Jorn. I thought about doing a rating or a score, but a lot of other sites do that, and do it well, yours included. :)

      For me personally, I find that when there’s a rating or a score, I immediately go to that letter or star grade and sometimes skip the review altogether. All that hard work by the writer to put his/her words together in some cohesive fashion and I don’t even give it the time of day because I know I can skip to a symbol instead. But maybe that’s just me.

      If enough people wanted me to start adding a rating or score, I certainly could.

      Readers, thoughts/opinions?

      1. I just think that it isn’t a review without a score. Without it, it’s an article or thought without putting your colors to the mast so to speak :)

        For me it’s not math, a score s not the average of it’s cues. When I review something I listen to all the cues, rate each one individually, but they have no bearing on the final score. I score them on the way they make me feel, so it’s a very personal process. Even after I’ve given my score, I sometimes change it at the time of publishing.

        Your theory is interesting however and quite possibly true. I know a lot of people just go to the score and doesn’t even read the review, but I like to do that sometimes too like earlier today when I was doing research. I am creating a database of reviews from all credible sources, yours included. To do that I need a score however ;)

        1. “Without it, it’s an article or thought without putting your colors to the mast so to speak” Interesting turn of phrase. LOL The odd things is, I LIKE scores/ratings because I’m lazy! It’s an easy visual for me. Perhaps I’ll do a little grass roots polling to see what the general consensus is and get back to you. :)

  1. The first time I watched this movie, I loved it, but hated the score. But the more I watched it the more it grew it on me and the more it started to hit me emotionally.

    I love the thematic material and the way it’s developed.

    Upon first viewing I was expecting a Goldsmith-type score and that’s why I was so critical and harsh in my judgement, but the whole franchise is going in a completely new direction now and I think Michael Giacchino’s the right man to take us there musically.

    Good review, I like how you include clips from the score!
    .-= Wendell´s last blog ..M.E.T. =-.

    1. I think you had the same initial reaction a lot of people did. Though I adore Goldsmith’s score for STTMP, I never had the fondness for the movies (or the later TV franchises) that a lot of people did. So I guess I wasn’t as emotionally invested in the earlier score. I was ready for something new right from the get-go. And I think you’re right, MG is the right man to take us there musically.

      Glad you finally came around. ;)

      1. I’m a big Star Trek fan so naturally I only expect the best from a Trek score.

        I’m a big Giacchino fan also though, I think we can expect some exceptionally great scores from him in the future!
        .-= Wendell´s last blog ..M.E.T. =-.

        1. I agree about Giacchino. I think this is just the beginning. I sat up and took notice with RATATOUILLE, but this year was exceptional. Looking forward to more.

          1. Oh right, I wasn’t actually impressed with the score for Ratatouille. But then again I watched a very poor quality version of the movie. I’ll have to watch it again and see if I change my mind like I did with Trek! haha
            .-= Wendell´s last blog ..M.E.T. =-.

  2. Definitely rewatch the movie again. I saw it on the big screen and that probably made a difference. If I’d watched WALL-E or THE INCREDIBLES on something other than my crappy old TV, I probably would have been more impressed not only with the films themselves, but the scores as well (though I did like both). Best parts of RATATOUILLE score-wise: Remy’ first view of Paris and Anton Ego’s speech at the end.

    (Threaded comments ran out. Doh!)

  3. loved this score from the get go – i think the main theme is wonderful, an inspiring melody full of raw power and determination

    for me the music really captures the Star Trek spirit better than all the themes from yesteryear (though i still have lots of love for Goldsmith and Horner, of course)

  4. Pingback: Happy Birthday Film Score Click Track! | Film Score Click Track

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