Home > Reviews > STAR TREK III: THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK – James Horner


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Original Review by Craig Lysy

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan achieved tremendous critical and commercial success, and so Paramount quickly authorized the making of a third film. However, director Nicholas Meyer refused to return in protest over changes made to the prior film’s ending without his consent. When Nimoy was asked to reprise the role of Spock, he said yes, with the caveat that he wanted to direct the film. The studio hesitated, but ultimately agreed, and Harve Bennett was again hired to produce and write the script. The original crew ensemble returned including; William Shatner as Captain Kirk, Leonard Nimoy as Spock, DeForest Kelly as Dr. McCoy, James Doohan as Scott, George Takei as Sulu, Walter Koenig as Chekov and Nichelle Nichols as Uhura. Joining the cast was Christopher Llyod as the villain Captain Kruge, Robin Curtis replacing Kirstie Alley as Lieutenant Saavik, Mark Lenard as Sarek, Merritt Buttrick as Dr. David Marcus, and the renowned Dame Judith Anderson as the Vulcan high priestess T’Lar. Nimoy wanted the film to be operatic with a transpersonal exploration of the themes of life, death and rebirth. Yet he also wanted to explore on a more personal level, the deeper meaning of friendship. Nimoy relates: “What should a person do to help a friend? How deeply should a friendship commitment go? And what sacrifices, what obstacles, will these people endure?”

The story opens with a grieving Kirk and crew, and a wounded Enterprise limping back to port, as the research vessel U.S.S. Grissom is deployed to assess the Genesis planet. When the Klingons discover evidence of the Genesis device, they view it as a weapon, and proceed to the Genesis planet to acquire it. On Genesis, Saavik and David make a remarkable discovery, that the Genesis device has reanimated Spock. We also discover from a Sarek mind-meld with Kirk, that Spock, before his death, had mind-melded with McCoy, transferring his Katra, his living spirit into him. Sarek demands that Kirk return Spock’s Katra and corpse for final resting on Vulcan. To honor Sarek’s request, Kirk and his crew violate Star Fleet orders, commandeer the Enterprise, thus sacrificing their careers, to regain Spock and return him Vulcan. Kirk suffers a grievous and unbearable loss when the Klingons capture and murder his son David. He eventually triumphs, by destroying the Enterprise and killing Kruge. They fulfill their pledge to Sarek by taking Spock to Vulcan in the captured Klingon Bird of Prey. High priestess T’Lar performs the Fal-tor-pan ceremony, which reunites Spock’s Katra in his body, thus restoring him. When Spock asks why they would do this, Kirk turns Spock’s logic on its head stating “The needs of the one, outweighed the needs of the many.” With the crew happily reunited, the film ends with the promise of new adventures. The film was very well received by fans and the public at large, which ensured the continuation of the franchise.

Nimoy wanted his friend Leonard Rosenman to compose the score, but was over-ruled by the studio who believed that, given the success of the prior film, and the continuity of the storyline, that the continuity of Horner’s soundscape would strengthen the narrative. Horner relates that he was eager to score the film and proved very effective in sustaining and expanding his soundscape. Kirk’s Theme returns, but unlike the prior film, is less prominent. It offers a flowing nautical melody born by heraldic trumpets eroici that sound of adventure and seafaring, and inform us of Kirk’s indomitable spirit. The Enterprise’s Theme becomes the film’s primary identity, which is born by strings and is more free-flowing and lyrical. The two themes are synergistic and perfect compliments. Spock’s Theme diverges into transpersonal and personal forms of expression. In the personal realm it continues to serve as his primary identity. It is serene, otherworldly and contemplative. It is tritone in construct and Horner uses a harp, recorder and pan pipes, which do not blend well together, to express the tension of his blended Human and Vulcan heritage. In this film however his theme is remodulated and now incorporates elements of the Genesis motif – this is brilliantly conceived. For its kindred transpersonal rendering, we have the Vulcan Theme. Its auras impart a more stark, spiritual and mystical expression, which speaks to this ancient, mysterious and enigmatic race. Horner creates these colors by joining electronica with traditional acoustic instruments such as the ocarina, vibraphone, rub rods, tuned gongs, Tahitian slit drums, and rhythm logs. For our villain, Kruge’s Theme serves not only as Lord Kruge’s personal identity, but also in a larger sense, that of the Klingon race itself. It is a fierce, primal and aggressive power anthem. Horner employed Tibetan, Alpine and traditional horns, assorted woodwinds, bamboo ang-klungs, anvil strikes, cimbalom, cluster chimes, tam-tams and a thunder sheet to fully capture the hunter-warrior archetype of the Klingon species. Lastly, Horner also chose to interpolate Alexander Courage’s iconic Star Trek Anthem, as he wanted to connect the audience with the Star Trek universe.

“Prologue” opens as a misterioso to the Paramount logo and features ethereal auras born of Blaster Beam, harp and percussion. We flow into a reprise of Spock’s death scene and burial, which informs us of his noble sacrifice. Horner supports the pathos of this scene with reverence and solemnity through lyrical interplay of the Spock-Genesis Theme and the Enterprise Theme. We shift to star lite space and hear Spock speak the iconic Star Trek motto as we descend through Genesis’ cloudscapes to its verdant forests; “Space: the final frontier. These are the continuing voyages of the starship Enterprise. Their on-going mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”

Horner astutely supports Spock’s reading and provides continuity for the film by using Courage’s Star Trek Fanfare. We segue at 2:40 into an outstanding score highlight in “Main Title”, where Horner presents his main themes and perfectly sets the film’s tone. Refulgent strings usher in the roll of the opening credits. As we arrive at Spock’s casket, we crescendo as the film’s title appears – nicely done. A reserved rendering of the Enterprise Theme carries us aloft among the clouds as the credits continue to roll. Kirk’s Theme sounds on trumpets solenne and ushers in Spock’s Theme whose repeating ascending statements struggle ever upwards, yet never achieve culmination. As the Enterprise comes into view at 5:21 there is a shift in tone as a passage of descending phrases born by celli affannato and ethereal strings inform us of Kirk and the Enterprises’ wounds. As we see Kirk making a log entry, we hear a fleeting return of a plaintive Spock’s Theme, which fades to nothingness.

“Klingons” supports multiple scenes and offers a fine extended rendering of the Klingon Theme in all is primal ferocity. We open with a plaintive Spock’s Theme supporting Kirk’s exit from the bridge. At 0:09 we segue darkly to a merchant vessel bearing the Klingon agent Valkris who has procured data on the Genesis device. Blaster Beam and dark textural effects portend danger as the captain hails the cloaked Klingon Bird of Prey. Kruge arrives fiercely atop the Klingon Theme at 1:10 as he decloaks his ship. Valkris transmits the stolen data to Kruge, and advises that she has viewed the data, which condemns her and the merchant ship to death. Without remorse for his mate, Kruge obliterates the ship with disrupter fire, and sets course for Genesis. A dark sustain by blaster beam finishes the scene. At 3:25 we segue to the Enterprise, which has returned to the massive orbiting space dock complex. Refulgent strings and chords by horns maestoso introduce the Star Trek Fanfare as the wounded ship returns. As the ship enters, a bright rendering of the Enterprise Themes carries her progress. An interlude of strings animato supports the viewing of the latest starship Excelsior. We conclude with a noble rendering of the Enterprise Theme as ship docks.

“Spock’s Cabin” features Kirk entering Spock’s quarters to find a trance like McCoy uttering in Spock’s voice to take him to Mount Seleya. Horner sows unease by introducing fragmented phrases of the Vulcan Theme on violins inquietanti. A viola ostinato, metallic strikes and electronica join and sow a misterioso ambiance as McCoy speaks. The marriage of imagery and music here is superb! In “The Klingon’s Plan” Horner sows menace as Kruge informs his crew that he intends to steal the Genesis weapon. A segue at 0:27 reveals the U.S.S. Grissom entering orbit of Genesis, which Horner propels with the Star Trek Fanfare supported by unison resonating French horns. “The Mind-Meld” reveals Sarek interrupting Kirk’s party and demanding a private meeting to discuss Spock’s death. Kirk’s imprecise answers force Sarek to mind-meld. Horner supports the intimacy and mysticism of the mind-meld with an exotic milieu of marimba, bass marimba, gongs, low tam-tams and electronica. From out this milieu emerges Spock’s Theme on contrabass clarinet and contrabassoon, high register ocarina and pennywhistle. When Sarek fails to detect Spock’s Katra, they conclude that the ever-resourceful Spock would have found a way to preserve his Katra. Horner imparts religioso auras using shifting chords by strings solenne to support their discussion. Once again, the marriage of imagery and music here is superb.

“Stealing the Enterprise” supports a complex multi-scenic sequence, which offers an astounding score highlight and one of the finest cues in the franchise! A fast-paced string ostinato with woodwinds support Kirk and Sulu’s prison break of McCoy. The fast pacing continues and builds suspense atop Kirk’s Theme as the three escape. Aboard the Excelsior Scotty bids its insufferable Captain good night. Horner introduces his twinkling Conspiracy Motif, which is born by celesta, harp and pizzicato violins. The motif continues in a scene shift as Ohura welcomes Kirk, McCoy and Sulu to her transporter station and beams them to the Enterprise. Sparkling strings adorn Kirk’s Theme as Ohura forces her cadet into the closet at phaser point. A brief scene shift to Genesis where Saavik and David search for Spock is supported by dissonance, which leads us to the part of the cue that brings the house down! At 3:10 we shift to the bridge of the Enterprise where Kirk is joined by McCoy, Scotty, Sulu and Chekov. Warm French horns play over snare drums as they realize there is no going back. Kirk’s Theme joined by the Star Trek Fanfare sound as they lift the Enterprise’s moorings and head towards the space dock’s massive exit door. A classic accelerando unfolds with their intentions declared by resounding French horns bravado, which propel the Enterprise’s escape! Inspired interplay of Kirk’s Theme and the Enterprise Theme escalates the drama! The militant Excelsior Motif joins the fray as Excelsior powers up to pursue. French horns bravado continue to resound atop tense percussion as Scotty franticly struggles to force open the space dock doors. He succeeds with no time to spare and a celebratory Kirk’s Theme sounds as the Enterprise exits! The Enterprise Theme contested by the Excelsior Motif builds steadily to crescendo as the Enterprise flees with Excelsior in pursuit. The crescendo culminates at 7:57 with a declaration of horns when Sulu engages warp drive. A second percussive and horn rich driven crescendo builds as the Excelsior prepares to engage her superior trans-warp drive, yet she stalls out atop a violin sustain due to Scotty’s sabotage. Wow! The marriage of Horner’s music to this tense and exciting film sequence was brilliant!

“Grissom Destroyed” reveals Kruge’s Bird of Prey tactical officer destroying the Grissom instead of disabling her engines. This elicits Krug’s fury and summary execution of the officer. Kruge’s Theme powers the scene yet dissipates in the aftermath as he considers his options. “Sunset on Genesis” offers inspired writing, which reveals how music can evoke the wonder of nature. The scene on Genesis reveals nightfall descending with unnatural rapidity, casting its pall o’er the land as Saavik and David tend to the boy Spock, and the Klingon landing party pursues the hunt. We open with the Klingon Theme that yields to an amazing fluidic statement of strings atop a bass sustain, which supports the eerie disconcerting nightfall. Spock’s Theme plays as Saavik tends to the boy and transitions to the Vulcan Theme as she discusses the hidden truth of Genesis with David. Ominous dark chords portend the arrival of the Klingons. In “Spock Endures Pon Farr” Horner again expertly captures the scene’s powerful emotions. Spock has reached adolescence and is experiencing his first painful breeding urges of Pon Far, which for Vulcan males occurs every seven years. Spock has consciousness yet not cognitive understanding. Saavik seeks to sooth him, and alleviate his pain with cursory expression of the Vulcan mating ritual, which unfolds through an intimate caressing of fingers. Horner supports this act of compassion with tender interplay of Spock’s Theme and the Vulcan Theme. We transition to Kirk’s Theme as the Enterprise prepares to enter Genesis orbit. Kruge’s Theme sounds as they detect her arrival. As Kruge beams up to his cloaked ship and the two crews prepare for battle, we hear interplay of ethnic Klingon music countered with bright repeating fanfare for the Enterprise. A tense string ostinato and diminuendo brings us to the onset of hostilities.

In “Bird of Prey Decloaks” Kirk’s Theme plays as the Enterprise assumes Genesis orbit. We shift to Kruge’s Theme as he seeks exploit the element of surprise by decloaking, so he may fire the first volley. Kirk has already anticipated this and orders Sulu to lock on to its detected position. Contested interplay of the Kruge’s and Kirk’s Theme support the unfolding drama. In time an energetic Kirk’s Theme becomes ascendant and commences a dramatic accelerando, building powerfully to crescendo. As Kruge orders decloaking, Kirk orders Scotty to fire two proton torpedoes, which appear to disable the Bird of Prey. A celebratory declaration of Kirk’s Theme by trumpets trionfante supports their apparent victory. But this is short-lived as Scotty’s Gerry-rigged automation overloads, thus disabling the Enterprise’s’ shields. A ferocious Klingon Theme regains prominence as Kruge restores power, rights his ship, and then returns fire, which disables the Enterprise’s engine and weapons. “A Fighting Chance to Live” is a powerful and emotional score highlight. After Kruge has David brutally murdered, a devastated Kirk agrees to surrender the defenseless Enterprise. He orders the self-destruct program, timed to kill the Klingon boarding party, and they beam to the planet. Horner supports this with a plaintive Kirk’s Theme on French horns, which plays over a painful line born by strings affannato. As they flee the ship, an accelerando on his theme supports their flight. Urgent strings and wailing horns bellicoso support the Klingon beam in and search of the vessel. On the bridge a string sustain portends their fate and we crescendo to a powerful explosion as the Enterprise detonates. The scene ends darkly with finality upon a diminuendo by blaster beam. At 2:56 a timpani roll ushers in a plaintive statement on strings and the first two notes of Kirk’s Theme on tuba, as they view the Enterprise’s fiery descent.

In “Genesis Destroyed” Kruge has beamed the crew back to his ship and fights Kirk to the death as Genesis erupts in the fiery cataclysm. As Kirk kicks Kruge off a cliff into a lava flow we crescendo on tense strings, and climax with shrill discordant horns as he falls to his death. Surrounded by fire, Kirk grabs Spock and transports up to the Klingon Bird of Prey, Horner provides a stirring elegy with the Genesis Theme and Spock Theme, which join in a sublime confluence! With Kirk and crew now in command of the Bird of Prey we see the planet Genesis undergoing cataclysmic eruptions. The Star Trek Fanfare sounds as the Scotty and Sulu struggle to discern the Bird of Prey’s controls. Horner sows palpable tension with an energetic accelerando, which culminates gloriously with celebratory fanfare as the Enterprise warps out to safety and Genesis is ripped asunder in a fiery explosion!

“Returning to Vulcan” reveals McCoy’s futile pleading for the comatose Spock to awake. Horner creates a misterioso with the Vulcan Theme, which accentuates McCoy’s helplessness. At 0:43 we see Sarek grant Ohura permission for Kirk to land, which Horner supports with a chromatic descent of strings. At 1:17 Sulu is piloting the Bird of Prey and prepares to land on Mount Seleya. Spock’s Theme and the Genesis Theme join in communion and swell for a lush and truly magnificent statement. They disembark and present Spock to a solemn Sarek and temple acolytes, Horner bathes us is in the mystical wonder of Vulcan with an array of Alpine and Tibetan horns, ethnic woodwinds and the twinkling percussion of the Vulcan Theme.

“The Katra Ritual” is a score highlight where Horner demonstrates mastery of his craft, providing a perfect marriage of film imagery and music. We see T’Lar perform the sacred Fal-tor-pan ceremony, in hope of reuniting Spock’s Katra, which is housed in McCoy’s mind, with his reanimated body, thus restoring him. For this crucial scene Horner creates a wondrous misterioso soundscape born from an array of ethnic sounds and textures, which impart the auras of Vulcan mysticism. From out this rich milieu a melodic line coalesces and begins an impassioned ascent on violins, which carry our hopes. We ascend higher, and higher until we achieve a sublime climax at 2:09. A diminuendo ushers in a violin sustain, which supports French Horns solenne emoting statements of Spock’s Theme and the Vulcan Theme as we witness a procession taking, T’Lar, Sarek and Spock from the temple. As Kirk and the crew seek to fully understand what has happened we flow into the “End Titles”, which in reality opens with the final scene. Spock stops the procession, faces Kirk, and struggles with his recall until he achieves an epiphany – he recognizes his friend Jim. This elicits his crewmates to surround him for a truly happy and joyous reunion! The celebration is supported by a full rendering of the Courage’s Star Trek Fanfare, which launches the End Title roll at 0:49. Horner chose to reprise his End Title suite from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan to end the film. We commence with an exhilarating and joyful prelude of strings animato, with a counter line by celli. From here we are treated to one last glorious parade of our primary themes and fanfares, which are rendered in extended statements, including; Kirk’s Theme, the Enterprise Theme, the Spock-Genesis Theme, and a concluding, rousing flourish atop the Star Trek Fanfare!

Allow me a to extend a heartfelt thank you to Lukas Kendall, Craig Spauding, Retrograde Records and Film Score Monthly for this long sought and much appreciated release of the expanded score to Star Trek III: The Search For Spock. The expert 3-track restoration and digital conversion offers pristine sound quality. Horner built an amazing foundation of great themes for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and continued this soundscape in this sequel, expanding some themes and adding new ones. The film’s more mystical and contemplative narrative presented Horner with different demands that are some ways I believe were more challenging than the forthright iconic hero-villain clash of Kirk and Khan. The sophistication of his dichotomous transpersonal and personal expressions of Spock’s and Kruge’s Themes offer testimony to Horner’s mastery of his craft. The end result is an inspired score, which in scene after scene is perfectly attenuated to the film’s narrative. The thematic development and interplay is of the highest order and I believe this score, while not as grand and powerful as its predecessor, is more than worthy of inclusion in your collection.

Buy the Star Trek III soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Prologue and Main Title (6:30)
  • Klingons (5:57)
  • Spock’s Cabin (1:40)
  • The Klingon’s Plan (1:01)
  • The Mind-Meld (2:31)
  • Stealing the Enterprise (8:39)
  • Grissom Destroyed (1:02)
  • Sunset on Genesis (2:17)
  • Spock Endures Pon Farr (3:04)
  • Bird of Prey Decloaks (3:47)
  • A Fighting Chance to Live (3:52)
  • Genesis Destroyed (2:42)
  • Returning to Vulcan (4:56)
  • The Katra Ritual (4:30)
  • End Titles (6:13)
  • That Old Black Magic/Tangerine/I Remember You (Bar Source) (written by Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer and Victor Schertzinger (10:32)
  • Prologue and Main Title (1984 Soundtrack Release Version) (6:29)
  • Klingons (1984 Soundtrack Release Version) (5:56)
  • Stealing the Enterprise (1984 Soundtrack Release Version) (8:34)
  • The Mind-Meld (1984 Soundtrack Release Version) (2:31)
  • Bird of Prey Decloaks (1984 Soundtrack Release Version) (3:46)
  • Returning to Vulcan (1984 Soundtrack Release Version) (4:53)
  • The Katra Ritual (1984 Soundtrack Release Version) (4:30)
  • End Titles (1984 Soundtrack Release Version) (6:13)
  • The Search For Spock – Theme from Star Trek III (performed by Group 87) (3:42)

Running Time: 115 minutes 47 seconds

Retrograde Records/Film Score Monthly FSM-80129-2 (1984/2010)

Music composed and conducted by James Horner. Orchestrations by Greig McRitchie. Theme from Star Trek by Alexander Courage. Recorded and mixed by Dan Wallin. Edited by Bob Badami. Score produced by James Horner. Album produced by Lukas Kendall and Craig Spaulding.

  1. August 25, 2015 at 9:58 am

    Great analysis. After what’s happened this year, with the passing of both Nimoy and Horner, I can’t listen to this without getting misty-eyed 😦

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