One of the things that J.J. Abrams and co have tried to do with their Star Trek and its alternate timeline is make something that has a fresh approach to the franchise, while still remaining familiar and respectful to what has gone before. The films are not always successful in sticking to that (at least to me), but Michael Giacchino’s music follows it to a tee, trying to be its own thing as much as possible while still being a Star Trek score, right down to including Alexander Courage’s music for the original series.
And certainly with Giacchino’s style, it brings a new angle to the music of the series, something expanded on in Into Darkness. A primary example is ‘London Calling’, a beautiful piano-led piece that at first sounds like nothing ever heard in Star Trek, before slowly twisting and intoning a darker melody as it moves into chaos. It’s a great piece of scoring in the film, and on album it provides an interesting change of direction considering it follows ‘Sub Prime Directive’, which ends with the huge statement of Giacchino’s Trek theme that scores the film’s main title.
Giacchino’s main theme to me is probably the most iconic aspect of the new franchise, and its appearances here are always welcome, in the same spirit of the original series themes (which also make brief appearances). While the theme makes its first appearance in an identical way to the previous film (as a gentle building rendition over the opening logos), it’s peppered throughout the score in all kinds of manners in both A and B-theme variations.
It certainly returns in its bombastic form, with one of the best renditions being the fantastic building version in ‘Sub Prime Directive’, where it underscores the main title card. But it also appears in a more emotional form, with a wonderfully stirring variation used for, shall I say, some more tragic moments. Alexander Courage’s fanfare for the original series also makes a welcome return, although the main theme does not appear on the album (like the 2009 film, it plays over the opening part of Into Darkness’s end credits).
A couple of new themes also make their debut, one featuring once while the other appears throughout the score. The former is Giacchino’s Klingon theme, as heard in ‘Kronos Wartet’. Stepping away from the more angular themes of Jerry Goldsmith and James Horner, Giacchino’s is based around a gutteral chant, with a violent tribal brass section which – while almost inaudible in the film due to sound effects – once again is a satisfying new creation while still having a foot in familiar territory.
Appearing at the end of ‘Kronos Wartet’, John Harrison’s theme in itself is relatively simple, a versatile ascending/descending melody that captures the varying qualities of Harrison’s character, with a driving section that matches his determination. There’s a tragic edge to the theme as well as a sense of bombast; with the former being portrayed exceptionally in ‘Brigadoom’; unfortunately the concert suite for the theme, ‘Ode To Harrison’, that has been played on some radio stations and which has the fully-realised version of his theme is not present on the CD.
One of Giacchino’s talents is the way he writes music for action sequences that fit into the melodic ideas of his score, as opposed to some composers today whose action music – usually heavily percussive – often sounds like it’s from a different score. Don’t get me wrong, the percussion here is furious at times and goes hand in hand with nailbiting strings on tracks like ‘Ship To Ship’ and ‘Earthbound and Down’, but there’s also an inventiveness and grandeur to his work – check out the action arrangement of Spock’s theme in ‘The San Fran Hustle’ or the choral climax of ‘Warp Core Values’.
One of the few complaints I have is nothing really to do with the music but more the album, or rather its length. Forty-four minutes is really crazy for this type of score, and while the selection on the album is fine, it feels like it’s over a bit too quickly. I guess the one sweetener is that, if it follows the release for the previous score, we’ll have a deluxe edition sometime next year. But otherwise, I have no real complaints. It sounds fantastic and the music is top-drawer.
Taking on a beloved franchise is always a tricky prospect, and while Michael Giacchino showed in 2009 that he had what it takes to produce a cracking Star Trek score, he has really excelled with Into Darkness. It’s bold, vibrant, emotional, tense, and a hell of a lot of fun. Is it wrong I’m now a bit disappointed he won’t be doing Star Wars?
STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS is out now from Varese Sarabande
Words: Charlie Brigden