You won’t find another composer out there who is more frequently given the title of “the modern John Williams” than Michael Giacchino. Of course, John Williams is still the modern day John Williams, but there is certainly some validity to this accolade. Most of you, dear readers, familiar or not with the world of film music, were probably introduced to Giacchino without even knowing it, just as I was. His work on the Medal of Honor videogame series broke new ground for game scoring and gave us one of Playstation’s most haunting themes, something that I could recognize and hum long before I began paying attention to film music and knew anything about the men and women behind its composition. Since then, Giacchino has partnered with director/producer J.J. Abrams in a true Spielberg/Williams-esque partnership that has lasted the test of multiple televisions series (Alias, Lost) and numerous feature films (Mission Impossible III, Super 8). While Giacchino has had tremendous success outside of his partnership with Abrams, winning the Oscar for Up and providing a memorable score for the unmemorable John Carter, it is this partnership’s outings that fans of the composer most look forward to.
When 2009 came around and J.J. Abrams breathed new life into the Star Trek franchise, Giacchino was along for the ride, providing a fittingly brassy and energetic score with a memorable main theme for the series’ new direction. Naturally, this summer’s Star Trek Into Darkness (named like a true Giacchino track title) allowed the composer to build upon the foundation he created for the first film and compose an absolutely superb sequel score.
Opening with a noble, solo horn performance of the main theme per the 2009 film, the score soon dives off in a different direction for the Nibiru chase in “Logos/Pranking the Natives”. The chase music continues in “Spock Drops, Kirk Jumps” with brief nods to the main theme. These first two cues really set the pace for the rest of the album. Critics of Into Darkness most often noted the incredibly fast paced nature of the film in comparison to the first entry and Giacchino’s score is fittingly subject to that same comparison. We’re no longer learning for the first time who these characters are and thus reprisals of their themes are kept to a minimum here. However, when we are treated to reprisals, they are just that... an absolute treat. “Sub Prime Directive” is an example of this and is just about as Star Trek ’09 as you’re going to get on this album. Truly fantastic, this track solidifies the surfacing of the Enterprise as my favorite sequence in the film and sneaks in a much appreciated reference to Alexander Courage’s original theme at the same time. Luckily, Giacchino avoids reprising his own theme and its secondary phrases as frequently as he did in Star Trek, his restraint lending the theme an added punch whenever it breaks through (though we could have used some sort of variation when the Enterprise leaves earth to head for Qu'noS, bafflingly spelled "Kronos" in this entry).
After the film’s title, we change gears yet again with “London Calling”, a beautiful piano piece that calls to mind Clint Mansell’s work on Last Night and introduces one of Khan’s themes. The tracks also features some very light electronics previously absent from the 2009 film, an interesting change for Giacchino. “Meld-Merized” is a soberingly mournful piece that erupts into one of Khan’s themes at 1:50, this one foreboding, infectious, and with a distinct air of Twilight Zone. Like John Williams’ Jaws theme, this Khan theme and its variations suggest a lurking evil (here, more calculating) and provide a near perfect sense of building dread. This theme is wonderfully melded into a quieter, tenderer variation to make us feel for Trek's greatest villain in “Brigadoom” just before Giacchino again lets rip with the menace.
Star Trek Into Darkness sees the return of many old faces, not only those of Dr. Carol Marcus and Khan Noonien Singh but also those of the warmongering Klingons. Their faces though are slightly different than when last we saw them and, fittingly, so is their theme. Heard in the lively standout cue “The Kronos Wartet” the identity for the Klingons is sinister and tribal, complete with a wildly unhinged chorus chanting Klingon obscenities. The Khan-in-action motif that begins later in the track at 4:05 builds to a powerful statement of another Khan theme, this one at once majestic and threatening. The word that comes to mind is “conqueror”. The former motif returns in “Ship to Ship” with a little added percussion amidst some good filler material for Kirk and Khan’s space jump to the USS Vengeance. The melding of that theme with the main theme (representing Kirk) at 1:55 in the cue is truly ingenious. They blend together perfectly but Giacchino attacks Khan's theme with a deeper, more powerful show of brass and the main theme with a lone, higher horn, preserving their separate identities even when working together. Sound reminiscent of that scene? “Earthbound and Down” is exciting but ultimately forgettable as far as having any real thematic material goes, a fault that is quickly redeemed in “Warp Core Values,” an exceptionally beautiful cue for Kirk’s sacrifice. The variations on the main theme, the build in the chorus towards the end, and the similarities to George Kirk’s sacrifice cue (“Labor of Love”) from the 2009 Star Trek all made this a chill-inducing few minutes in the theater. Really well done.
The kind of soft, tender orchestral writing that Michael Giacchino excelled at in Lost comes through in the next track, “Buying the Space Farm”, but even with our captain dead we aren’t given a moment to breathe. “The San Fran Hustle” offers some of the best chase material on the album (of which there is much), a motif at 1:57 lifted from the classic Trek episode “Amok Time”, and a final grand statement of the Khan theme for the villain’s last standoff. Following this is “Kirk Enterprises”, a nice kind of catharsis to all the frenetic action cues preceding it. As in “Warp Core Values”, Giacchino reprises the “Labor of Love” material in “Kirk Enterprises” but this time he is much more direct about it. By this approach he effectively communicates to the listener and viewer, “Yes indeed… we have come full circle.” After this satisfying reprisal, we get a bit of an adventure-on-the-horizon kind of motif at 1:46 that sounds like a nod to the James Horner Star Trek scores of old (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek III: The Search for Spock) and then the iconic Alexander Courage motif underlying what every Trekkie looks forward to: “Space, the final frontier". All in all, “Kirk Enterprises” is a great way to end Into Darkness’s new material.
With that, Giacchino reprises his main theme from Star Trek in the aptly-named “Star Trek Main Theme”. Not much is different here, with the exception of some altered percussion and the addition of a chorus. Not that I don’t love hearing Giacchino’s theme, but it would have been nice to forego this track and give us an end credits suite as was done for the 2009 score release. Hopefully, there is a deluxe edition on the horizon. The album ends with a song by Conway entitled “The Growl (Bonus Track)” that can be heard in the bar scene between Scotty and Keenser. It’s kind of catchy and I’m happy they've included it but I wonder if this is really what we’ll be listening to in the year 2259.
To sum up, Giacchino has accomplished a wonder with this score. Though the album is still woefully short (we could have used that “Ode to Harrison” cue that everyone was so in love with weeks before the film’s release) the orchestration and mixing is a step up from Star Trek, which suffered from an overly wet mix. If you listen to the score before seeing Into Darkness, you may deem it to be a bit rife with Giacchino action filler but upon seeing the film I can assure you that the themes will come out and you’ll realize that this an expertly constructed piece of work and a more than worthy sequel score.
Label: Varese Sarabande
Availability: 15 track edition