The Sound of Star Trek Part 32: A Composer Wish List

Composer, Jeff Russo during a scoring session for the CBS All Access series STAR TREK: DISCOVERY in Los Angeles, Ca. Photo Cr: Lisette M. Azar/CBS © 2017 CBS Interactive. All Rights Reserved.
Composer, Jeff Russo during a scoring session for the CBS All Access series STAR TREK: DISCOVERY in Los Angeles, Ca. Photo Cr: Lisette M. Azar/CBS © 2017 CBS Interactive. All Rights Reserved. /

This week in the Sound of Star Trek, something a bit different. A wish list of composers we’d love to see work on the franchise.

We’ve spent over 30 weeks so far delving into the aural delights of our favorite franchise and so, this time around, we’re doing something different for our ongoing series about the Sound of Star Trek. Here’s a ‘wish list’ of composers who have yet to work on the series and who could be a good fit.

So here we go…a handful of composers who should be hired for cinematic Trek (in no particular order)…

John Williams

Playlist: Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, The Empire Strikes Back, The Patriot, Dracula, Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan

Everyone knows this guy! Even if you don’t know his name (pretty frakkin’ unlikely, to be honest!) you will have heard his work in any number of movies and likely found yourself humming at least one of his highly-memorable themes.

Williams started his career in the US Air Force in the early 50s as ‘Johnny’ Williams, entering into the world of film scores in 1958 with Daddy-O. The number of movies he’s composed for are in triple figures and I can’t imagine many collectors out there would own his complete discography. His sci-fi pedigree is without question and in his prime he brought to the fore intricate themes and melodies for Star Wars and Close Encounters. He created adventure with Indiana Jones and Jurassic Park and introspective work for Lincoln, Schindler’s List and War Horse.

He has a very symphonic style even with his jazz roots and can adapt to any genre. Star Trek, however, may be too commercial, too big a franchise: he makes franchises sound great for other people to run with, he doesn’t add to them. The 87 year old shows no immediate sign of stopping, but is certainly slowing down: he confirmed this year’s The Rise of Skywalker will be his last Star Wars score, with 2021’s Indiana Jones 5 the same for that series, too. And Paramount probably wouldn’t be able to afford him anyway.

Hans Zimmer

Playlist: Thunderbirds, The Peacemaker, Interstellar, Rush, Man of Steel, The Dark Knight, Rain Man, Dunkirk, Thelma & Louise, Gladiator, Blade Runner 2049

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I wouldn’t be surprised if this commission happens one day. When I first heard the German-born composer’s work back in the 90s, though, I simply couldn’t abide it. I couldn’t get around his use of and dependency on synthesizers and drum loops. I liked the traditional score and was perhaps too steadfast in my opinion that an electronic movie soundtrack somehow sounded cheap.

That was a terrible double-standard of mine that I thankfully grew out of because then (and now) I love me a bit of Kraftwerk, Jean Michel Jarre and Tangerine Dream (the latter ironically a prolific producer of film music!).  And now, I cannot get enough of him and vacuum up any score I find that  don’t already own – whether I’ve seen the film or not.

He said he’d never do a superhero movie again after Batman v Superman and there he was back with X-Men: Dark Phoenix and is scheduled for Wonder Woman 1984 for 2020, so he may well be tempted to beam aboard another major franchise. He has a very intense sound to some of his work (‘Supermarine’ from Dunkirk is an astonishing piece of orchestration with the auditory illusion of forever-rising notes), can perfectly emulate unique source material (Vangelis’ original Blade Runner) as well as improving on greatness (Rossini’s ‘William Tell Overture’ from The Lone Ranger) so him getting a hold of Alexander Courage’s fanfare would be something to behold. Amazing to think that he was once part of the 70s group The Buggles.

Danny Elfman

Playlist: Justice League; Spider-Man; Sleepy Hollow; Batman; Edward Scissorhands, Article 99, Sommersby

There was a time when Tim Burton was meant to be directing a big screen version of the classic British series The Prisoner. It is a magical, wonderful series from the frantic mind of the late great Patrick McGoohan and the theme was written by Ron Grainer (more famous for composing the Doctor Who theme). The thought of Danny Elfman (Burton’s go-to) re-orchestrating that rollicking great melody was very alluring. But it was not to be.

From rock/pop roots with Oingo-Boingo, Elfman has a bombastic style that he has toned down slightly over the years (Batman is a great example of musically heroic melodrama) and can also find within touching melodies when necessary. The stylistic folk roots of Sommersby and Black Beauty show a tenderness uncommon in more blockbuster fare and so he could easily bring his expansive range to a character-driven canvas such as Star Trek. So with The Prisoner forever incarcerated in development hell, can someone go grab him for this gig instead, please?

Daniel Pemberton

Playlist: The Man from U.N.C.L.E., King Arthur – Legend of the Sword, Steve Jobs

I was wholly unaware of Daniel Pemberton prior to 2015’s The Man from U.N.C.L.E. His music for that remake of a 60s classic was entirely appropriate for the era the movie was set in. While his other contemporary compositions aren’t overly outstanding and didn’t really inspire me to populate my collection with his work, I mention him here because of King Arthur. It’s a rollercoaster of a score and really, erm, more-ish. There are certain soundtracks I always go to get some exciting, blood-pumping musical thrills and King Arthur is one of them. He balances vocal manipulation with bona fide instruments and create a great soundscape as a result: alien and otherworldly – and perfect for Star Trek.

Joby Talbot

Playlist: The Hitchhiker’s Guide To the Galaxy; The League of Gentlemen – Apocalypse

Joby Talbot may not be at the top of many people’s lists. In fact, he’s probably not on many lists at all and that’s a great shame. He rose to prominence playing keyboards for Neil Hannon’s The Divine Comedy and soon moved to film and television scores. Classically trained, he brings a tongue in cheek style to his work and a light orchestra feel belies a deeper development of leit motifs and underscores. He would be refreshing to a potentially heavy series of themes.

Debbie Wiseman

Playlist: Wilde, Haunted

Here in the UK we have a national radio station called Classic FM. It, not surprisingly, plays classical music 24/7. On a Saturday night, they host a 2-hour program focusing solely on film scores (on Sunday nights, they do the same for console games). Anyway, that’s not really anything to do with this article but it’s certainly a place to hear new and old movie music!

Why I mention that channel is that the wonderful Debbie Wiseman OBE is currently their ‘Composer in Residence’.  Classically trained, she has been in the business for decades, composing sublime and rich scores to enhance stories of horror, romance, history and drama. Her gentle approach may not be wholly suited to an action or sci-fi movie but a change in style may be what the doctor ordered.

Justin Hurwitz

Playlist: First Man, La La Land, Whiplash

Long had I wanted a new movie score to be melodic and enthralling, touching and dramatic all at once. I hadn’t heard one like that in such a long time. And so I was very pleasantly surprised to find Hurwitz had composed exactly that for First Man. I’ll be honest here and say I hadn’t heard of him before First Man as none of his three previous compositions fell across my radar. I took a punt on buying his La La Land score only last week (I’ve not seen the film yet) and it blew me away: cool jazz vibes, big band sounds and a full orchestral score to boot. He is versatile and full of remarkable melodies and has quickly become my current favorite composer.

He has directed all four of Damien Chazelle’s features and if Chazelle should ever be hired to direct a Trek, it’s pretty safe to assume Hurwitz would be coming along, too. And if Hurwitz is happy to work with another director, then Paramount, will you please go a’knockin’.

Christopher Young

Playlist: Flowers In the Attic, Species, The Fly II, Hellraiser, Drag Me To Hell, Spider-Man 3

I don’t listen to this guy’s music in my collection often enough. And I really should do. Rip-roaring, haunting, sweeping, romantic, chilling, terrifying, exciting and heart-breaking. His palette is, to coin a phrase, music to a film score lover’s ears.

The same composer took an unnerving tale like Flowers In the Attic and weaved a selection of themes that are forever entwined and was able to also adapt Danny Elfman’s themes and compose a whole new set of his own for a certain black-suited web-slinger. He gave James Horner a run for his money with Species and echoed the very best Hammer Horror with gruesome sequel The Fly II (surpassing Howard Shore’s more brutalistic soundtrack for the first). Young doesn’t seem to get the big commissions much these days which should be rectified immediately.

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Honorable mentions: Pinar Toprak, Steven Price, David Arnold, Murray Gold; Jan A P Kaczmarek; Lisa Gerrard; Craig Armstrong; Lorne Balfe; Alan Silvestri; Marco Beltrami, Patrick Doyle.