This week, we take a look at the music for Star Trek Beyond – and we discover some well-hidden surprises in Michael Giacchino’s third but disappointing Star Trek score.
It seemed the right thing to do, to focus this time around on Star Trek Beyond when last week it was the turn of the first of the movie soundtracks, Jerry Goldsmith’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture. There are 37 years between the two movies and so how far have we come? Let’s take a look.
Star Trek Beyond only hints at themes and motifs Michael Giacchino previously composed for Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness and so this time around it feels somewhat protracted – and more often than not devoid of any broad melodies, instead focusing on percussive and quite brooding moments.
Dedicated soundtrack collectors clamor for extended and definitive editions of scores and Varese Sarabande regularly offers up the chance to hear nearly every note on some of their licensed releases and Star Trek has had that honor since 2002’s Nemesis. Personally, I’ve enjoyed every previous one but with Beyond, I was reminded of the fact that sometimes, there is a reason why composers and album producers carefully select the choicest cuts from a complete score. The 1-disc release, running at a 1 hour 1 minute, was made available July 2016, with the expanded 2-disc December the same year. At 2 hours 5 minutes, the latter outstays its welcome by about, well … by about an hour.
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Giacchino continues his pun-driven track titles (some of which I get, some go way over my head) and back again is the tremendous main theme, albeit subtly rearranged here and making no proper appearance until the obligatory end credits. But the 2-disc version never seems to build to a satisfactory conclusion: there are short, 1 to 2 minute pieces that are gone as quickly as they come and have no discernible logic to tracks before or after.
What springs to mind about musical development here (and remember this is already the third entry into the Kelvin canon) is John Williams’ approach to the Star Wars prequels. He took his established melodies for the original trilogy and deconstructed them – thereby introducing a subtle continuity and, when listened to chronologically, paint a fabulous musical landscape. Now of course the Star Trek saga is different to that one of a long time ago, in a galaxy far far away and the musical nuances and compositions have been different, too. But what I’m getting at is Giacchino had the opportunity to build on each of his three scores to produce an encompassing trilogy but misses the mark here. I think of his work for Medal of Honor, for Speed Racer, for Doctor Strange and he has fun with the source material, brings freshness to each of the soundtracks. Star Trek should also be fun and should have its dark passages that allow us to emote with our characters, but Beyond is discordant, uncomfortable and not particularly enjoyable. Yet there is one track that is very beautiful indeed: ‘Night On the Yorktown’. It is a romantic piece of strings and piano that has a charm that the rest of the score is badly missing.
Overall, it’s too over-produced, too choppy and has none of the exquisite approach Giacchino introduced in 2009’s Star Trek…
…and that’s the point I’m make regarding development. Where is the natural progression of the musical identity for Spock with the erhu, for example? And apart from the main title, we have nothing to properly bolt this onto the Kelvin Timeline’s version of Star Trek. But we do get to hear Alexander Courage’s fanfare, which makes everything not so bad after all.
Perhaps I’m being unfair. Perhaps I’ve been spoilt by his 2009 effort and by all that’s come before. Hell, I’m not even remotely talented enough to write a piece of music for a banjo let alone a full orchestra, but stepping into the shoes of Goldsmith and Horner must be daunting and exciting all at once.
Which brings me nicely (back) to ‘Night On the Yorktown’. I couldn’t hear it in the movie itself and had to listen to it again and again on the CD, but I’m convinced that (and I could be wrong, so I’m happy to corrected here) at 1.20 a brief burst of strings echoes Horner’s The Wrath of Khan. And there’s more: the coda to ‘Franklin, My Dear’ incorporates four notes first used in The Final Frontier by Goldsmith. Now this homage is much clearer and so I know I’m not imagining it!
If Beyond remains to be the last big screen movie, its score, even with those apparent callbacks to other soundtracks, is a let down. Whether that’s because Giacchino came to a natural end as equally as the films did is debatable, but I hope that, if and when it does return, the elegance of the sound of Star Trek does too. Because Beyond‘s own elegance is certainly lacking.
Next time: Star Trek: Generations