This week, we head Into Darkness with the second of the Kelvin Timeline movies and the return of Michael Giacchino to the Star Trek family.
2009’s Star Trek, directed by J.J. Abrams, opened up the universe we’d known for decades by introducing parallel versions of The Original Series crew. It took the stance that everything we’d been watching since 1966 onwards existed in a timeline now known as Prime.
This was nothing new to fans (we’d seen a brutal, militaristic mirror universe more than once). Spock inadvertently caused a cataclysm that destroyed Romulus, sending Romulan Nero on a downward slide for revenge that found him in a past that was slightly different to the one he had known. Spock’s actions created a new universe to explore (monikered the Kelvin Timeline) with names we knew and faces that looked not unlike those we were familiar with.
It also meant that the Prime Timeline stayed intact from both a fictional and production point of view. Furthermore, a blank canvas for the writers and directors meant they could go anywhere and do anything, could tell exciting, new and wholly original stories unencumbered by over 40 years worth of canon and backstory. The possibilities were endless. It was a bright new future for Star Trek.
So what did they do for the 2013 sequel? They went and remade Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, the most beloved of the eleven previous cinematic outings.
Okay, so Star Trek Into Darkness isn’t a bad film. It’s just not a great one. It’s a shadow of its source material: the drama is forced, the set pieces, while great in their own ways, just serve a purpose to move the plot along and, apart from the re-use and woeful and inexcusable watering down of Khan to become a henchman rather than the main Bad Guy, what the hell was the point of a starship if the technology existed to beam directly from Earth from Q’onos?
Anyway, the score composed by Michael Giacchino is neverthless fantastic and that’s why we’re here.
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Released to digitally and physically to tie-in with the film’s debut, Varese Sarabande continued their relationship with the movie score (starting in 2002 with Star Trek: Nemesis). 2014 saw an expanded edition, again from Varese Sarabande, that took the soundtrack from a one to a two-disc set.
Giacchino shortens his main title again for ‘Logos/Pranking the Natives’, introducing a rollicking chase scene that gives us the feel that there is an exciting movie ahead of us. The score is unrelenting as we segue into ‘Spock Drops/Kirk Jumps’ and culminating in ‘Sub Prime Directive’ which allows room for the main title to reappear. It’s a very breathless opening to the score and the expanded edition adds a further four minutes to proceedings.
Then we drop the pace to reflect the anguish of a Section 31 officer and the potential demise of his young daughter. ‘London Calling’ is a beautiful and emotive piano piece and marks the first time the instrument has been used in the movie scores since Cliff Eidelman included it for Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Interestingly, Eidelman’s influence doesn’t stop there: for ‘The Kronos Wartet’ (a name play on the classical group Kronos Quartet) utilizes Klingon language as chorus. It’s not as subtle as Eidelman… Giachinno’s approach is more like being hit over the head with the less-pointy end of a bat’leth… and it’s a great contrast to ‘London Calling’.
Since I was first introduced to Giacchino’s work back in the last century by an old friend who shared my love for film scores, I’ve admired the composer’s fresh approach to the genre (which makes his disappointing compositions for Star Trek Beyond that much more painful to appreciate). He has the ability to change style and structure from scene to scene but has the savvy to give it an overall familiarity (Speed Racer, Doctor Strange, Spider-Man: Homecoming spring to mind).
However, for Beyond, we do enter into a bombastic series of cues, lots of percussive strikes and brass, giving credence to Giacchino’s desire to work out a much darker score for this second outing. It’s effective and to point, this score, and reinforces the signature music style to this relaunch of the franchise. This is a score that means business. And yes, while the movie is rework of TWOK, it has none of the emotional core so prevalent in James Horner’s work. It’s a different approach, it’s a modern approach to an 80s sci-fi classic and a brave attempt to play with such a revered movie.
Rare are the wholly symphonic, pastoral and emotionally charged soundtracks of yesteryear. Maybe John Williams still echoes that in his work but overall, leit motifs are hard to find these days. Giacchino does however try to instill that where he can, certainly in Star Trek, but even he becomes embroiled in the modern approach of thumping cues.
Yet Star Trek Into Darkness has the excitement of a modern score tinged with the pastoral styles and becomes a fully-rounded piece in its own right and certainly away from the frustrations of the movie itself.
Next time: Star Trek, Volume 2 – The Doomsday Machine/Amok Time