Spotlight On: Star Trek

Previously on Spotlight On, I took a look back at the music of Harry Potter, Batman, and James Bond now it's time for Star Trek.

The Star Trek films have been a huge impact in the sci-fi genre, as well as the music that goes with each film.  The series has been going strong since the late 70s, and is one film series that has continually made films without extreme gaps of time in between.  

Naturally influenced by the television series, the scores have included composers Jerry Goldsmith, James Horner, Leonard Rosenman, Cliff Eidelman, Dennis McCarthy and Michael Giacchino.

So let's boldly go into each film's score in order.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)
Music by Jerry Goldsmith
Goldsmith's epic score is exactly what the Star Trek film debut needed (even requiring several reworkings.  The sweeping operatic score is often in the forefront of many long sequences.  Most notable is Goldsmith's rousing new Star Trek march theme.  Also notable for this score is the use of an overture and the Blaster Beam, an electronic instrument. 
(Just listen to: Ilia's Theme, Enterprise, End Title)  

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
Music by James Horner
Trying for a different type of score (with no references to Goldsmith), Horner took over.  His first major breakout features a brass theme for Khan, and a motif for Spock.  Also notable is his first use of the 'danger motif', prevalent in Horner scores since.  (Just listen to: Main Titles, Spock, Epilogue/End Title)

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984)
Music by James Horner
Horner returned and expanded his ‘Khan’ themes with a more emotional score.  Perhaps the most un-action score in the series, it still contains plenty of great moments.  (Just listen to: Klingons, The Mind Meld, Bird of Prey Decloaks)

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)
Music by Leonard Rosenman
After Horner decided not to return, director/star Leonard Nimoy turned to Leonard Rosenman.  The resulting score is more mainstream than the past scores.  The theme of the film is far more heroic, and with plenty of lighthearted comedic score moments that don't mesh with the rest of the series.  (Just listen to: The Whaler, Hospital Chase, Home Again: End Credits)

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)
Music by Jerry Goldsmith
With director/star William Shatner taking over, he brought Goldsmith back to the franchise.  He would return to past themes, namely his Trek march, and Klingon theme.  He would introduce more leitmotifs into this score, like for Sybok, the God theme and the Friendship theme.  The Friendship theme was also later used in the forthcoming Goldsmith scores.  (Just listen to: The Mountain, Open the Gates, An Angry God, Life is a Dream) 

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)
Music by Cliff Eidelman
Departing from the score formulas of the past scores, fresh-faced Cliff Eidelman won the director over with his electronic demos.  The score is darker than previous scores and is the first Trek score with a choir.  New themes for the Enterprise, Spock and the Klingons as well as the Peace theme.  (Just listen to: Overture, Clear all Moorings, The Battle for Peace)

Star Trek Generations (1994)
Music by Dennis McCarthy
Bridging the gap with the Original Series cast and the Next Generation was Next Generation composer Dennis McCarthy, who scored many episodes of the show, as well as Deep Space Nine.  Featured is a theme for the two captains meeting.  Overall, the score is restrained and doesn't break out of the television style McCarthy was used to.  (Just listen to: Overture, Out of Control/The Crash, Two Captains, Kirk Saves the Day, To Live Forever)

Star Trek: First Contact (1996)
Music by Jerry Goldsmith
Bringing Goldsmith back to Trek was a welcome change after Generations. Because of scheduling issues, his son Joel composed additional music.  Goldsmith returns with more iterations of his Trek theme, and Klingon theme.  We get a beautiful First Contact theme and the Borg theme.  (Just listen to: Main Title/Locutus, Flight of the Phoenix, First Contact, End Credits)

Star Trek: Insurrection (1998)
Music by Jerry Goldsmith
Once more, Goldsmith returned with more emotional music as well as action music with strong brass, timpani and electronics.  Not entirely memorable, but a good Goldsmith effort.  (Just listen to: Ba'Ku Village, New Sight, The Drones Attack)

Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)
Music by Jerry Goldsmith
Goldsmith returned for his last (and 5th Trek film).  Memorable moments include the dark theme for the Remans/Romulans and the dark motif for villain Shinzon.  The films come full circle with a welcome reprise of the Star Trek March.  (Just listen to: Remus, Ideals, A New Ending)

Star Trek (2009)
Music by Michael Giacchino
With director J.J. Abrams at the helm of the reboot, Michael Giacchino naturally followed.  Highlights of this popular score include older Spock's theme represented with an erhu, a Romulan villain motif, and a new heroic main theme.  Alexander Courage's television theme always appears in the beginning of the film, in this score it arrives as the crew assembles in the finale.  (Just listen to: Enterprising Young Men, Nero Death Experience, That New Car Smell, End Credits)    

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)
Music by Michael Giacchino
Giacchino continued his main theme, as well as mentions of the Courage tv theme.  New themes include the delightful London Calling, violent choral chants for Klingon world, themes for villains Harrison and ship the Vengeance.  The score maintains the action, while changing the themes for the darker storyline.  (Just listen to: London Calling, The Kronos Wartet, The San Fran Hustle, Kirk Enterprises)     

Star Trek Beyond (2016)
Music by Michael Giacchino
Following the format from his last two scores, Giacchino adds new material for the forgettable villain, and new character Jaylah.  The standout is the theme for the Yorktown, one of the strongest in these new films.  (Just listen to: Thank Your Lucky Star Date, Night on the Yorktown, Mocking Jaylah)  

Check out the others!

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  1. Great breakdown on each of the film scores. I'm a huge Goldsmith fan, and I think his work on "The Motion Picture" and "Final Frontier" are some of the best work provided for the franchise.

    I do think "The Voyage Home" gets trashed a lot, but not rightfully so. There is a lot of elements in it (mostly the elements that don't involve the 80s synths) that are closer to the music from the 1960s series than any of the the other films. In many ways I think that is what director Nimoy was looking for.

    I've heard some folks describe Giacchino's themes for "Star Trek" to sound incomplete. I certainly don't hear it. His score for the 2009 movie is a lot of fun, and I'm looking forward to hearing what he's got cooked up for the sequel.