Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Five definitive Star Trek cues

Space hippie instruments furnished by Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids.
I was hoping a May 21 post about my unpublished 2007 wish list for J.J. Abrams' Star Trek prequel or reboot or preboot or whatever would be my last Trek-related post for a while. No dice.

A Film Score Monthly blogger recently posted a list of five Trek score cues that best sum up or represent the venerable franchise. It's a nice list--it's cool to see Gerald Fried get some love, and though I still think the nearly wordless Star Trek: The Motion Picture travel pod sequence (in which Admiral Kirk looks like he wants to take his own starship behind a Spacedock and get her pregnant) is overlong, it's hard to dispute the post's argument that the pod sequence contains one of Jerry Goldsmith's most sublime moments as a film composer. The list inspired me to post my five favorite cues from the franchise and stream a block of these five tunes on the Fistful of Soundtracks channel all through August.

1. Charles Napier, "Heading Out to Eden," Star Trek ("The Way to Eden")
This "Way to Eden" number is one of Trek's proudest musical moments.

2. Charles Napier, "Hey Out There!," Star Trek ("The Way to Eden")
This other "Way to Eden" highlight is such a poignant expression of Gene Roddenberry's philosophy of IDIC (Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations).

3. Charles Napier, "The Good Land," Star Trek ("The Way to Eden")
Aw, Trek, you can do no wrong.

4. Kirk Thatcher, "I Hate You," Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
This touching melody was written and performed by a Trek IV visual effects PA who was promoted to associate producer and even got to appear onscreen as a mohawked miscreant Earthling during the playing of his own composition.

5. Bruce Hyde, "I'll Take You Home Again, Kathleen," Star Trek ("The Naked Time")
Not a dry eye in the house.

Alright, I'm kidding.

Not exactly a shining moment in the career of legendary female Trek scriptwriter D.C. Fontana (who hid behind an even more male-sounding pseudonym for the heavily rewritten "Way to Eden"), Trek's atrocious space hippies episode is proof that network TV series writers in their 30s or 40s aren't the best people to turn to when you need someone to capture the pulse of the counterculture.

"I Hate You" is such an ersatz punk tune Avril Lavigne mistook it for the real thing.

It's funny that Thatcher complained about the inaccurate sound of the music that was previously selected for the Trek IV bus scene because lyrics-wise, the song he contributed ended up sounding only slightly more authentic. A real punk band would never say "Screw you!" like Thatcher's "Edge of Etiquette" did during "I Hate You."

Seriously, here are my actual five definitive Trek cues.

The heat from those soundstage lights must be killing Kirk.
1. Gerald Fried, "The Ritual/Ancient Battle/2nd Kroykah," Star Trek ("Amok Time")
Fried would bristle whenever the show would recycle cues like what I think is his crowning achievement, the piece that launched a million Trek music parodies ("Sometimes, I thought it was ludicrous what they did [to keep the series' music budget down], and sometimes, I think, 'Well yeah, alright, it sort of works.'"), but after the show's post-network success, I bet he's been touched by how much recognition and spoofage his catchy fight theme receives.

2. Sol Kaplan, "Kirk Does It Again," Star Trek ("The Doomsday Machine")
Oh, so that's where John Williams got his Jaws theme from.

3. Jerry Goldsmith, "Spock Walk," Star Trek: The Motion Picture
The cue that best captures the cerebral and mysterious feel of The Motion Picture isn't the rousing but somewhat out-of-place main title theme. It's the eerie "Spock Walk," which accompanies the movie's only genuinely thrilling sequence (besides the still-dazzling opening shot of the Klingon armada and the upgraded Enterprise's launch sequence): Spock's thruster-suited trip into the v'gina of V'Ger. As a Trek installment, ST:TMP is uninvolving, witless and flat (the original cast comes off as nervous and stiff in their first feature film together), but it's a triumph of mood and atmosphere, especially during the spacewalk sequence and the sterling Goldsmith cue that accompanies it.

Young Kirk's apple in the 2009 Star Trek is a shout-out to this Wrath of Khan scene.
4. James Horner, "Battle in the Mutara Nebula," Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
My favorite Trek II cue, which kicks off when Kirk bites into his apple and tells Saavik, "I don't like to lose," accompanies the perfectly paced sequence in which the Enterprise and the Reliant circle each other like a matador and a bull with nacelles instead of horns.

5. Michael Giacchino's Star Trek main title theme (not found on the score album--the brief cue is most likely just snippets of "Enterprising Young Men" edited together)
The moment this enjoyably pompous new theme played over the opening title image of the gleaming Starfleet arrowhead insignia, I knew Trek was back--even though the theme wasn't Alexander Courage's classic fanfare. Like the rest of Giacchino's new material during the score, Kirk's theme, in its various forms, perfectly embodies the spirit of classic Trek.

Some viewers are disappointed that Courage's fanfare doesn't appear until the film's climax. Have they forgotten this is a prequel? To borrow Giacchino's own words, this film is about everything that came before the Trek we know. Delaying the classic Trek theme (a la the late appearance of "The James Bond Theme" in David Arnold's Casino Royale score to enhance the moment when the upstart hero finally comes into his own) was a bold and fitting move.

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