STAR TREK BEYOND – Michael Giacchino
Original Review by Jonathan Broxton
Star Trek Beyond is the third film of the ‘rebooted’ Star Trek series, and the thirteenth film overall since the original Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1979. Directed by Fast and the Furious veteran Justin Lin – taking over the helm from J. J. Abrams – the film sees the crew of the starship Enterprise half way through their five year mission to explore the farthest reaches of space, under the command of Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine). After briefly docking at the new starbase Yorktown, the Enterprise is dispatched to conduct a rescue mission inside a previously uncharted nebula, but falls victim to a surprise attack by a lizard-like warrior named Krall (Idris Elba), and crash-lands on a mysterious world. Left stranded in a rugged wilderness, Kirk, Spock (Zachary Quinto), McCoy (Karl Urban), Scotty (Simon Pegg), and the rest of the crew must now battle a deadly alien race while trying to find a way off the hostile planet.
In many ways, Star Trek Beyond is a return to the feel of the original Star Trek TV series, wherein the crew must use their problem solving skills and battle the threat of a previously un-encountered enemy. The cast are all great, and the camaraderie between the leads is clearly becoming closer and more well-defined over time, but the film does feel a little thin on plot, and Idris Elba’s villain Krall feels a little under-written and under-motivated. Further, director Lin’s visual style feels very hyper-kinetic, un-focused and all over-the-place. The action sequences are impressive and handsomely staged, but the film never takes the time to properly breathe, rushing from set piece to set piece with no time to really digest everything that’s happening in between, or fully comprehend the consequences. The constantly moving camera and ADD flash-cut editing is disorienting at best, nausea-inducing at worst, a car chase in space with all the lack of subtlety that implies. Overall, it is probably the weakest of the three rebooted Star Trek films to date, but fans of modern sci-fi action films will enjoy it as a visually impressive romp through the cosmos.
Returning to provide music for the Federation for the third time is composer Michael Giacchino, who is following up his astonishingly impressive 2015 with a 2016 that continues to show his versatility and compositional skill across numerous genres. Anyone familiar with his first two Star Trek scores will know exactly what Star Trek Beyond sounds like, because the score stubbornly refuses to deviate from the tried-and-tested formula that worked so well before. The recurring main theme that was heard in those previous works is back again, the general tone and stylistic approach to the film is virtually identical, and there are a handful of new themes and motifs to depict new characters and settings. The upside of all this is that, by and large, Giacchino’s music is impressive as it always has been. It may be formulaic and slightly predictable, but the emotional impact and technical quality that has been a hallmark of Giacchino’s writing for almost 20 years has not diminished. If it ain’t broken, why fix it?
Thematically, the score isn’t especially dense. The rousing main title theme march that Giacchino has used throughout his tenure as Star Trek composer continues to dominate the score, but, cleverly, Giacchino deconstructs certain sections of the theme down to their component parts and uses them individually across different settings, from the moody performance in “Logo and Prosper” where it is accompanied by soft chimes, to the thoughtful piano variation in “Thank Your Lucky Star Date”. Elsewhere, the 6-note flourish of the fanfare has a sense of nervousness and anticipation in the militaristic “The Dance of the Nebula,” before emerging as a heroic leitmotif for Kirk himself in “Motorcycles of Relief.”
The 8-note percussion pattern appears on staccato brasses during the frantic “Hitting the Saucer a Little Hard,” a vicious action sequence that illustrates the breathless energy and terrible consequences of the attack on the Enterprise with heavy brass pulses, tempestuous percussion riffs, striking string runs, and eventually a forlorn conclusive choral elegy. The stuttering ostinato that underpins the fanfare appears at the very end of “A Lesson in Vulcan Mineralogy,” although it feels rather frustrating when it ends before the main theme erupts. Most cleverly, each of the motifs return independently in “Franklin My Dear” with a sense of mischievousness in the woodwinds and a hopeful twinkle in the eye of the string writing as the disparate members of the Enterprise’s crew come together to form a plan of action.
The three thematic ideas new to Star Trek Beyond represent the Yorktown starbase, and the characters of Krall and Jaylah. The Yorktown theme is lush and emotional, intended to represent the visual majesty, utopian landscape, and multi-cultural populace of the Federation’s newest starbase, a gravity-defying diamond floating in the cosmos as a beacon of its peaceful, inclusive ethos. After a stately, noble introduction at the end of “Thank Your Lucky Star Date” it really emerges during “Night on the Yorktown,” a glorious and celebratory piece full of life and optimism, with swirling strings, brass triplets, elegant dancing woodwinds, and an angelic choir. Its conclusive statement, in the warm and gentle “Par-tay for the Course,” is not as overwhelmingly emotional as its earlier performance, but it does bring the score – and the story – full circle with a pleasing sense of closure.
Krall’s theme is angry, aggressive, and primeval, perfectly encapsulating the war-like tendencies of the character. His music is built around a brutal percussive idea, hints of which first appear in the rhythmic patterns of the action sequence “A Swarm Reception” amongst all manner of forceful surging strings and brass clusters. They continue through many of the action sequences throughout the rest of the score, notably the starkly dissonant “Krall-y Krall-y Oxen Free,” “Shutdown Happens,” and the wild and violent “Cater-Krall in Zero G”.
Meanwhile the theme for Jaylah – a gritty female scavenger whom Scotty befriends on the surface of the alien world – is as aggressive as Krall’s theme, but less threatening, with a slight tribal inflection that makes use of a battery of rattling percussion ideas and sets their musical temperament apart. The layers of tapped and struck percussion in “Jaylah Damage” are impressively constructed, initially illustrating her strength and fighting prowess, but speaking more to the mystery of her origins, and her personal loneliness, in the second half of the cue when accompanied by some unusually textured cello writing.
Disappointingly, the emotional cello theme representing Spock and Vulcan culture, which was used so impressively in the first two scores, is almost entirely absent here. There is what appears to be an emotional variation on Spock’s theme in the otherwise quite understated “A Lesson in Vulcan Mineralogy,” which could be seen as the beginnings of a love theme for Spock and Uhura, and the glassy metallic textures that often accompanied his motif make a guest appearance in the same cue. Instead, Spock has his own brand new heroic theme, a wonderful nine-note marker which first appears at the 3:42 mark of “A Lesson in Vulcan Mineralogy” on woodwinds, and which appears to share harmonic language with the Vulcan ideas Giacchino created for the other scores, especially in the curious way the theme concludes on a wholly unexpected note.
Spock’s action theme appears again briefly during “Mocking Jaylah,” but reaches its powerful zenith during “Crash Decisions,” which underscores a frantic chase sequence through Yorktown’s complicated transportation systems with energetic string scales and John Williams-esque woodwind runs. The first performance of Spock’s action theme, on brass at 0:40 is wonderful, and it continues through the length of the cue, playing contrapuntally against parts of the Star Trek ostinato and Krall’s motif, and eventually emerging into a stately performance of the main theme.
A stirring reprise of the “Star Trek Main Theme” closes the score but, interestingly, neither of the end credits score pieces from the film are included on Varese Sarabande’s album – a shame, because the performance of the Yorktown theme in the end credits is bigger and more traditionally lush than the one heard within the film itself. Also nowhere to be found are the three songs which feature prominently in the film – Fight the Power” by Public Enemy; “Sabotage” by the Beastie Boys, which plays under one of the film’s climactic space battle sequences and makes sense – and is actually quite funny – in context; and “Sledgehammer,” an original song by self-proclaimed Trek fan Rihanna, which plays over the second part of the end credits crawl.
There are lots of things about Star Trek Beyond that I found impressive, and which make the score a worthwhile purchase, from the clever variations on the now-familiar central themes, to the wonderful Yorktown theme, and the absolutely superb new Heroic Spock theme, which will hopefully become a staple of the series going forward, assuming that Giacchino continues to score them. However, I can certainly foresee a certain section of film music fandom being disappointed with several aspects of the score, most notably the lack of a truly memorable villain’s theme, and the overall sense of it being ‘more of the same’. The action music doesn’t quite have the bravado and panache of other scores in the series, and there is quite a bit of down time in between memorable moments which some may feel causes the second half of the score to drag a little. Nevertheless, despite these valid criticisms, I personally found there to be more to enjoy than to disparage, and for me it’s still one of the strongest mainstream Hollywood scores of the summer.
Buy the Star Trek Beyond soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store
- Logo and Prosper (1:47)
- Thank Your Lucky Star Date (2:15)
- Night on the Yorktown (5:36)
- The Dance of the Nebula (2:22)
- A Swarm Reception (2:30)
- Hitting the Saucer a Little Hard (6:10)
- Jaylah Damage (2:50)
- In Artifacts as in Life (1:51)
- Franklin, My Dear (2:50)
- A Lesson in Vulcan Mineralogy (5:17)
- Motorcycles of Relief (3:17)
- Mocking Jaylah (3:26)
- Crash Decisions (3:16)
- Krall-y Krall-y Oxen Free (4:23)
- Shutdown Happens (4:35)
- Cater-Krall in Zero G (2:17)
- Par-tay for the Course (2:46)
- Star Trek Main Theme (3:45)
Running Time: 61 minutes 13 seconds
Varese Sarabande (2016)
Music composed by Michael Giacchino. Conducted by Tim Simonec. Performed by The Hollywood Studio Symphony Orchestra and the Page LA Studio Voices. Orchestrations by Tim Simonec and Jeff Kryka. Original Star Trek theme Alexander Courage. Recorded and mixed by Joel Iwataki. Edited by Stephen M. Davis. Album produced by Michael Giacchino.