Top 10 Star Trek scores

Prior to our chance to hear Michael Giacchino's score for Abrams' Star Trek, here are the previous efforts rated...

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Star Trek. In case you haven’t heard, it’s back, and it’s for young people again. It’s sexy, it’s hip, it’s fresh, it’s got Simon Pegg in it. Star Trek for the Apple generation, as an already-old internet cliché says.

Amongst other things, Star Trek has always been associated with a lot of good quality music. Okay, it’s never featured a Bob Dylan song (leave that to Galactica), although it once had Major Kira covering ‘Fever’. I’ll leave it up to you whether that’s a good thing or not. No, Trek has always had big, serious, sweeping, romantic orchestral tones to help it on its way, and judging by the choice of heir-to-the-throne Michael Giacchino as its composer, the new one won’t be any different.

But Giacchino has some pretty big shoes to fill, and the question on a lot of Trekkies and film score fans’ lips is whether or not his feet are big enough. But enough of this, it’s time for a Star Trek music-themed battle to the death as we see which of the ten scores is top dog, the big cheese, the head honcho. Goldsmith vs. Horner! Horner vs Eidelman! Eidelman vs…. um, the Yellowjackets! Set your iPod to stun…

Note: While all of these are available as their respective soundtracks, I will be judging on the actual film score as well. It’s only fair, and seeing as only one of them has ever been expanded (which is amazing considering the billions of quatloos Trekkies tend to spend on merchandise), it’s a bit hard to judge a two-hour score on the forty minutes or so they seem to get on CD.

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10. Star Trek IV: The Voyage HomeScore: Leonard Rosenman

Star Trek - Voyage Home

“The one with the whales” as my wife – and everyone else who isn’t obsessed with Star Trek – calls it. The Voyage Home is the only one out of the series that really goes into out-and-out comedy mode (well, the only one that successfully does that), and as such, the score switches between serious spacey music and cues that sound like they come from an American remake of Some Mothers Do Ave’Em. Leonard Rosenman is of course most famous for his score to Ralph Bakshi’s adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, and much like that score, TVH rarely grabs me. I can’t deny that the music is appropriate to the film (as cheesy and Beverly Hills Cop-esque as ‘Market Street’ is, it fits the scene like a glove), but it’s not until the final five minutes when the crew get their new (old) ship and all is right with the world that the score flourishes and actually starts to mean something to me.

Best Cue: ‘Home Again’. Brand new Enterprise? Check. Old-school Trek fanfare? Check. Stirring finale cue? Check. It even uses the actual original main theme too, which is ignored far too often.

9. Star Trek: InsurrectionMusic Composed by Jerry Goldsmith

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Insurrection

The most memorable thing to me about Insurrection is that it had the teaser for The Phantom Menace attached to it when I saw it in the cinema. Unfortunately, we all know how that turned out, and it’s a similar story for Insurrection, which features Captain Picard against a dastardly brood of intergalactic plastic surgeons. Unsurprisingly, that gave way to the late Jerry Goldsmith’s least-inspired Trek score. It all starts off very well, and the Ba’ku theme is very lovely, but as much as it pains me to say it, it then descends into some very well-done but also unfortunately generic action music, thankfully punctuated by some fantastic emotional writing, scoring Picard romancing older women, time magically slowing down, and Geordi LaForge looking at a sunset. Regrettably, the interludes cannot override the feeling of, well, boredom from the action music and it all goes a bit Kobayashi Maru.

Best Cue: ‘Main Title/Ba’ku Village’. Alexander Courage’s fanfare has never sounded  lusher coming in front of Goldsmith’s main titles, so couple that with the beautiful new theme for the village and you’re swimming.

8. Star Trek III: The Search For SpockScore: James Horner

The Search For Spock

In a perfect world, this would be coupled with The Wrath of Khan and I wouldn’t have to individually dissect them, but fair’s fair. Trouble is that much of the material contained within Star Trek III comes from the previous movie, so it’s really hard to judge it on its own merits. Still it’s great to listen to, even if Horner is up to his old tricks occasionally. While people point to Khan for the reference point for film music’s greatest recycler, you really should be looking to his score for Michael Wadleigh’s underrated 1981 horror Wolfen, which is an interesting precursor and features a lot of the hallmarks of both Khan and Spock, alongside the absolute blast that is his score for Roger Corman’s Battle Beyond The Stars. Still, Horner manages to pull some bonafide classics out of his hat, with a fun theme for the Klingons that – while similar to Goldsmith’s – is still cool enough to forgive any sins he might have committed, and an epic final eulogy to the starship Enterprise. Good luck finding a copy of the Wolfen soundtrack, though.

Best Cue: ‘The Enterprise’s Final Glory’. The second biggest shock of my youth after Darth Vader and the whole paternity issue, Horner saves his best for last (well, nearly, there’s not long left after it goes) as Chekov utters ‘1B… 2B… 3’ and the Enterprise becomes an ex-starship. You will believe a geek can cry. As bloody usual though, it’s not on the soundtrack album.

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7. Star Trek NemesisScore: Jerry Goldsmith

Nemesis

And here’s where my credibility begins to slide quicker than a Horta tunnels through rock. I actually like Nemesis the movie a lot, to the point where I think it’s the best Next Generation movie, and a pretty underrated film overall. But before I get lynched by a bunch of red-shirts, I’ll move quickly on to the score, which again, I think is pretty underrated. As one of Goldsmith’s final scores, a lot of people got misty-eyed over Nemesis and proclaimed it to be his best ever Trek score. I’m not about to go that far, but I think it’s a lot better than people give it credit for.

I think people think the intense use of Shinzon’s Theme makes it a bit repetitive, but I think it’s fair considering how much the shadow of the character hangs over Picard, and thus the film. That, and the version of it in the end credits is absolutely stunning, so much so that my one real wish would be that it was actually featured more in the score, as it might have provided a bit more of an emotional cushion for the film. I know people take issue with the generous statements of ‘Theme From Star Trek – The Motion Picture’ (as it’s called in the end credits), but seeing how everyone thought this would honestly be the last Star Trek movie, I can understand it in a full-circle kind of way. Also, it’s doesn’t hurt that it’s still as absolutely stirring as it was in 1979.

Best Cue: ‘A New Ending’. Irving Berlin makes a fleeting appearance before a slower tempo version of Goldsmith’s usual end credits begin, bookmarking the aforementioned incredible arrangement of Shinzon’s Theme.

6. Star Trek: First ContactScore:  Jerry Goldsmith

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First Contact

Once the TNG crew started doing movies, it was inevitable they would get around to the Borg, and they got there pretty quickly, to much acclaim from Trekkies and normal people alike. However, I’m not the biggest fan of the film. The Picard-as-rape victim thread is promising, but the Earth scenes just felt like an attempt to recapture The Voyage Home’s humour, without a script that was actually funny. Still, the music saves it all. Goldsmith was apparently still scoring another movie (The Ghost And The Darkness) when he began composing First Contact, so he brought in his son Joel to work on the score and to be honest, it’s quite seamless.

The action writing is very good (so much so that it can make “Assimilate this!” almost sound like a good line), and the repurposing of the Klingon theme as a heroic movement for Worf works surprisingly well. Still, like Insurrection and Nemesis, the main reason for this score being so good is a wonderfully majestic and sweeping main theme that is used well throughout the film. It would have been nice for Picard’s Ahab complex to have been explored more, and the cue for the scene where he goes mano-a-mano against the ready room’s display cabinet is a hint of how great that would have been. However, First Contact is a consistently fun listen, with the main theme occasionally elevating it to the heights of greatness.

Best Cue: ‘First Contact’. A perfect example of how effective the main theme really is, beautifully illustrating the first meeting between man and Vulcan and providing a superb emotional climax to the film. Shame they had to screw it up by following it with ‘Ooby Dooby’.

5. Star Trek GenerationsScore: Dennis McCarthy

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Generations

Poor old Dennis. He spends years writing great music for The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, and as soon as he does his first feature, everyone seems to hate it. But don’t listen to them, Generations is a fine achievement. Following Cliff Eidelman’s lead and starting with a mood piece rather than a full-blown main title theme, Generations has a good dose of thrilling action cues (‘Kirk Saves The Day’) together with injecting a bit of proper emotion when needed (‘Deck 15’), although the theme itself does its job admirably several times over (‘Overture’ ‘Jumping The Ravine’). Again, there’s some great material that didn’t make the album cut, including the stirring rendition of the main theme that scores the first appearance of the TNG crew, but it’s one of the more solid album presentations out there. The wonderful ‘Kirk’s Death’ alone has a beautiful sense of contemplation and regret yet celebration, which the film was unable to convey itself after he was offed by Malcolm McDowell and a metal bridge. Underrated.

Best Cue: ‘To Live Forever’. Starting off with a gentle reprise of the main theme as Data tears up after his cat’s near-miss with the afterlife, this cue continues the theme of contemplation as Picard and Riker survey the smashed bridge of the Enterprise-D before beaming away to one of the less-attractive ships in Starfleet’s, um, starfleet and finishing off with a heroically stirring (and heroically loud) statement of Alexander Courage’s fanfare. Best thing about the whole film really.

4. Star Trek V: The Final FrontierScore: Jerry Goldsmith

Final Frontier

Most people believe putting Captain Kirk behind the camera was probably the worst thing Paramount could ever do after watching Star Trek V (clearly they’ve forgotten ‘Faith Of The Heart’), but one of the few good deeds Shatner did on the picture was bring Jerry Goldsmith back into the fold, who came back with all phasers blazing. Never one to let the quality of a film get in the way of composing a great score, Goldsmith went to town with The Final Frontier, bringing his infamous movie theme (which had been recently recycled as the theme for The Next Generation) back with a vengeance, as well as turning his Klingon theme from a one-scene set-piece to a full-blooded angry battle cry. Goldsmith also took the time to introduce a couple of new themes including ‘A Busy Man’, which was used heavily in the later TNG movie scores, and a ‘family’ theme for the holy trinity of Kirk, Spock and McCoy.

While the movie itself provides few opportunities for the kind of epic sequences we’ve come to expect from Star Trek, the score proves it’s up to the task (just listen to ‘The Barrier’). The only blot on the soundtrack is the appearance of the truly awful ‘The Moon Is A Window To Heaven’ as performed by Hiroshima, otherwise known as the song sung during the infamous Uhura “fan dance”, which I apologise for making you remember. Remember, just keep repeating to yourself: it’s only a movie; it’s only a movie.

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Best Cue: ‘Main Title/The Mountain’. As usual, the main title is fantastic, but the latter half of the cue aka ‘The Mountain’ majestically introduces the ‘family’ theme as the intrepid Kirk scales the heights of El Capitan, building slowly to a lovely flourish, providing the film with a brilliant opening that bears no hints of the mediocrity that follows it.

3. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered CountryScore: Cliff Eidelman

Undiscovered country

Legend has it that Nicholas Meyer originally wanted to score Star Trek VI with Holst’s ‘The Planets’, but when he couldn’t do so for whatever reason, he picked on relative unknown Cliff Eidelman to score the original crew’s final voyage. And you can see why. Generally regarded as a darker score than its brethren, Trek VI certainly seems to take inspiration from Holst’s immortal work, but that’s not to take anything way from how good this score really is. Starting off with a main title that matches the dark undercurrent of the conspiracy plot before building to a thumping climax that acts as a perfect precursor to the destruction of Praxis, Eidelman’s score acts as a fitting send-off to a crew who at that point were ready to pick up their intergalactic bus pass. The score hits the emotional beats incredibly well, with tracks such as ‘Dining On Ashes’ reflecting the both on and off-screen dilemma of men facing up to the fact they’re just not who they used to be, while not skimping out when it comes to scoring the inevitable big spaceship battles (‘The Battle For Peace’). But it’s ‘Finale/Sign-Off’ that will have you both weeping and applauding, as Eidelman’s magnificent main theme scores Kirk’s final Captain’s Log before making way for a climactic refrain of Courage’s TV series fanfare as Shatner and Co.’s autographs fill the screen.

Best Cue: ‘Escape From Rura Penthe’. Scoring Kirk and McCoy’s prison breakout, this cue is a good representation of the score in itself, with a very alien-esque sense of darkness, but what really makes it is the scoring of the journey across the planet’s surface, perfectly embodying the very grand and epic nature Star Trek is closely associated with.

2. Star Trek II: The Wrath Of KhanScore: James Horner

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Khaaaaaaan!

When you talk about big shoes to fill, James Horner had it all to do in 1982. Following an Oscar-nominated score which is regarded by many as the greatest film score ever written, he didn’t have it easy, but by God did he pull it off well. The film itself is pacier and more fun than its predecessor, and a lot of that is down to Horner’s superb score. Running with the nautical theme set by director Meyer, the score for Khan is just thrilling from beginning to end, and immediately adds a lot more urgency and danger to the proceedings.

It can’t hurt that the main title theme is absolutely spectacular, but beyond that, Horner expertly switches from more cerebral material (‘Khan’s Pets’) to his uber-romanticism that carries on the love affair both the crew and the audience has with space and the final frontier (‘Enterprise Clears Moorings’). But he excels the most when it comes to the grand emotion that Khan as a film provides, saving the best for the final reels with a triumphant yet tense call to arms as the Enterprise faces off against the Reliant (‘Battle In The Mutara Nebula’) and then celebrating a bittersweet victory at the expense of the crew’s “most beloved comrade”, but not before providing an important sense of hope (‘Epilogue/End Title’). It’d certainly be the best score if it weren’t for that meddling ponytail.

Best Cue: ‘Genesis Countdown’. Take a bow, Mr. Horner. You may get short shrift by some people, but this is undoubtedly one of the greatest ‘counting down’ cues ever written. Enthralling and tense as hell, as the Enterprise tries to escape the rapidly-ensuing Genesis wave, but also able to tug at the heart strings with great effect as Kirk realises just what – and who – has been sacrificed so they could make good their escape.

1. Star Trek – The Motion PictureScore: Jerry Goldsmith

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TMP

On the original poster for The Motion Picture, the tagline was “There Is No Comparison” and that’s exactly true here. Not since Stanley Kubrick uttered the words “So who’s this Strauss bloke then?” has space felt so mysterious, so majestic and so romantic, yet so dangerous. Of course, at the centre of this is that main theme, as it should be. Maybe it’s because my first exposure to the world of Trek was The Motion Picture, but to me, the theme completely embodies what the franchise stands for, and when I think of Star Trek, I think Jerry Goldsmith. But to just talk about the theme, as good as it is (just listen to ‘Leaving Drydock’), is to ignore how great this score really is.

Starting with ‘Ilia’s Theme’ which also serves as the film’s overture, the sweeping and gentle love theme – which was recorded as a single by Shaun Cassidy called ‘A Star Beyond Time’ (just look it up on YouTube) – is the perfect beginning to what is possibly the most perfect score ever written. The Klingon theme making its first appearance here is worth the price of admission alone, but it’s when the Enterprise begins its journey inside V’Ger that Goldsmith amps it up to eleven, using Craig Hundley’s Blaster Beam instrument to provide the absolutely alien voice of V’Ger (‘The Cloud’; ‘Vejur Flyover’). Listening to the score by itself is an experience you don’t always find when you separate a score from its visual counterpart, especially for a film like this, but the imagination of Goldsmith makes it an indelible journey with an incredible climax (‘The Meld’). And when all is said and done, it’s back to that theme once again to wrap things up in the most soaring way possible (‘A Good Start’). Legendary.

Best Cue: ‘The Enterprise’. Probably most accurately described as a love song for Captain Kirk and his beloved, the cue runs with both romantic and powerful versions of the main theme, which is almost angelic when we first see the ship properly. Amazing for making a six-minute scene where we slowly fly around a spaceship breeze past, the biggest surprise from this cue is that all other film composers didn’t just put their batons down once this was released. Because film music really just doesn’t get better than this.

And so we have it. Will Giacchino be able to come out with the same sort of form as his predecessors? Will he have a Uhura-gets-naked-and-dances-around-with-bits-of-shrubbery scene to score? We’ll find out in two weeks. Kirk out.

Star Trek at Den Of Geek