Monday 2 January 2023

Star Tracks: The Search for Spock

Happy New Year to all our readers! 2023 marks the 60th anniversary of Doctor Who, the 40th anniversary of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi and, for many Star Wars fans (myself included) living outside London, the 45th anniversary of Star Wars! We'll be celebrating all this and much more over the coming months.

For Christmas, I was gifted Bandai's excellent electronic USS Enterprise NCC-1701 and what better way to begin than with an edition of Star Tracks featuring James Horner's soundtrack for Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.

Nick Smith, our resident US-based media maverick, follows up his adventures with Willow by stealing the Enterprise with help from the fine folks at Intrada.

Guest post by Nick Smith

It’s hard for me to listen to any James Horner music without memories of the Star Trek movies flooding Nick’s Brain! Horner’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan score helped make the film an unforgettable experience, accentuating the plot twists and emotional moments with just the right amount of pomp.

Horner was still in his twenties when he submitted a demo tape and got selected by The Wrath of Khan’s director and producers to score a big-screen love letter to the TV show. Despite – or partly due to – the death of a major character, the movie was a huge hit, making almost $100 million at the box office.

‘For me not to do [Star Trek III: The Search for Spock], I’d have to be in a bad accident or get killed!’ Horner joked to Starlog magazine. But The Search for Spock presented different challenges, not least of which was the need to give an epic quality to a film with a simpler story, essentially a bookend to Khan. ‘Star Trek III got formulated somewhere along the end while we were doing [Star Trek II],’ said Horner. ‘I had to change the end of Star Trek II musically and they changed the cut so that it merged into the beginning of Star Trek III and it actually held me in very good stead.’

III’s themes are an extension of the Khan music (Horner called it a ‘reweaving’), just as the film itself continues the narrative. The eerie Spock tune is developed along with II’s main theme and its exciting battle music. Horner has a chance to go bigger and better the second time around; the sounds are deeper and more profound.

‘…The score for Star Trek III is just so much vastly better than Star Trek II,’ Horner told CinemaScore. ‘It's just a much more interesting score and, for me, a much more beautiful and emotional score than Star Trek II.’

Intrada’s 2-CD release does justice to this special music. Disc 1 has the original, full score from the film, remixed from the three-track mixes printed from Sony 3324 24-track masters. Disc 2 has the 1984 Capitol Records music that contemporary fans grew up with, complete with a disco-pop version of the main theme.

The first track on Disc 1, Prologue and Main Title, begins abruptly; it’s heavy on celli, building a sense of grief and disillusionment. Not only is Spock gone but the iconic starship Enterprise is in a bad state after its fight with Khan. The emotions of the surviving crew come across wholeheartedly through the music.

Spock Endures Pon Farr also has a wistful edge, subsumed with little blasts of Alexander Courage’s TV theme, followed by Horner’s excellent, atonal Klingon battle music with percussion: bamboo ang-klungs, rhythm logs, boobams, an anvil, cluster chimes, tam-tams, a thunder sheet, timbales and drums are all used to encapsulate the warrior race.

These primal beats are counterpointed by plenty of humorous moments and sheer joyfulness. Stealing the Enterprise is as fun to listen to now as it ever was, accompanying the sequence in the film where Kirk and his crew break the rules, hotwire their beloved ship and escape into space.

Disc 2 includes four alternate tracks and a shiny new version of the Capitol release. Here, the Prologue and Main Title sound slow and majestic. The menacing second track, Klingons, references the original horn trills of the TV show and echoes tunes like Surprise Attack from The Wrath of Khan. Bird of Prey Decloaks channels Holst’s Mars, the Bringer of War, and the End Title is fast, sweeping and exhilarating.

While the complete score sounds fresh and exciting, I prefer the thicker orchestration of the album score. Maybe it’s because I used to play a promo album on repeat as a teenager while I wrote, looking forward to the fun, grooved-up jazz rock of Group 87, who covered The Search for Spock on a 12” disc that was included in my gatefold copy. Although that version sounds archaic now, in step with the same year’s The Neverending Story, it’s a real treat to have an extended edition of the score, an augmented version of the vinyl album and the Group 87 jam all in one package.

Treks II through IV were a saga all their own that cemented the films as worthy successors to their TV ancestor. However, The Search for Spock was Horner’s last score for the series. He said that he was invited to compose more but he wanted to do different projects. His swan song is a high note that he was justifiably proud of.

‘I think that Star Trek III is the best of all the Star Trek [movies],’ said Horner in CinemaScore. ‘It's made with the most amount of feeling, in a certain sense, of all of them. It's made by someone who knows the characters of Star Trek so much more intimately than anybody else involved, except maybe Gene Roddenberry. The fact that Leonard Nimoy directed this film gives it a whole interesting light that it would never have had with anyone else. It was fascinating to work with him.’

The franchise and this soundtrack are all the better since The Search for Spock helped the filmmakers, including Nimoy and Horner, discover what made Star Trek tick. While both men have sadly passed away, they will always be linked to this very human adventure.

Special thanks to Roger Feigelson at Intrada for providing a copy for review.

Nick Smith's new audiobook, Undead on Arrival, is available from Amazon (affiliate link).

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