CD Review: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

In June of 1982, I’d just finished my second year of my undergrad degree and was looking forward to a summer of increased drinking and very little, if any, clarinet practicing. For me, the summer movie buzz revolved around this new Steven Spielberg movie having to do with some extra-terrestrial and yummy peanut butter candy. So I paid very little attention to the fanfare surrounding STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN.

I was a big fan of the original STAR TREK series in the 1970’s but, like most people, I had been hugely disappointed by the lumbering first STAR TREK film. I saw KHAN during its opening week, but I never purchased the original LP of James Horner‘s score and I have not heard one note of the music outside of that original viewing 27 years ago.

When Lukas Kendall at Film Score Monthly began the buzz about a CD release that he was frantically trying to get ready in time for last month’s Comic-Con, the message boards were aflutter as to what it would be. Kendall had predicted a title that would be more popular than his release of Jerry Goldsmith’s TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE earlier this year. This meant it needed to appeal not only to the film score fan base but also to the Comic-Con crowd and beyond. When KHAN was announced, one fellow blogger picturesquely termed the cry of cyber-joy as the sound of “a collective nerd boner being sprung.”

But I didn’t get it.

Yes, KHAN is considered one of the, if not the, best of the STAR TREK sequels. But was there really that much affection for the score, especially among the film score crowd, the majority of which generally relishes any occasion to stick it to Horner? Apparently so.

In preparation for this review, I watched KHAN last week for the first time since June 1982. I found it to be enjoyable (as I did the first time), but it didn’t thrill me like the release of this year’s STAR TREK. For me, it was more like a flicker of nostalgia for the original TV series–a well-made film and a well-told story, populated by actors for whom I have a great deal of affection, if not obsessive loyalty.

As for the score, once again it didn’t make much of an impression on me in the film. Perhaps I was wrapped up in the story but it seemed like a competent effort that performed its duties well. But I still didn’t understand the excitement around the release of the new CD. Then I listened to the score on its own.

I get it.

Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan CDHorner’s music thrills from the first listen. Khan’s harsh, metallic five-note motif and the wooden col legno strings convey the evil and hollow deadness inside a character bent on revenge. There’s the breathless, pulsing excitement of the “Surprise Attack” and “Battle in the Mutara Nebula” are sure to get your blood pumping.

In “Kirk in Space Shuttle,” Horner cleverly combines Alexander Courage’s legendary STAR TREK theme with his own tune. The French horn calls in “Enterprise Clears Moorings” capture the score’s nautical leanings in a thrilling cue that sends chills up your spine.

But everything in the score comes back to that main theme. With its unexpected flatted notes and sweeping strings in the accompaniment, the theme is every bit as memorable as Goldsmith’s theme for STAR TREK THE MOTION PICTURE, but not as overused.

The sound is crisp and clear. And with 30 extra minutes of material not found on the original LP, this is one release that should thrill longtime fans of the score, as well as impress newbies like me. The liner notes by Kendall, Jeff Bond, and Alexander Kaplan are a major plus, detailing the drama behind the film. The writing is so crisp, you can’t help but get swept up in their passion for the project.

I haven’t been a big fan of Horner’s music over the years, with the exception of certain scores here and there. I’ll forgive the hints of Prokofiev (which would become far more prominent later in Horner’s career) in the battle sequences. STAR TREK II reminds us that when he’s not ripping off others (or himself), Horner is at heart a very talented composer.

I still may not fully understand the excitement that this particular release instills in film score fans (unless I contemplate a world in which there had never been an expanded ET score). But it has given me particular joy to hear Horner at the beginning of his career and recapture not only a sense of nostalgia for my youth but a sense of discovery once again in the power of film music.

If more historic releases like this are on the horizon, may the needs of the many continue to outweigh the needs of the few. Or at least this particular one.

Film Score Click Track [rating:4.5/5]

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