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.
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.
“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.