Star Trek Beyond isn’t the first Star Trek film to feature a new song on its soundtrack, but it just might be the first to put its song front-and-centre in a movie trailer.
James Horner, composer for Star Trek, Aliens, An American Tail, Braveheart, Titanic and many more, has passed away
The Klingons have been featured one way or another in every Star Trek movie produced to date — whether as actual characters or as starships on a monitor — but there is only one film in which the Klingons truly took centre stage. And that film happens to be one of the few Star Trek movies that was not scored by Jerry Goldsmith or James Horner, the subjects of the first two parts of this series.
The film in question is Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991), which served as a bridge of sorts between the original Star Trek TV series (1966-1969) and its follow-up, Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994). The latter series had shown that the Federation and the Klingons would one day get along, more or less, so this film — the last one to feature the entire cast of the original series, and the first one to feature an actor from the later series (though not any of its characters) — aimed to show exactly how the Cold War between these two powers had ended.
And one of the striking features about the soundtrack for this film, composed by Cliff Eidelman, is how up-front it is about its Klingon elements — to the point where it is the only film in the entire series that does not begin with one of the standard Star Trek themes but, instead, begins with a theme that was written for the Klingons.
Klingons have appeared in all but two of the Star Trek movies released to date. The only exceptions are Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) and J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek (2009) — though even there, in both films, we do see simulated Klingon warships during the Kobayashi Maru training program. (And there actually was going to be a scene with Klingons in the Abrams film — parts of it were even shown in the movie’s trailers — but the scene itself was deleted in the end.)
So, not surprisingly, all five of the movies scored by Jerry Goldsmith — whose work I profiled in part one of this series — gave him an opportunity to write some music for the Klingons. However, as iconic as Goldsmith’s Klingon theme is, none of the films he scored featured Klingons in a particularly prominent role: in the first one, they get a single scene and are then pretty much forgotten; in his second film, they are secondary antagonists, and less important to the story than the religious cult led by Spock’s half-brother Sybok; and in the remaining three films, the only Klingon on view is Worf, who is more or less just one of the heroes.
There are two films, however, that revolve rather significantly around Klingon characters, and the composers who worked on those films brought some interesting elements to the table. This post concerns the first of those composers, James Horner, and his score for Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984).
I recently made mp3s of a few James Horner tunes so people could compare and contrast his soundtracks to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) and Aliens (1986) — they’re very similar. As a result, I have had the ‘Genesis Countdown’ tune running through my head a fair bit lately, and today, during a moment of boredom, I found myself thinking about the climax to this film, and what makes it so interesting and distinctive.
There is a cliché that runs through many, many, many movies in which the hero defeats the villain, and then, just when you think everything’s safe, the villain rises up again and lunges at the hero, only to be destroyed immediately by the hero or one of the hero’s friends. The first examples of this sort of thing that come to my mind are in Scream, Red Dragon and Fatal Attraction. Even Aliens plugs into this cliché, sort of — instead of an alien lying on the floor, presumably dead, and then suddenly jumping up and lunging at our heroes, the film shows the aliens’ lair being destroyed in a nuclear explosion, and then settles into a lull as our heroes return to their spaceship, safe and sound … and then, suddenly, oh no! the tranquility is shattered when one of them is ripped in two by the Queen Alien, who snuck onto the ship as a stowaway on the heroes’ shuttle! This shocking discovery is then followed by a fairly extensive one-to-one battle between the Queen Alien and Sigourney Weaver. In this regard, Aliens is quite different from the typical film, where the villain is killed as soon as he or she jumps up. But the basic paradigm is still there — the villain is presumed dead, is then shockingly discovered to be alive, and is then really put to death.
ST2:TWOK is quite different. Yes, on one level, it presents a defeated villain who makes one last stab at killing our heroes. But he does this in a rather unique way, and the heroes survive in a rather unique way. Instead of the villain directing all his energy at the hero, and instead of the hero shooting back — that is, instead of a villain and a hero who both seek victory by trying to destroy the other — ST2:TWOK presents a hero and a villain who both seek victory by destroying themselves.
John Woo movies may be famous for their over-the-top action sequences, but what really makes them work is the way he focuses on the intense personal rivalry between his main characters. In films as varied as the Hong Kong classic The Killer and the Hollywood hit Face/Off, it’s the battle of wills between cop and criminal, and the spiritual struggle within the protagonists, that drives the gun battles and the slow-motion pyrotechnics. Like those other films, Windtalkers — a World War II movie about Navajo code talkers and their uneasy relationship with their fellow marines — is also about a conflicted friendship and a man who wrestles with his conscience. But this time, the violence takes place on such a grand scale that it dwarfs the characters, who are, after all, just cogs in a larger military machine.