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Star Trek by Michael Giacchino

Star Trek

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Star Trek (Soundtrack) by Michael Giacchino

Star Trek
Composed by Michael Giacchino
Varese Sarabande Records (2009)

Rating: 6/10

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“On the one hand, Michael Giacchino's score is undoubtedly entertaining to listen to and displays his talents well enough, but on the other hand I can't shake the sense that it's a lot of bold style without too much substance.”

Boldly Going...Nowhere New
Review by Marius Masalar

As the release date of the new Star Trek film loomed, I'll admit that I was uneasy. Despite having mastermind J.J. Abrams at the helm, "Trekkies" were faced with the prospect of a film that would not only tinker with the history, but precede the narratives of the other ten films as well. A prequel. A re-launch of the franchise. The last time something like this happened to an established sci-fi universe of similar magnitude, we ended up with Jar-Jar Binks.

Despite these worries, the film was very successful with critics — due in large part to the amazing chemistry and sharp performances of the cast. Interestingly enough, Abrams himself is not a bona fide "Trekkie"; rather, he is a more casual fan who worked with writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman ("Trekkies" themselves) to create a more balanced film that could be appreciated by a fresh audience too. As was expected, Abrams brought on his right-hand man of music, Michael Giacchino, to provide the musical score for Star Trek's rebirth.

Somewhere amid the exquisite visuals, charismatic cast, and questionable science, there is a plot to be found. Albeit a shifty one with much time traveling and a strangely angsty villain. In a break with Trek tradition though, the antagonist is not, and indeed has nothing whatsoever to do with, the Klingons. It doesn't really matter though, because there are plenty of opportunities to see interesting planets, strange-looking aliens, and even stranger starships — including a Romulan vessel that looks like a psychotic egg beater on a bad hair day. The Enterprise looks wonderful in her spiffy "revised" depiction though. Happily, there is actual substance behind the impressive visuals, it isn't just idle fluff. The film is surprisingly character-driven, which is what made previous films like The Wrath of Khan so enjoyable.

Musically, I am conflicted. On the one hand, Michael Giacchino's score is undoubtedly entertaining to listen to and displays his talents well enough, but on the other hand I can't shake the sense that it's a lot of bold style without too much substance. Although, considering the direction that film music has taken since Jerry Goldsmith sat down to score the original Star Trek film, it would be unfair to judge Giacchino's score against that one. Or indeed against most of the ones that came after it. I recall a time not too long ago when film scores used to have more of an individual identity, which is what I think Giacchino's effort here lacks. Gone are the multi-thematic powerhouse scores, or the uniquely textured ones. What we have left is a bold, mono-thematic showcase that is serviceable and large in scale, but lacking in individuality. On the bright side, it tries really hard and the effort pays off admirably within the context of the's just that divorcing the two no longer produces the sophisticated and deeply satisfying listening experience of its predecessors.

To be fair, one could actually pick out three basic motifs in the score. The first, a bold fanfare that is introduced with the first track, "Star Trek" (1), is an uncomplicated but rousing theme that gets plenty of airtime throughout the score. It's very tempting to accuse the score of being too centered on this theme, in fact, but the problem is only really evident when listening to the album — the film itself seems a lot more balanced in its distribution of the motif. "Nailin' The Kelvin" (2), one of the score's most captivating action tracks, is sadly under-mixed in the film. It's energetic and reprises the above-mentioned theme in a slightly modified form to fit the brisk tempo, as well as introducing Nemo's menacing motif and a rhythmic figure that returns in later action tracks.

The second theme appears in "Labor of Love" (3) and serves as the necessary emotional backdrop to a the introductory scene of the film. Its soft nature belies the frantic and intense action that is happening on screen, and the juxtaposition lends weight to the sequence. The first theme jumps right back in "Hella Bar Talk" (4), lest we'd forgotten it already or something. This particular cue is very well placed on the soundtrack album though because it leads from the quiet and emotional tone of the previous track into the mischievous and wildly entertaining "Enterprising Young Men" (5), which is easily a highlight of the score. Beginning with a building rhythmic figure in the strings (with a nod to the original Star Trek synth figure gently floating on top), the cue quickly escalates into a dramatic reprise of — you guessed it — the main theme. What's most alluring about this track, besides the monumental thematic statements, is the underlying sense of rebellious mischief that so perfectly applies to Chris Pine's portrayal of the young Kirk. It ends interestingly with nine orchestral hits that decrease in intensity so that it almost feels like you're falling down a flight of stairs. In a good way.

The third theme, which we heard briefly in the second track, makes an appearance in "Nero Sighted" (6), where it is more fully developed and has some more room to breathe. The strings perform a strangely loose-sounding figure before a harp swirl brings Nemo back in the low brass. The rest of the track dances on the line between tense but quiet underscoring and frenetic action. "Nice to Meld You" (7) — does anyone else love Giacchino's track titles, by the way? — continues the tension with a steady build in complexity from a basic string ostinato. Sharp cymbal rim shots accent the beats while the quasi-dissonant harmonic shifts give the otherworldly feel needed to accompany the scene in the film, which involves Spock, as the title suggests. "Run And Shoot Offense" (8) is a fairly unremarkable action cue, but it's at least consistent with the tone of the rest and leads nicely into the superior "Does It Still McFly" (9), an excellent and emotionally weighty track with a quick reminder of the main theme.

"Nero Death Experience" (10) is where Giacchino really starts to let loose with the action scoring. A sizable choir joins the orchestra more prominently, and the brass are simply grand. "Nero Fiddles, Narada Burns" (11) brings the main theme back yet again and keeps the choir in the forefront. At this point it's beginning to get tiring, but "Back From Black" (12) returns us to the main theme (albeit with the trumpets providing some counterpoint over top) following a squeaky string crescendo at the start. After all that action and repetition of the main theme, "That New Car Smell" (13) threw me for a serious loop on the album. First of all, it's very soothing and quiet. And second of all, it features an absolutely gorgeous solo on an Erhu (a type of Chinese violin-like instrument). The presence of the Erhu in a Star Trek score was completely unexpected, and yet somehow completely fitting for the Vulcans it represents. Alas, it's over before you know it and it brings us to the film's conclusion with the offer of a massive main theme reprisal.

And now things really get fun. After a very quick (and very familiar) track to accompany the iconic and franchise-defining speech, "To Boldly Go" (14), we come to the "End Credits" (15). If you enjoyed Alexander Courage's original theme for the series and Giacchino's new themes, then you are in for nine of the coolest minutes of your life. Giacchino pulls out all the stops and gives us a glimpse of what this score could have been, if only this same energy had been applied to the rest of the music too. The ensemble performs brilliantly and one comes to really understand Giacchino's choice of harmonic progression for his theme, after hearing it superimposed over Courage's original in this track. Also, while it's understandable that the tracks accompanying actual film footage would have some quick transitions between sections and moods, the same excuse doesn't work for this credits cue, and the strangely rough style of moving from one part of the suite to the next was the only thing that really bothered me about an otherwise extraordinary track.

In the end, Michael Giacchino's Star Trek is really more of a successful homage to the great scores it follows rather than a great score itself. The new theme that permeates every inch of the soundtrack is catchy enough, but it's simple and underdeveloped — it's a counterpoint line to Courage's original. It's clever, but hardly substantial enough to stand on its own with the same dignity. A giant orchestral ensemble only hides thin writing to a certain extent, and the rest is laid bare for those who care to listen past the fluff. Michael Giacchino's done a fine enough job, and the score accompanies the movie very effectively, it just doesn't provide the compelling listening experience that it could (and, with Giacchino's abilities, should) have done outside of the film.

Rating: 6/10

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Track Title Track Time  Rating
1 TStar Trek 1:03  ****
2 Nailin' the Kelvin 2:09  ****
3 Labor of Love 2:51  ***
4 Hella Bar Talk 1:55  **
5 Enterprising Young Men 2:39  *****
6 Nero Sighted 3:23  ***
7 Nice to Meld You 3:13  ***
8 Run and Shoot Offense 2:04  **
9 Does it Still McFly 2:03  ****
10 Nero Death Experience 5:38  ***
11 Nero Fiddles, Narada Burns 2:34  ***
12 Back from Black 0:59  **
13 That New Car Smell 4:46  ****
14 To Boldly Go 0:26  ***
15 End Credits 9:11  *****
  Total Running Time (approx) 45 minutes  





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