CD Review: Star Trek

By • May 18, 2009

Composer: Michael Giacchino
Labels: Varese Sarabande Records
Suggested Retail Price: $12.99
Grade: A-

If one thought that a young punk named James T. Kirk was remotely nervous about assuming the captain’s chair on his first mission out with the U.S.S. Enterprise, just imagine the trepidation that composer Michael Giacchino may have experienced on his latest voyage for geek multi-hyphenate J.J. Abrams. After all, it’s not easy picking up the interstellar strains of such big screen STAR TREK composers as Jerry Goldsmith, James Horner, Cliff Eidelman and Leonard Rosenman- not to mention their equally worthy TV compatriots like Sol Kaplan, Gerald Fried and Jerry Fielding.

That Giacchino speeds out on this brilliantly revamped ship at Warp Factor 5 with big, brassy balls says much about the experience this composer already brings to the com- a talent for blending a thematic orchestra with a pop-rock-ethnic sound that has made Giacchino a fan fave through his terrific work on everything from LOST to RATATOUILLE and SPEED RACER (with UP and LAND OF THE LOST still to arrive this Summer). It’s hard to think of another musician who could be labeled as Hollywood’s next-gen answer to Jerry Goldsmith, or one who was even more seasoned than James Horner when he took the captain’s chair. Yet while Giacchino’s new TREK score might not reach those composers’ heights here (even if it’s arguably the best film in the franchise), the composer provides a damn good ride that will doubtlessly please legions of new TREK fans, especially those who’ve grown up in our age of pop-percussive scoring as opposed to the less aggressive sound of Classic TREK.

It’s not that Giacchino doesn’t try to go for that old-school sound right off that bat with “The Theme”- that big, nobly soaring orchestral statement that delineates the TREK universe as a majestic, adventurous place you want to be a part of. It’s even nicer that Giacchino has come up with a strong motif when scores are so desperately hungry for them. Yet we’re not talking about the kind of rapturous theme that’s in a league of what Goldsmith came up with for TMP, or Horner in WRATH OF KAHN. And here, Giacchino is seemingly slamming, or gliding his statement in every ten minutes or so. Sure you definitely need to hear The Theme when you’ve got the money shots of the Enterprise, or the Kirk/ Spock character drama that really makes this film soar. But by the end, Giacchino’s more-than-worthy motif becomes a bit tiring when something new might have been worked just as well. And with the epic scope of Giacchino’s score limited to a 45-minute run time on CD, it’s musical cohesion that becomes the equivalent of cool super glue.

That isn’t to say that lots of great stuff isn’t happening around The Theme. And you’ve got to love what Abrams lets his musical wingman get away with, especially in “Labor of Love” as beautifully tender music for the sacrifice of Kirk’s captain dad is the only thing heard on the soundtrack as the screen is engulfed in cosmic destruction. Another great sequence where Abrams lets Giacchino rip is “Nero Death Experience,” as a chorus becomes the Enterprise’s desperate escape from a black hole. Both show a real love, and understanding from the director and his favorite composer of the true power of film music when given center stage.

When it comes to action cues like “Nero Sighted” and “Run and Shoot Offense,” Giacchino goes for a percussive, near-tribal sound that compounds the revenge-crazed savagery of TREK’s villain, all topped off with desperate symphonic suspense. And if Gene Roddenberry thought of his creation as WAGON TRAIN in space, then Giacchino’s approach to “Enterprising Young Men” and “Nero Fiddles, Narada Burns” has a heroic boldness that wouldn’t be out place in The Big Country. But where Goldsmith and Horner mostly held a straight, melodic line to their TREK action music, Giacchino’s picture-hitting twists and turns have an aggression that don’t sit quite as well, especially when so much of his propulsive music is fighting its own battle with the sound effects. It might be great that Abrams spotlights a bunch of Giacchino’s work. But he obviously can’t do it all of the time. In any case, the composer’s action work here is easily more memorable than his score for Abram’s infinitely less successful MISSION IMPOSSIBLE 3.

But then again, STAR TREK has always been about likable characters as opposed to special effects and space battles. And while this revamped TREK has those in spades, it’s the human (or half-human) drama that trumps all else, especially in Giacchino’s score. Kirk gets a somber pep speech by Captain Pike in “Hella Bar Talk,” the military nature of Starfleet getting some interesting percussion in the bargain. And when it comes to Spock in “That New Car Smell” (you’ve got to love the clever cue titles), Giacchino uses what might be an electric violin to convey Spock’s mostly all-wise alien nature, a particularly nice touch that might stand as the best “ethnic” music yet written for our favorite Vulcan.

But if any track will send listeners into a geek-asms, then it’s Giacchino’s powerhouse take on the Alexander Courage theme that starts the “End Credits.” I can’t think of a better example of a composer giving such a wonderful passing of the torch to a man who first set the tone for a classic TV show. And Giacchino is there, weaving and ducking his Theme and all of its subsidiary ones about the trademarked TREK motif with daredevil precision, complete with chorus. Sure Giacchino might have boldly gone with too much of a good thing. But if any score, or film left you screaming “More!” than STAR TREK is it. And it’s a big screen voyage for Abrams and Giacchino most certainly will be on for more than four years, presenting infinite universes for the music-driven storytelling to explore.

Set Giacchino to stun HERE


By k.tassos on May 21st, 2009 at 11:07 am

jerry goldsmith is turning in his grave. we are truly in the dark ages of…”art” in america, or anywhere. God’s young children aint got no soul/
im so glad im old and not a part of this… the engineer in “Miss Saigon” said, “I can sell sh** and get thanks.Thats what i learned from the yanks.

By Tapani Siirtola on May 21st, 2009 at 12:26 pm

umm, I thought that Brian Tyler did the Star Trek soundtrack 😮 What’s this?

By Stefan Minder on May 23rd, 2009 at 4:13 am

For me Giacchino’s score for STAR TREK is absolutely amazing. Compared to the rhythm driven, uninspired and yearning-for-melodies music that we hear these days most of the times, Giacchino’s music here is a step toward what filmmusic used to be. And that in a perfect mix with what today’s filmmusic fans -like me- want to hear. Strong and heroic melodies, a theme for the bad guy, memorable action cues, choirs and still a modern sound. I will listen to this CD forever.

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