Star Trek III: The Search For Spock (Newly Expanded Edition) – music by James Horner

Star Trek III: The Search For Spock (Newly Expanded Edition)Fresh from the spectacular success – in archival soundtrack release terms – of last year’s complete score from Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan, Film Score Monthly (via its Retrograde Records imprint) did the “logical” thing and began work on a complete score release of the next movie in the classic Trek cycle, Star Trek III: The Search For Spock. Now, I’ve always been of the opinion that the Trek III score was less impressive than the music for Trek II by several orders of magnitude, but I began to wonder if perhaps that opinion was the product of poor choices made in the track selection and sequencing for the 45-or-so minute soundtrack release that’s been available all these years. Would the Trek III re-release, like that of its predecessor, reveal hidden depths that we’d been denied all these years?

The answer is a roughly equal mix of yes and no. As with Trek II, the original release of Trek III‘s soundtrack bizarrely omitted some of the movie’s most iconic moments. The destruction of the Enterprise (“A Fighting Chance To Live”) is a rather major event in Trek history, but the music accompanying that scene didn’t rate inclusion on the old soundtrack release. It’s a beautiful piece, Horner at his best, and at nearly five minutes, it’s not a piece that’s so short that you could blink and miss it (a frequent excuse for not including a prominent cue on a soundtracka album). Another scene that always struck me musically – accompanied by the track “Sunset On Genesis” – is also a long-lost treasure. It’s nice to have the film version (rather than an “album edit”) of “Stealing The Enterprise”, though the difference isn’t enormous.

Unlike some critics, I’ve always thought Horner’s unique take on a musical signature for the Klingons was appropriate, fitting nicely alongside the “Klingon Battle” piece from The Motion Picture, but even wilder. (In any case, Goldsmith’s Klingon music from the first movie was almost more of a theme for V’Ger, and didn’t gain its signature bombast – a la Horner – until 1989’s Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.) It’s nice to hear Horner’s Klingon motif put through its paces (as in the track “Grissom Destroyed”).

Where things fall down is when the music slips into a single-high-note drone, mainly covering what could be called “Vulcan mysticism scenes”. They may have been appropriate for the film, but they’re extremely tedious as stand-alone listening. I would just skip these tracks and count off a few points, except that by the last third of the soundtrack, these tracks are so prevalent. Basically, after the Genesis planet is destroyed and Kirk & co. make off with their newly-acquired Klingon Bird of Pray, I tend to skip straight to the end. The first CD is rounded out by a selection of “source” music heard in the bar scenes as the Spock-possessed McCoy tries to wheel and deal for passage to the Genesis planet.

Due to contractual constraints involving the label that originally released the Trek III soundtrack LP, a second disc tags along with the first, replicating that LP in its entirety (although it’s been remastered, so it’s not a total loss). The second disc is essentially the same disc as what was released by GNP Crescendo in the early 1990s, and is the same as the original EMI LP released in 1984. The version of “Stealing The Enterprise” heard here differs slightly from the film version, but the real saving grace of the LP is the very dated, Meco-esque “Group 87” synth-disco cover of the theme music. Over-serious, dyed-in-the-wool soundtrack afficionados may hate it, but I’m glad to see it preserved here, even though it means a second CD that increased the price of the set.

3 out of 4Overall, the new Trek III soundtrack is a worthy upgrade, but that worthiness is sometimes a little harder to find than it was with the much more listenable complete score from Trek II. There are persistent rumors – which, interestingly, haven’t been denied outright – that Film Score Monthly isn’t done mining Paramount’s music vaults for Star Trek material this year, so hopefully more musical delights await us from the final frontier.

Order this CD

    Disc One

  1. Prologue and Main Title (6:32)
  2. Klingons (5:59)
  3. Spock’s Cabin (1:41)
  4. The Klingon’s Plan (1:03)
  5. The Mind-Meld (2:32)
  6. Stealing The Enterprise (8:41)
  7. Grissom Destroyed (1:04)
  8. Sunset On Genesis (2:18)
  9. Spock Endures Pon Farr (3:04)
  10. Bird Of Prey Decloaks (3:48)
  11. A Fighting Chance To Live (3:54)
  12. Genesis Destroyed (2:43)
  13. Returning To Vulcan (4:58)
  14. The Katra Ritual (4:31)
  15. End Titles (6:19)
  16. That Old Black Magic / Tangerine / I Remember You (10:32)
    Disc Two

  1. Prologue and Main Title (6:30)
  2. Klingons (5:58)
  3. Stealing The Enterprise (8:35)
  4. Discuss it!The Mind-Meld (2:32)
  5. Bird Of Prey Decloaks (3:48)
  6. Returning To Vulcan (4:56)
  7. The Katra Ritual (4:31)
  8. End Titles (6:20)
  9. The Search For Spock performed by Group 87 (3:43)

Released by: Film Score Monthly / Retrograde Records
Release date: 2010
Disc one total running time: 79:39
Disc two total running time: 46:53

Avatar – music by James Horner

Avatar - music by James HornerI always joke – well, it’s kind of a joke – that it’s not a James Horner score unless it sounds remarkably like a previous James Horner score. It was easy to make that joke in the ’80s; after Battle Beyond The Stars, a rather good score which was shoehorned into the same stylistic box as Star Trek: The Motion Picture by Horner’s boss, producer Roger Corman. That music led Horner to work on Star Trek for real with Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan, and he then used much the same formula (and damn near the same music) for Star Trek III, Krull and his first gig with up-and-coming director James Cameron, Aliens. The similarity was strong enough that even people who, unlike your reviewer here, don’t listen to soundtrack music all day long noticed the similarities. To be fair, Horner has graced us with solid slices of musical Americana such as The Journey Of Natty Gann and Apollo 13 and perhaps the most popular soundtrack in history that doesn’t have the words “Star” and “Wars” anywhere on the cover, Titanic (also for Cameron).

Titanic also had the dubious distinction, at the time, of being the most expensive movie ever made (one which, luckily, also managed to make more of that money back than any more that came before it). When Cameron finally started production on Avatar – at $400,000,000, the new “most expensive movie ever” record-holder – it’s not surprising that Cameron called on the composer of his previous big-screen opus.

While there are a few rapid-fire brass blasts that immediately remind one of Horner’s works as far back as The Wrath Of Khan, generally the music from Avatar just about lives up to the hype of being something that Horner put a lot of time and thought into: it doesn’t actively sound like his previous works. In fact, it achieves something unexpected – at a time when world-music-inspired sounds are standing in for the otherworldly in nearly every other SF film/TV score out there (see: Battlestar Galactica, District 9, Lost, etc. etc. etc.), strong>Avatar manages to not sound like anything else out there. I think this revelation hit me about the time I heard percussion that seemed to be imitating hummingbird wings: that’s kinda neat.

Unusually for a major label soundtrack release, Avatar is filled to the brim, and not with tiny bite-sized cues either: one track, “War”, weighs in heavier than 11 minutes, and those 11 minutes are neither typical action music nor typical James Horner action music. The Avatar score interestingly treats mind-expanding, contemplative moments as little triumphs, but doesn’t bestow triumphant bombast on moments of conflict. Horner and Cameron were clearly on the same page thematically, and the music serves the movie well.

4 out of 4So I’ll admit it: James Horner has returned to science fiction, and aside from maybe all of twenty seconds, it doesn’t sound like any movie he’s scored in that genre before. What’s more, it fits the movie like a glove, and it stands up to a listen on its own. I may yet find a reason to drop my skepticism and become a James Horner fan after all.

Order this CD

  1. You Don’t Dream In Cryo (6:09)
  2. Jake Enters His Avatar World (5:23)
  3. Pure Spirits Of The Forest (8:50)
  4. The Bioluminescence Of The Night (3:36)
  5. Becoming One Of “The People” / Becoming One With Neytiri (7:41)
  6. Climbing Up Iknimaya / “The Path To Heaven” (3:14)
  7. Jake’s First Flight (4:48)
  8. Scorched Earth (3:30)
  9. Quaritch (5:00)
  10. The Destruction Of Hometree (6:44)
  11. Shutting Down Grace’s Lab (2:46)
  12. Gathering All The Na’Vi Clans For Battle (5:12)
  13. War (11:19)
  14. I See You (Theme From Avatar) (4:16)

Released by: Atlantic
Release date: 2009
Total running time: 78:28

Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan (Newly Expanded Edition) – music by James Horner

Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan (Newly Expanded Edition)Maybe we should’ve expected a release like this in a year in which the Star Trek franchise is suddenly coasting along on both warp power and the goodwill of a receptive public thanks to its big-screen relaunch, but this CD’s release caught me completely by surprise, and I hope it’s a sign of things to come.

Simply put, this CD gathers the complete score of James Horner’s celebrated, career-making music score from the second Star Trek film, in order, every note – even including material that was jettisoned after a studio-mandated reshoot required Horner to re-convene his orchestra and add more music at a late date. The soundtrack from Star Trek II has been released before, but this definitive remastered edition adds half an hour of music and represents every note heard in the course of the film. Add to that the usual lavish, well-researched booklet from Film Score Monthly, and you get a package worthy of one of the best scores in the franchise’s big-screen history.

Key passages of music that haven’t been heard before include – believe it or not – major movements in the movie’s climactic space battle, atmospheric tracks from early in the movie, and a brief piece of music that should be forever famous if for not other reason than underscoring William Shatner screaming “KHAAAAAAAAAAN!” Oh, and the death and funeral of one Mr. Spock. In short, the previously omitted tracks are not minor moments in the movie, and why they were left out on the original release is probably down to the fact that, in the LP-dominated days of the early 1980s, a 45-minute soundtrack album was considered more than enough unless, maybe, the movie’s title had “Wars” (rather than “Trek”) after “Star”. Even with that limitation in mind, some of the omissions from the original release are mind-boggling. This CD handily corrects that, and the improvement in sound quality is quite noticeable.

The booklet itself is worth the price of admission too: virtually everything you could possibly want to know about the movie’s music and its composer (including how he got the job and who else almost got the job) is here, lavishly illustrated, painstakingly researched, and the photos even reveal something I had never known about this movie: its composer can be seen in Starfleet uniform in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it walk-on part.

I’m literally praying to God (who may or may not need a starship) that Film Score Monthly isn’t going to be content to leave the Star Trek franchise alone after this release. The third through eighth films cry out for more fully fleshed-out soundtrack releases like this, and I 4 out of 4wouldn’t kick FSM out of bed if they wanted to do something crazy like venture into unreleased music from The Next Generation or Deep Space Nine. A pipe dream? Maybe. But until FSM announced it, the expanded Star Trek II score seemed just as unlikely. It’s been worth the wait – great music finally getting a fitting treatment.

Order this CD

  1. Main Title (3:08)
  2. Surprise On Ceti Aplha V (0:46)
  3. Khan’s Pets (4:20)
  4. The Eels Of Ceti Alpha V / Kirk In Space Shuttle (3:54)
  5. Enterprise Clears Moorings (3:34)
  6. Chekov Lies (0:42)
  7. Spock (1:13)
  8. Kirk Takes Command / He Tasks Me (2:08)
  9. Genesis Project composed & performed by Craig Huxley (3:17)
  10. Surprise Attack (5:08)
  11. Kirk’s Explosive Reply (4:03)
  12. Inside Regula I (1:37)
  13. Brainwashed (1:25)
  14. Captain Terrell’s Death (2:00)
  15. Buried Alive (0:58)
  16. The Genesis Cave (1:11)
  17. Battle In The Mutara Nebula (8:09)
  18. Enterprise Attacks Reliant (1:30)
  19. Genesis Countdown (6:35)
  20. Spock (Dies) (1:55)
  21. Amazing Grace (1:27)
  22. Epilogue / End Title (8:47)
  23. Epilogue (original version) / End Title (7:29)

Released by: Retrograde Records (Film Score Monthly)
Release date: 2009
Total running time: 75:16