The Sound of Star Trek Part 17: Star Trek III: The Search for Spock


This week in The Sound of Star Trek we focus on James Horner’s second and last score for the feature films, 1984’s The Search for Spock.

It was a bold move to kill off such a beloved character and with a subplot involving the Klingons’ interest in the devastating Genesis Project, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan must have been a hard act to follow when breaking the story. But follow it Paramount did, with a film that immediately followed on from the final moments of the first sequel. Leonard Nimoy disappeared to behind the cameras (for the majority of the movie) as its director, overseeing most of the same production crew.

Back too was James Horner, who created a soundtrack that complemented his work for Khan and introduced new themes and a more romanticized approach to proceedings. It would be very easy to subconsciously compare the twin scores but while they share similar motifs they are markedly different, albeit separate parts to a larger over-reaching adventure for Kirk and his crew, so I will endeavor to treat them as such here.

Capitol Records released it on LP and cassette in 1984 with GNP Crescendo re-releasing it on CD in 1990 (Silva Screen had the licence for the UK issue). Retrograde Records gave it new life in an expanded 2-disc edition in 2010.

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One thing that stands out from The Wrath of Khan (see? I told you it’d be easy to subconsciously compare!) is how much softer and gentler Horner’s approach for The Search for Spock is.

As well as the Vulcan undertones, the core drive is of course the Klingons and this would be, apart from Jerry Goldsmith’s standalone melody for them for The Motion Picture, the first time the warrior race would be represented by their own selection of cues. In many ways, they are thematic cousins to Goldsmith’s composition, utlizing horns and percussion, somewhat off-key but emphatic enough to audibly represent their alienness.

The Enterprise has her own sounds again, pulled from Horner’s main title and exposed further when she is stolen. ‘Stealing the Enterprise’ represents that very lovely scene from the movie and the album version has more gusto than the original score’s. Both are featured on the Retrograde reissue.  Of note, is the mournful ‘A Fighting Chance To Live’, introducing a drum roll that captures the moment perfectly. I was pleased it found its way onto the expanded release as it was always a section of the score I enjoyed most when watching the movie.

For the establishing shots of Grissom in orbit (and wasn’t she a beautiful little starship!) Horner rearranges Alexander Courage’s original fanfare, in a higher key than is normal but one that nicely contrasts against his Klingon action cues.

It’s quite a straightforward score and, overall, Horner uses more strings this time around, bringing both freshness and lamentation to familiar themes while adding a subdued feel to others.

He ably demonstrates an expansion of Spock’s motifs that find themselves a new home in the moments where McCoy struggles with what his deceased friend has passed onto him. It’s interesting to note that the very title of the film has Spock’s name in it and much of the score reflects his presence, without him truly being on screen. In fact, it is these factors that make the viewer dismiss the obvious: that Leonard Nimoy isn’t even there until the very end.

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So we come to Vulcan-centric melodies as we enter the final act of the movie. Horner taps into the mystical here, overlaying subtle synthesizers to enhance the effect he was looking for. It’s a shame that he didn’t return for The Voyage Home as he would have added a feel that was otherwise missing from that sequel’s soundtrack – and I can only imagine how he would have scored the initial scenes set on Vulcan before the departure in HMS Bounty. Horner had touched on the synthesized feel for Spock in The Wrath of Khan and went further here for ‘The Mind Meld’ and it was a nice homage that Cliff Eidelman used the same approach for The Undiscovered Country, adding a subtle continuity that could have been otherwise missed.

‘The End Titles’ incorporate many of the major themes and it’s here that the line between Horner’s two scores become blurred yet, in contradiction to that, are still distinguishable in the size of the sound: and that’s because Horner had a bigger orchestra at his disposal. As a result, we are presented with a grandiose score, almost balletic in its construct but at its heart a sea-faring extravaganza. While it doesn’t have the same impact as its immediate predecessor, Horner nevertheless doesn’t let us down and gives us a more sweeping and melancholic listen.

Reappearing from the original LP and GNP issues is ‘The Search for Spock (Theme from Star Trek III)’ by Group 87, a most peculiar ‘disco’ version of Horner’s main theme. Now don’t get me wrong, I like me a bit of disco from time to time and can even confess to having some Meco in my collection, but this is just bizarre. If you’ve heard it you’ll know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t…well, I’m not sure I can find the words to accurately describe it. But, as completists, Retrograde saw fit to include it on the double disc and so it’s there in all it’s, erm, glory.

As well as that and the expanded score, we are also treated to the 23rd Century bar-room versions of ‘That Old Black Magic’, ‘Tangerine’ and ‘I Remember You’, strangely fitting as part of the movie but very incongruous as source tracks here. That said, the tinny arrangements immediately date the film. It does show too though the leaning of this film’s director: a jazz slant in a futuristic setting.

Related Story. Sound of Star Trek Part 16: Star Trek Generations. light

Can you imagine what Star Trek would have been like with a contemporary director at its helm? They would have probably chosen source music something akin to the Beastie Boys and jokingly called it ‘classical music’. What a thought.

Next time: Dennis McCarthy’s Enterprise.