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Giacchino provides energetic music which will surely live long and prosper
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
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Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 2009 Paramount Pictures; review copyright (c) 2009 James Southall.
Back in my youth, I was quite the fan of Star Trek. I think my parents were quite worried for a while, with me spending every penny I could scrape together on the magazines, books and videos. Needless to say, I grew up on the original series - both their small-screen and big-screen adventures. The Rick Berman era never seemed quite so satisfying - the only one of the modern Star Trek incarnations which approached the weird combination of humour and sharp social commentary of that original crew was Deep Space Nine after Berman left it to concentrate on making something else worse. After William Shatner and co hung up their uniforms, the baton passed to Patrick Stewart and his crew, for increasingly unsuccessful cinematic outings. It was no great mystery why they were unsuccessful - to the public-at-large, Star Trek means Kirk, Spock and McCoy - release a movie with Star Trek in the title but not featuring the characters that people want to see, and you're asking for trouble.
After a (surprisingly brief) hiatus following the disastrous box office for Star Trek Nemesis (cleverly released at the same time as James Bond, Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings) and the disastrous-in-every-sense Enterprise, Paramount has gone back to the well again by giving its most valuable property a "re-boot" - not bad so far, but I can't be the only one rather dismayed that the man re-booting it was J.J. Abrams, whose previous film was extraordinarily peurile and insulting even by modern Hollywood standards. Much to my surprise and delight, his Star Trek has in fact turned out to be a joy. While the huge number of Lost-style implausible coincidences which drive the plot is an issue, it's pretty much the only one - the young cast are superb, bringing just the right blend of themselves and the iconic figures who played the characters before them; there's humour, something Star Trek hasn't done even vaguely well in almost two decades; no tiresome attempts to explain the scientifically-impossible away with mumbo-jumbo. It's just a really nicely made film and a blast to watch.
With Abrams comes composer Michael Giacchino. Indeed, his early collaboration with Abrams on the tv show Alias was pretty much his path away from computer games and into the Hollywood mainstream; and he hasn't looked back since, working on an almost unbelievable number of huge projects in his extremely brief career so far. Now, Giacchino is undoubtedly one of the finest film composers around right now - but I couldn't help but have reservations. The Star Trek films hadn't just been blessed with very fine music - there was a certain way of scoring the pictures which didn't seem to fit all that easily with Giacchino's way of working. In particular, I'm thinking of the themes. Each of the first ten films had strong, expansive, memorable main themes (well, nine of them certainly did; the other's more arguable). And that's not Giacchino's way. He's written themes, of course, but not the sort which live too long in the memory.
So... the CD starts... turns out I needn't have worried. There's that big, bold theme - admittedly in a somewhat subdued arrangement - in the very first track. Turns out it's a theme for Captain Kirk - and when I stopped and thought about it, I suspect it's the first time in the 80 tv episodes and 8 films in which he's featured that he's had one. (You'd better like the theme, because Giacchino uses it very liberally - moreso in the film than on the album.) Then comes the first of several fantastic action pieces, "Nailin' the Kelvin". There's a slightly epic quality about it, a feeling of the vastness of space, which is cleverly contrasted with immediate drama and emotion. In "Labour of Love", Giacchino shows he can do the same kind of awe-inspiring stuff as Messrs Goldsmith and Horner managed in their scores for the franchise with another great, sweeping theme.
An early highlight is "Enterprising Young Men", in which Giacchino turns his main theme into a wonderfully heroic anthem. For sure, it's a simplistic theme - but sometimes, as here, those are the best. It's a simplistic film, after all. The flip-side comes in "Nero Sighted", which presents the theme for Nero, the evil Romulan villain. (How ironic it is that the plot - nasty Romulan with a personal vendetta against a beloved character goes round blowing up planets - and the basic idea - showing what happened before the original series - is a combination of the least successful of the films and the least successful of the tv shows - but of course, it's done far better here than in either of them.) It isn't, in truth, an especially memorable theme, but it does its job just fine, and the florid orchestration is a real boon. I love the high drama of "Nice to Meld You" - a terrific piece of dark action music.
The thrills and excitement continue in the second half of the album. One of the things I love about Giacchino is that he manages to write "old-school" film music in an entirely modern way. "Nero Death Experience" isn't far from what someone like Jerry Goldsmith or John Williams might have put in a film in the late-1970s glory days, and just as lots of people have tried to say for a long time now, in response to the pathetic excuse for the Zimmer-style dumbing down, that modern audiences couldn't cope with music like that - of course they can cope. Not everyone is stupid. But despite all the fantastic action material, the highlight of the album's second half is probably "That New Car Smell", which showcases the beautiful theme for Spock.
Aside from a subtle nod once or twice, Giacchino resists the urge to bring in any familiar Star Trek music until the very end. At first I thought it was an odd decision that the familiar material he chose was not Jerry Goldsmith's iconic theme from the first film, or indeed just the Alexander Courage fanfare which opened the original series - but actually it makes perfect sense. The film is deliberately "retro" in various ways, and this (dare I say) cheesy theme fits in with that atmosphere. It outstays its welcome in the end titles (it was only meant to be 30 seconds long - not repeated ad nauseum) but never mind, it just adds to the fun.
While this probably isn't Giacchino's most technically-impressive work, it's the sort of fun score that is likely to find its way into people's CD players (if anyone still uses them) with great frequency. Solidly-written and pitched at just the right level, it's a real treat. It is content to not aim so high as the unbelievably good first two scores in this series, but it hits every target it does aim for. Just two complaints. First, while the album length is perfect (how satisfying it is to have an album like this which leaves the listener wanting to hear it again straight away, rather than presenting every last note and scaring them away from it) - the selection of cues probably isn't. A huge chunk of the middle part of the film is entirely unrepresented on the album, which is a shame. The other complaint is the recording - this must be the worst major soundtrack recording since the hideous Lord of the Rings trilogy. There's just not enough clarity, not enough punch - music like this would shine even more given a grander recording. That certainly doesn't spoil anything though - and so this one comes very highly recommended.