Rob Price
Gutbrain Records
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2010 December 13 • Monday

The 143rd Soundtrack of the Week is James Horner's Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.

Apparently director and star Leonard Nimoy wanted his friend Leonard Rosenman to compose the music for this but somebody managed to convince him that Horner, who had scored Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, was needed to bind the two movies together. (Rosenman would score Star Trek IV: The Journey Home, also directed by Nimoy.)

It's not fair to say that Horner's score for the third Star Trek movie is better than his score for the second. Horner's music for Star Trek II had to stand mostly on its own—it effectively incorporated Alexander Courage's theme for the Star Trek series but couldn't make use of anything Jerry Goldsmith had composed for Star Trek: The Motion Picture—while Star Trek III has the advantage of building on Horner's Star Trek II music.

Horner's Star Trek III score is a brilliant sequel; the movie itself, not so much. Excited by Khan's success, the filmmakers piled it on a bit too thick, adding one too many big moments. And while casting Judith Anderson as a Vulcan was a brilliant idea, the character of Saavik doesn't survive recasting. And it's very disappointing that Uhura doesn't go with them.

But the music couldn't have been better. From the alternately rousing and poignant "Prologue and Main Title", with its quotes from Courage's Star Trek theme, we go straight into the intense and percussive "Klingons", of which the second half is a theme for the Enterprise which comes close to the grandeur of Khan's "Enterprise Clears Moorings".

Horner's music is so perfect for the characters and their world that certain phrases make me smile as they so clearly recall Kirk or Spock. "Spock's Cabin" is appropriately otherworldy and quotes the "Spock" theme from the previous movie. "The Klingon's Plan" combines the menace of the Klingons with the beauty of the Genesis project and Courage's Star Trek theme.

Spock's theme returns for "The Mind-Meld". "Stealing the Enterprise" is almost nine minutes long and is like a condensed version of the whole score. It features the blaster beam, the electronic instrument invented and played by Craig Huxley. (He played it in the scores for the first two movies and appeared as a child actor on two episodes of the Star Trek TV series.)

"Returning to Vulcan" is a highlight of the album, a sweeping and swelling piece of music that builds and builds before slowly falling down to melancholy horn figures. The music is presented mostly in big chunks, a 6:30 "Prologue and Main Title", a 5:59 "Klingons", "Stealing the Enterprise" at 8:41, and a 6:19 "End Titles" that seamlessly combines many of the themes.

After this comes ten and a half minutes of source music, a muzak combo (with electric bass and electric piano) performing intentionally cheesy renditions of "That Old Black Magic", "Tangerine" and "I Remember You".

But that's only the first CD, the original soundtrack recording. There's a second CD that presents the album release. It has nine tracks, of which four are alternate takes of music used in the film.

The truly unique part of the album is the last cut, a pop/dance version of the main theme with drum machines and 80s synth sounds. Hey, you never know. It could have been a hit.