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Star Trek Into Darkness (Michael Giacchino)

June 15, 2013

Cover_STID_GiacchinoSTAR TREK INTO DARKNESS

Michael Giacchino , 2013, Varese Sarabande,
15 tracks, 47:04

J.J. Abrams returns to the “Star Trek” universe for a second time and, to no one’s surprise, brings Michael Giacchino back in to provide the music. He delivers a score that offers little new material over the 2009 release, but presents it with a bit more confidence in a more tightly produced package.

Review by Pete Simons

What is it?

“Star Trek: Into Darkness” is the sequel to 2009’s reboot of the “Star Trek” franchise. In this eleventh film, Starfleet is threatened by its most adversary protagonist, played brilliantly by Benedict Cumberbatch; of BBC’s “Sherlock Holmes” fame – though from now on probably of “STID” fame! Peter Weller (remember him!) and the always enjoyable Bruce Greenwood also star, alongside the base cast.

Giacchino returns to scoring duties. I have to admit to not being a fan of his 2009 score. At the time I found that “it doesn’t sound like Star Trek”. Whilst I know that plenty of others share the same sentiment, nowadays I find it a short-sighted argument. The whole concept of “Star Trek” seems to have changed. It is much more action-packed (and less explorative) than it used to be. It follows then that the music is just that – more action, less adventure. For the purpose of this “Into Darkness” review, I revisited “Star Trek” (2009) and… well, I still didn’t enjoy it much! There is something about that score that I can’t connect with. There are various elements in the writing, orchestration, performance and recording that I can’t get to grips with. Later in this review I will use the word ‘fuzzy’ to describe the 2009 score. However, I am very pleased to say that “STID” clears up these issues.

What does it sound like?

Unsurprisingly it all sounds rather like the 2009 predecessor. Giacchino’s new “Star Trek” fanfare makes a return though is less obtrusive in “STID” than it was a few years ago. Spock’s theme returns. And plenty of other little motifs and interludes are present as well. The key difference lies with their arrangement, performance and mixing. This time round, the whole album sounds more confident and much tighter. Re-listening to “Star Trek” I found a lot of the music to be a little ‘fuzzy’. That could’ve been due to the orchestrations or the performance (as the horns, when providing staccato accompaniments, sounded slurred; they now seem to have made way for more precise string writing). Or it could have been due to the mixing, which is much warmer and clearer on this album. It also seems as if Giacchino has been able to tighten up some of his compositions, make them more ‘to the point’ and ultimately much more satisfying. One of the cases in point would be the resolve of his fanfare and the brass stabs and percussive hits that follow it. On “Star Trek Into Darkness” they are written and performed in a much more confident manner, thereby giving it much more punch than the original. I can’t shake the feeling that Giacchino’s first score was treading very carefully into the “Star Trek” universe, whereas this one is much less apologetic; and better for it.

Then, of course, there is a new theme for this film’s protagonist – let’s just call him John Harrison for now. Giacchino provides him with a 6-notes rhythmic motif (first heard towards the end of “Meld-Merized”) which is overlaid with a reasonably lavish, yet menacing theme for strings. The theme itself is multi-layered, consisting of a slow 3-note motif (best heard in “Brigadoom”) and a faster moving line for strings in a higher register (best heard towards the end of “The Kronos Wartet”). It sounds appropriately threatening and combined with the rhythmic motif it sure gets the heart pumping; especially when that 6-note motif transcend into a frenzied double-paced arpeggio for strings. The only trouble I do have with Harrison’s theme, particularly the upper register part of it, is that it is a little too ‘square’ – notes of equal length, played exactly on the beat and played very much as individual notes, which actually renders it a little too calculated and life-less. A little more legato play might have made it more fluent.

As with the previous score, Giacchino combines orchestra, choir and synth to great effect. The Klingon chanting in “The Kronos Wartet” is the only element of the score that I failed to connect with. Sounds a bit too much like scatting to me; wabbada pee pah poo!

The film has a number of action-packed set-pieces and the score follows suit with exciting cues such as “Pranking the Natives”, “Earthbound and Down”, “Ship to Ship”, and “The San Fran Hustle” – with the latter two making great use of the protagonist’s theme.

Tracks such as “Sub Prime Directive”, “Warp Core Value” and “Kirk Enterprises” lend a nobler or epic feel to this score. Whilst “Buying the Space Farm”, most of “London Calling” and most of “Brigadoom” are more reflective and add a touch of humanity (with all due respect, Spock) to the album.

Is it any good?

Opinions on how “Star Trek Into Darkness” compares to its predecessor will be divided. Personally, I believe it to be superior, because the composition, the performance and the recording are a little more precise. It hasn’t got that fuzzy feeling that bothered me about the 2009 score. Back then it sounded as if the horn players struggled to keep up and slurred their notes; and the mixing wasn’t as clear as I would’ve liked. This time the orchestration is focused much more on the strings; its players providing a very tight performance.

Having said that… for all its technical marvel, I find most of Giacchino’s score to be a little too calculated (less so than the previous one, but still…). I am willing to accept that my perception may be wrong, but nonetheless, I can’t help but feel it all sounds like someone trying a little too hard to get all the notes in exactly the right place. I do realise how ridiculous this sounds, and I have to admit that I would much rather listen to a score where someone is trying too hard with counterpoint, efficient writing, clear orchestration and one heck of a bad guy-theme (it works spectacularly well in context) than listen to someone who is merely trying to have some fun, invites a bunch of friends, and forgets about style, techniques and orchestration along the way… So, this is only a minor gripe, but I believe that its meticulousness is holding back a greater potential. Because… When the shackles do come of in “The San Fran Hustle” we are treated to what may well become the best action cue of 2013!

A bigger issue is the presentation of the score on album. There is a lot of really great material missing. An extra ten or fifteen minutes, particularly of Harrison’s music, would have been very welcome (and would’ve lifted my rating below by at least half a star, if not more). One can only hope that a deluxe edition might one day get released – as it did for “Star Trek” (2009). The rating reflects the album presentation, not the in-film experience (which is far superior than this album suggests).

On a final note: Less is more – is a motto that seems long forgotten by most current Hollywood composers. Not by Giacchino though. I dare say his composition for “STID” is rather efficient. There is never anything more going on that there needs to be. No bombast, no noise, no additional instruments, no notes for the sake of them. As we’re so accustomed by hyperbolic scores nowadays, it makes Giacchino’s music feel oddly empty at times, but only until you realise it needs nothing more – and when he does crank up the volume, it generates genuine excitement!

Rated (as presented on this album) [3,5/5]

Tracklisting

  1. Logos/Pranking the Natives (3:02)
  2. Spock Drops, Kirk Jumps (1:44)
  3. Sub Prime Directive (2:24)
  4. London Calling (2:10)
  5. Meld-Merized (2:41)
  6. The Kronos Wartet (5:26)
  7. Brigadoom (3:42)
  8. Ship to Ship (2:51v
  9. Earthbound and Down (2:38)
  10. Warp Core Values (2:57)
  11. Buying the Space Farm (3:18)
  12. The San Fran Hustle (5:01)
  13. Kirk Enterprises (3:01)
  14. Star Trek Main Theme (3:25)
  15. The Growl (Song) (2:56)

Album credits

Link: Album credits at allmusic.com

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