Rob Price
Gutbrain Records
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2009 December 07 • Monday

Happy birthday, Dexter!

He turns two today!

The ninetieth Soundtrack of the Week is a favorite score for a favorite movie: James Horner's music for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

The excellence of this movie sometimes gets lost in the cloud of distractions generated by all the other Star Trek this and Star Trek that out there.

Film Score Monthly released the CD of Horner's music last summer and I listened to it about ten times in a row upon receipt. If you're familiar with the movie, it's remarkably easy to follow the story just by listening to the cues.

Director Nicholas Meyer didn't know anything about Star Trek but recognized the influence of Horatio Hornblower on Gene Roddenberry, creator of the series. He approached the movie as if he were making a nautical adventure picture, and asked composer Horner to work in a similar vein.

Horner must have liked this idea. His music suggests winds of various strengths, swelling waves and creeping fog, with the occasional storm at sea. He ingeniously worked in Alexander Courage's theme for the Star Trek tv series and created original cues which are brilliantly sympathetic to the scores for the original series.

Perhaps most importantly he came up with short but extremely effective original cues to identify Kirk, Khan, Spock and the Enterprise. These cues end up doing a lot of dramatic work in the final battle between the two ships, with just seconds of music here and there telling the audience who is doing what to whom.

The liner notes to the CD are insightful and informative, pointing out, for instance, how unusual it is that Kirk and Khan never meet in the movie. They grapple with their ships and communicate only over video screen. This makes Star Trek II one of a handful of movies of that time to explore characters whose most significant relationships with each other occur over television or video screens (e.g., Videodrome, The Osterman Weekend, Sex, Lies and Videotape).

Apparently James Horner was appalled by the suggestion that he orchestrate "Amazing Grace" for the funeral scene, but he performed this duty especially well. More to his taste is the triumphant "Enterprise Clears Moorings", an exhilarating accompaniment to a grandiose scene.

The ending scene of the coffin on the Genesis planet was a last-minute addition, a replacement for a less ambiguous conclusion. Nicholas Meyer didn't want to shoot it, preferring to leave the Spock door closed, and he didn't—somebody else did. Horner came up with great new music for it at the last minute and executive producer Harve Bennett says he cried when he saw it.

Perhaps it would have been better for the Star Trek franchise to have ended with this movie and for all of these other Star Trek shows and movies to have different names, their own identities and histories. Maybe it would have been better to leave the original Star Trek to those of us who are satisfied with it (and unmoved by any spaceship commanded by Scott Bakula). Of course, this would mean no Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and since that's my mother's favorite, I guess I wouldn't have it any other way.