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05.05.09 : REVIEWING MICHAEL GIACCHINO'S STAR TREK SCORE

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Today Michael Giacchino's stirring STAR TREK original score officially releases on CD and iTunes download to an eager audience of the composer's fans and Trekkers alike. 

Perhaps the greatest strength of this new score is that and Giacchino's compositions so strongly support the emotional tempo of the film, and this direct connection is made from the very opening scene of the film. Without a prolonged opening title sequence to show off a stand-alone theme which tells audience this is heroic space opera, the score immediately melds with the action to elicit such feelings from the drama on screen.   This is a brilliant and welcome trend spanning all fifteen tracks of the STAR TREK score.

With a runtime just under 45 minutes, listeners should prepare for bold new motifs, thematic surprises and not 'just another Trek score', because that is exactly what Giacchino's music and J.J. Abrams' film deliver.

Indeed, the composer and director have made the same wise choice: not to allow well-memorized music cues and familiar dialogue routines tell you this is STAR TREK. Rather both artists are truly, boldly moving the story of the Enterprise and her crew forward beyond the safety of the past.  That's what exploration is all about — one can't discover strange new worlds without venturing into new frontiers.  Similarly Giacchino doesn't sit back and rest on the laurels of Jerry Goldsmith's or James Horner's previous themes, their work suited their film assignments admirably and enjoyably.  But this is new TREK exploring these characters in ways never seen before, and Giacchino's thoughtful, powerful work writes its own unprecedented chapter in STAR TREK music accordingly.

The somber nobility of french horns introduce Giacchino's main STAR TREK theme in a brief minute-long cue.  Faint use of choral voices and low chimes imply the heroism to be discovered without telegraphing the message before our ears can experience it.  Giacchino deftly broadens the meaning and impact of this simple theme in several exciting and emotional versions throughout the score, demonstrating his true talent for elevating a key phrase to speak volumes over the whole film.

Prepare for orchestral action in Nailin' the Kelvin (2:09), an intense opening sequence of the film and an equally energetic cue which merges tactical crisis with touches of the main theme.  Nero's threat is at hand and the crew of the Kelvin wage a battle against all odds.  Giacchino skillfully builds and modulates the tempo with varied but relentless marches of percussion while strings and horns ebb and flow with the characters' dire dilemma.

George Kirk's fateful command of the Kelvin strikes a touching counterpoint to Labor of Love (2:51) as the birth of his son coincides with a great sacrifice.  Similarly Giacchino's cue offers a highly emotional counterpoint to the on-screen action which puts a lump in the throat of audiences who may be surprised how quickly they've become psychologically involved in a spaceship battle.  The subtle use of strings builds to a disciplined crescendo in the cue, never bursting over the top in sentimentality but always keeping the heart of the scene flowing effectively.  The composer allows audiences the time and quietness to feel the emotion instead of dictating it to them, resulting in one of Giacchino's best tracks in his career — a sublime meeting of imagery and sound totaling more than its sum.

Hella Bar Talk (1:56), just one of the composer's clever track titles, actually sounds quite different than the catchy name implies: this is the moment that Jim Kirk first confronts the destiny he's been running (and racing) from all his life.  Captain Pike's dare for Jim to do better with his life prompts a recall of the somber tones from the STAR TREK theme while building up to Kirk's decision to face his fate boldly.  French horns revisit their intonations leading into progressive snapping percussion and deep strings which drive Kirk to the Enterprise construction site and shuttle which delivers him to his unknown destiny in the stars. 

The sense of anticipation builds in Enterprising Young Men (2:40), which exploits the more adventurous side of the main theme with unbridled fanfare and bravado.  While no less controlled than earlier tracks, Giacchino really lets his orchestra and arrangement rip loose and give it all they've got.  It's a very fun highlight of in the film and a standout track on the CD which embodies the sense of exploration and wonder at the prospect of space exploration aboard Starfleet's flagship.  Give your sound system a workout and enjoy the ride into orbit!

Nero Sighted (3:23) embodies a collision of loud, deep brass and militaristic stomping tempo with a challenging version of the main theme, filling this track with alien tension and impending dread.  A dangerous mystery is uncovered as a moaning fever dream of skewed strings and winds conjure a nightmarish aural landscape.  While his enemies proceed with purpose, the Romulan's thematic threat will not be denied as it overpowers the battle of motifs in a victory of darkness.

Per the overused cliché, the plot thickens in Nice to Meld You (3:14) as Kirk meets an old he hasn't made yet to discover more than he ever wanted to know about his own destiny and the future of the Federation.  Low brass and strings swirl and compete for dominance in the track, as tension and dangers heighten.  It's one of the CD's most dynamic tracks, clearly not intended to be as fun as Enterprising Young Men but no less valuable.

Run and Shoot Offense (2:05) puts Kirk and Spock in the middle of the action against their Romulan adversary, and the track title is truth in advertising.  While utterly original, this is perhaps Giacchino's most reminiscent tracks in the tradition of earlier TREK 'mission music' from either the classic TV series or subsequent films.  Trumpets echo percussive drums thumping out a rising rhythm as the action proceeds and urgency builds.  The pace pauses for a reintroduction of Nero's airy alien tones, then punches forward with a brash shot of the main theme as fortunes change before our eyes and ears.

The oddly titled Does It Still McFly? (2:03) allows very symphonic strings and harp to wing over a tense tempo of muted snare drums, building in layers of brass and high toned winds as the mood grows more serious.  While the cue serves the film well, this track may not be the most satisfying listening experience on the CD as it's quickly truncated for time.

Nero Death Experience (5:39) culminates the battle between Kirk's crew and the renegade Romulan, pitting operating choral work against an ominously tense mix of low strings and triumphant brass.  Quite Mozart-like in some moments, this track is a less literal mass composition exploiting the thematic depths of the drama at hand.  Giacchino turns his heroic main theme on its side a bit as the Enterprise crew struggle to achieve their mission against Nero's vengeance.  The very opening notes of the classic TV theme are only hinted at by the finale, a promise of delights to come.

Giacchino's main theme is gaining the upper hand in Nero Fiddles, Narada Burns (2:34).  The track definitely uses a countdown-style tempo as the action mounts and stakes rise to new heights.  Yet the composer plays wonderful tricks with the time signature at the very end of the cue which inspire a palpable sense of anxious anticipation.

Back From Black allows Giacchino to thematically and emotionally pull the rabbit out of the hat with great flourish and drama in this one-minute track.  Again, a triumph is masterfully tempered by a skilled composer who is smart enough to let the cinematic moment speak for itself, rather than push bravery over the top into bombast.  Yet the bold side of his main theme is allowed to shine unapologetically, a goal achieved and a collective breath to be caught.

Despite the flippant title, That New Car Smell (4:46) is a careful deconstruction the main STAR TREK theme, slowed down to show off the simplicity and versatility of its elements.  Giacchino puts his motif through its paces, inspiring a range of auditory emotion while building to a satisfying big finish that sounds both inevitable and fresh in its completion.  Having come full circle in the story, the main theme is now a bold, adventurous, forward-looking promise to more exploration ahead, backed up by a cinematic crew and talented composer who are most capable of leading us to new missions into the unknown.

Alexander Courage's famous television theme arrives in an iconic STAR TREK moment with To Boldly Go, a 27-second snippet which leads directly into the triumphant End Credits, a lengthy suite of motifs at 9:11 runtime.  Having assembled this new Enterprise crew, the venerable theme gets star treatment from Giacchino in a heroic and lush orchestration of the series' score which evokes fond memories of the 1960s show but given new breadth in scale.  Reprising the classic Trek theme and intermixing his own original cues, Giacchino clearly had fun playing with this montage highlighting the emotional range of the film and the complete score.  More than just a remix of previous tracks, Giacchino blends these motifs in new and exciting combinations, much like his tour de force Roar for CLOVERFIELD.  When you see the film, be sure to stay for the final credits to applaud the army of filmmakers as well as enjoy this closing thrill ride of themes.

Only time will tell how audiences embrace this new STAR TREK score, but on its own merits Michael Giacchino has built upon his past award-winning screen compositions like RATATOUILLE, THE INCREDIBLES and LOST, and applied his ever-heightening skills to the cosmic challenge of forging his boldest effort yet.  MISSION: TREK 2009 rates Michael Giacchino's STAR TREK 4 stars and wishes the CD compilation of tracks would represent all the composer's sterling work for the film.  Enjoy his full score when you see STAR TREK in theaters beginning May 7th.

Star Trek: Original Series - Season 1 [Blu-ray]

Star Trek: Original Motion Picture Collection [Blu-ray]




Star Trek: Motion Picture Trilogy on Blu-ray

READ MISSION:TREK'S IN-DEPTH REVIEW OF J.J. ABRAMS' BOLD NEW STAR TREK

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