Music for Klingons, part one: Jerry Goldsmith

It’s been a while — over 20 years, arguably — since the last time a big-screen movie composer had to write some new music to represent the Klingons, but the wait will soon be over, if the Star Trek into Darkness soundtrack samples that Michael Giacchino posted to his website last week are any indication.

The track titles on Giacchino’s scores tend to be a little punny, and the newest score is no exception, as one of the tracks from his latest Star Trek score is called ‘The Kronos Wartet’. This is an amusing reference to the four-piece string quartet known as The Kronos Quartet, but it is also a reference to the Klingon home planet Qo’noS, the name of which is apparently spelled “Kronos” in this film.

Before I comment on the sample itself, I’d like to take a step back to look at how the Klingons have been treated musically in previous films, going all the way back to the very first film in the franchise, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, released in 1979.

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James T. Kirk and the mind-body-spirit relationship

“Kirk is a man of passion and emotion and follows his gut.” So says Chris Pine in a new featurette for Star Trek into Darkness. And to a certain extent, Kirk does indeed have these characteristics. But I wonder if that summary is as accurate as it could be; and I wonder if it reflects one of the subtle but significant changes that the new Star Trek films have made to the franchise’s original characters.

The way Pine speaks of Kirk’s “passion” and his “gut” reminds me of a point that John Granger made in his book The Hidden Key to Harry Potter, regarding how a number of successful franchises have revolved around three characters who represent the classic division of the human being into body, mind and spirit.

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Gods from outer space: the good, the bad and the silly

“He’ll be a god to them.” So says Jor-El, the father of Superman, as he sends his son to Earth in the latest trailer for Man of Steel.

In the immediate context, Jor-El seems to be referring primarily to the fact that his son will have powers that the other residents of Earth will not. But his voice-over, later in the trailer, goes on to speak in even more elevated terms of Superman as someone who will give humanity “an ideal to strive towards,” thereby allowing humans to “join [him] in the sun.” Lois Lane adds to the mythology, as it were, by noting that some people think of Superman as a “guardian angel”.

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“We’ve tried to get away from the Trekkiness of it all.”

I’ve made this point before, but it bears repeating: For most of their history, the Star Trek movies have tended to be formulaic action-oriented good-guy-vs.-bad-guy flicks, and have not reflected the wide range of stories that characterized the original TV series.

The TV show had its villains and action-oriented episodes too, of course, and sometimes the movies made in that vein have been very good, as was the case with Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982).

But at other times the action has seemed forced and rote, as it did in Star Trek: Insurrection (1998), where it was fairly clear that at least some of the creative personnel wanted to do something different from the last few movies — something lighter, funnier, more romantic, etc. — but, as producer Rick Berman said at the time, “of course” the movie still had a fair bit of running and shooting and so on.

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Three movies you won’t see on an airplane (or starship) this year

Have you started noticing any trends in the movies coming out this spring and summer?

Consider the terrorist attacks (or worse) that hit London in the trailers for G.I. Joe: Retaliation and Star Trek into Darkness. Consider the quasi-military attacks on Washington D.C. in Olympus Has Fallen and the upcoming White House Down.

And now, thanks to a couple of recently released trailers, we have another recurring motif: holes being ripped in the sides of airplanes (or starships), and passengers flying out those holes to their (presumed) deaths.

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Star Trek sequel villain rumours: sifting the evidence

First, let’s get what should be obvious out of the way: you don’t need a villain to make a good Star Trek story. Indeed, the top-grossing entry in the franchise ever, prior to J.J. Abrams’ reboot a few years ago, was Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986), and there were no villains in that film unless you count the human race, which had hunted humpback whales to extinction.

Likewise with the original TV series, in which some of the best-loved episodes, such as ‘City on the Edge of Forever’, didn’t have any villains whatsoever, while others — such as ‘The Naked Time’, ‘The Enemy Within’ and ‘Amok Time’ — were primarily concerned with the conflicting passions within our heroes and not with any external antagonists that they might face. (You could even toss ‘Mirror, Mirror’ into that last list; the Mirror Universe counterparts to our heroes might be villains in some sense, but they also suggest something about our heroes’ darker sides, and the episode itself is primarily concerned with getting each set of characters back to the universe in which they belong, not unlike how Kirk’s better and darker halves are restored to their proper balanced relationship to one another in ‘The Enemy Within’.)

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