The Sound of Star Trek Part 7: Star Trek [2009]


When it was announced that JJ Abrams had taken on the mantle of making Star Trek, there was talk of the Enterprise potentially suffering from lens flares. Lots of lens flares. But another signature style of Abrams that not many people mentioned was one Michael Giacchino.

Yet it was obvious from day one that Abrams’ go-to composer would be along for the ride. And what a ride it was, too.

I first became aware of the New Jersey-born Giacchino in 1997 with his score for Sony PlayStation’s The Lost World: Jurassic Park (incidentally his first major commission) and came across his work again a couple of years later for Medal of Honor, again for the PlayStation. The music seemed to elevate beyond the confines of the format they were composed for and as follower of movie scores, I did wonder where this then-30 year old’s career would go.

Likewise, director/producer/writer JJ Abrams also found Giacchino through his video game compositions and in 2001 offered him the position as composer for his new TV series, Alias. I, on the other hand, managed a call center at the time so had no such ability to offer him anything.

His career soon blossomed and he went on to score such titles as The Incredibles 1 & 2 for Brad Bird, Speed Racer and Jupiter Ascending for the Wachowskis, Mission: Impossible III, Super-8, FringeLost and Cloverfield (end titles only)  for Abrams and The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz for the punk on the bus. He also used John Williams’ work as a springboard with the scores for the Jurassic World entries and the appropriately respectful Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. In 2010, he won an Academy Award, a Grammy and a BAFTA for scoring Pixar’s Up. With all of these as well as astonishing aural creations for the Planet of the Apes and Marvel Studios franchises too, it’s a wonder the man has so far been able to maintain, with insurmountable ease, a prolific and exciting discography.

And Michael Giacchino’s score for 2009’s Star Trek cements his position firmly amongst the giants, proudly standing alongside Jerry Goldsmith, James Horner and Cliff Eidelman.

More from Movies

Released on CD the same year in 2 editions (1-disc standard and 2-disc limited-to-5000 deluxe) by Varese Sarabande, it takes the form of a beginning (an approach David Arnold used when scoring James Bond‘s ‘debut’ in Casino Royale 3 years before). Alexander Courage’s famous fanfare is only used fleetingly in the main body of the work and its absence isn’t, surprisingly, noticeable. This is because Giacchino composed a whole gamut of new themes that are melodic and memorable (always a bonus, leaving a movie theater with the music still playing in your head). But we are presented with a rousing and fully realized rendition of the Star Trek theme itself for the end titles – and this was the first time in the entire franchise’s history that the full version had been used in anything other than The Original Series (Alexander Courage himself had re-arranged a subtle excerpt, however, for the ‘captain’s log’ moments in Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Leonard Rosenman had re-arranged it fully for the opening titles for Star Trek IV : The Voyage Home, rejected by director Leonard Nimoy in favor of a new piece from the composer).

Of Giacchino’s score itself, he created a new and very rousing main theme that permeates throughout the complete work. As a fresh start to the Star Trek story it gives the Kelvin Timeline an immediate new identity, which is something quite astonishing bearing in mind it follows hundreds of hours of music across 5 previous TV series and 10 preceding movies. The 16-note melody is created in such a way that it can be re-worked to project drama, elegance and finality in various stages, a versatile and accessible piece if there ever was one, but it is in its guise as a hero theme that it truly works.

The selections across both the standard and deluxe versions are relatively short, on average coming in just shy of 3 minutes – and while this gives a great variation on themes and cues, it does feel as though just as we’re getting familiar with a piece, it’s gone to make way for another. In many ways it echoes Abrams’ occasional approach to telling a story – quick and breath-catching before we’re onto the next scene. That said, many cues are repeated and reworked and each track feels naturally placed.

Nero and his mining ship Narada are given their own sets of motifs, low brass and percussion cut through with middle strings – it’s this conflicting sound that neatly reflects Nero’s pain and his channelled desire for revenge against our favorite Vulcan, also perfectly balancing against the beautiful sound that Spock himself warrants.

Music for this particular character has always attracted interesting approaches: in ‘Amok Time’, Gerald Fried presented us with a slow, mournful low-noted guitar and James Horner used gentle synthesizers and wavering strings for his Spock themes, broadening them to include a gong and one-note motifs for Spock’s pon-farr and resurrection.

Giacchino adds to the alien-esque quality by introducing the erhu to the orchestra, and it’s an incredibly haunting sound. All of a sudden, our preconceptions of a bombastic, in-your-ears score are undone by this one instrument. But it’s gone – like the rest of the tracks – and doesn’t outstay its welcome. Perhaps that’s intentional: after all, Vulcan was wiped out in the blink of an eye and we along with Spock (both of them) were forced to get on with things.

Star Trek is as much Kirk’s film as it is the Spocks’ and Kirk never really ever got his own pure leitmotif in any movie (even though prior composers have used main themes as being ‘for’ Kirk) apart from Dennis McCarthy introducing a melody for 1994’s Star Trek: Generations. This seems a shame: we have a complex and dynamic character who is Star Trek for so many people so he really should deserve his own iconic sound. Shouldn’t he?

Next. Jonathan Frakes regrets passing on Nemesis. dark

Michael Giacchino has given us much if his career-best in this soundtrack and, if we do see the Kelvin Timeline again, I for one hope he is back for scoring duties.

Next time: Leonard Rosenman’s Star Trek IV – The Voyage Home