The Final Frontier: Exploring the Music of Star Trek

Have you ever tried watching a movie without the music? It’s kind of boring and isn’t very exciting.  Most people don’t realize this, but music has an effect on setting the mood of movies.   Science Fiction movies use music in similar ways.  For instance, Cynthia J. Miller, the author of “Seeing Beyond His Own Time: The Sounds of Jerry Goldsmith” talks about the movie The Illustrated Man in the book “Sounds of the Future” by Mathew J. Bartkowiak.  Miller says that the score for this movie foreshadows a future where the awful reality of technology would be realized.  Miller also states that Goldsmith, the creator of Star Trek and The Illustrated Man, “uses the combination of technology and melodic orchestra scoring to narrate the dominance, deception, and death that the privileging of a different sort of technology can bring.” In other words, the music that Goldsmith uses in The Illustrated Man uses technology and orchestra sounds to punctuate certain situations that happened in the movie just like what Goldsmith does in his Star Trek movies.

In the Star Trek series, the music is used to distinguish it from other movies.  Personally, I think they do a great job at this.  My thought is that instead of utilizing music so that it integrates technological and melodic orchestral sound with small amounts of classical orchestral components, the composers of Star Trek manipulates the music so that it highlights certain characters, conflicts or relationships between those characters, and emphasizes the emotion of each scene. To analyze this, I watched and compared Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan and Star Trek Into Darkness.

For Wrath of Khan, the composer, James Horner used “Main Title” for the opening scene. This song serves as the Enterprise and Kirk’s theme song. When you hear “Main Title,” you will automatically know that this is a Star Trek film because it reminds you how much heroism is behind the Enterprise crew.  The soundtrack, “Spock” is heard after Spock sacrifices himself to save the Enterprise and its crew. “Spock” is slow and calm to accentuate the sadness of Spock’s death. The song also incorporates “Main Title” into it, which shows Spock’s actions as heroic. For this song, I observed the effect of the music by watching the part Spock dies without music first and then with it.  Without the music, I didn’t feel deep sadness about Spock’s death.  But with the music, I could sense the intensity of the grief upon  his death, and then immediately when I heard “Main Title” play, I also felt the bravery in Spock’s actions. “Kirk’s Explosive Reply” is used after Khan attacked the Enterprise with USS Reliant. After hailing USS Reliant, Khan forces Kirk to give him all of the information he has on the Genesis Project, but instead of sending Khan the information, Kirk attacks the USS Reliant. The soundtrack is joyful, hopeful, and speeds up to show that the Enterprise was able to outsmart Khan.  If “Kirk’s Explosive Reply” were not played during this scene, then the audience would miss the depth of joy and hopefulness that Kirk was able to overcome Khan.

The music in Star Trek Into Darkness was composed by Michael Giacchino.  The melody “Star Trek Main Theme” is played in the very beginning when they show the Paramount Pictures Logo, and the title of the movie.  It is also played at the end when the credits are shown.  Since “Star Trek Main Theme” is a reiteration of “Main Title” from Wrath of Khan, “Star Trek Main Theme” also prompts the audience to reflect on the bravery of Kirk and the Enterprise. The song “Warp Core Values” is a slower version of “Star Trek Main Theme” that is played as Kirk kicks continuously at the warp core so he can save his crew.  “Star Trek Main Theme” is Kirk’s theme and suggests heroism. On the other hand, because “Warp Core Values” is slower than “Star Trek Main Theme,” it suggests that Kirk’s heroic actions will probably lead to a gloomy result. In short, this melody foreshadows Kirk’s death. The piece that emphasizes the heartbreak of Kirk’s death is “Buying the Space Farm.” This melody accentuates the despair that Spock is experiencing as he helplessly watches Kirk die.  Like I did for the soundtrack “Spock,” I tested the emotion behind this song by listening to it without music first and then with music. Again without the music I didn’t feel the emotions of the scene as strongly.  But with the music playing in the background, it made me realize that music really does have the power to make the audience feel the emotions that the director was going for.

Over the past forty- seven years since the first original Star Trek series aired, technology has advanced a lot.  I believe that the technological advances that have occurred over the years, has made Giacchino strengthen the old techniques used before by utilizing and enhancing them for his recent movies.  With the progress of modern technology, his music may take viewers and listeners to new worlds where no one has gone before.

So next time you watch a movie, take the time to consider the impact that the music has in the movie, and maybe you’ll appreciate it a little more.

Chieh, out.

Here is an interview that I did with a Trekkie.

The death scenes from Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan and Star Trek Into Darkness.  To understand what I was talking about earlier in the essay, play both of these videos without music first and then with music. 

Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan death scene

Star Trek Into Darkness death scene

Work Cited

Babeslayer. “Is Star Trek Into Darkness better than Wrath of Khan?” Photograph. DEBATE.ORG. Web. 2013.

Chieh, Kaitlyn. The Final Frontier: Exploring the Music of Star Trek Podcast. December 5, 2013. Podcast.

Giacchino, Michael. Star Trek Into Darkness. Varèse Sarabande, 2013. CD.

Horner, James. Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan. Atlantic Records, 1982. CD.

Miller, Cynthia J. “Seeing Beyond His Own Time:The Sounds of Jerry Goldsmith.” Sounds of the Future.                                                                        Ed. Mathew J. Bartkowiak. Jefferson: McFarland & Company, 2010. 100-115. Print.

Murray, Dan. “J.J. Abrams Grants a Dying Fan’s Wish TO See STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS Before It’s Release.”                                                  Photograph. Bad Haven. Bad Haven. Web. January 3, 2013.

O’Sullivan, Michael. “’Star Trek Into Darkness’: J.J. Abrams delivers a blend of new and old.” The Washington Post. The                                      Washington Post. 15 May 2013. Web.

Ray Virzi. “Trek Movies- The Wrath of Khan.” Photograph. The Sci- fi Lounge. 15 August 2010.

“Sounds of the Future: Essays on Music in Science Fiction [Paperback].” Amazon., n.d. Web. 2013.

“Spock’s Death and Funeral.” SafeShare.TV. Youtube Clip.

Star Trek. CBS Studios Inc. 2013. Web. 26 November 2013.

Star Trek Into Darkness. Dir. J.J. Abrams. Paramount Pictures, 2013. DVD.

“Star Trek: Into Darkness- Kirk and Spock Emotional Scene.” SafeShare.TV. Youtube Clip.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Dir. Nicholas Meyer. Paramount Pictures, 1982. DVD.

Stephen Chieh. Kaitlyn Chieh. November 29, 2013. At my house. Face- to- face.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s