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Soundtrack Review: #StarTrekBeyond

Star Trek - Music from the Motion Picture is lost in deep space.

Review by Matt Cummings

Star Trek Beyond has done a good job winning over critics and fans, who wondered what we would get from the 50th anniversary of the beloved series. And while its excellent cast and positive story of unity are a few reasons for its box office success, the pedestrian Music from the Motion Picture doesn't stand out as another reason why.

Three-plus years into their five-year mission, the crew of the USS Enterprise boldly explores the final frontier, while their Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) secretly harbors personal doubt. His approaching birthday will see him live longer than his father (who died aboard the USS Kelvin in the 2009 reboot), and thus Kirk is entertaining a promotion and desk job at the Yorktown space station. His science officer Spock (Zachary Quinto) is also wondering if his future lies in helping to repopulate New Vulcan. But when The Enterprise is viciously destroyed by the powerful new enemy Krall (Idris Elba), the crew is scattered on a distant planet and must band together with the alien Jaylah (Sofia Boutella) to defeat a threat greater than any they've faced before.

Composer Michael Giacchino, best known for his work on Alias and most recently Jurassic World, returns to score his third Trek film, and the results are underwhelming to say the least. It's not that Giacchino is the wrong man for this series - as he created the now-well-regarded theme for the 2009 reboot - it's that he's only been good lately at creating music that accompanies rather than leads. For most of this 18-track score released by Varèse Sarabande Records, Giacchino plots a course into dull and uninspiring music, neither separating nor offending. Emerging from the theater, I couldn't remember any music which stood out to me - even though I thoroughly enjoyed the film - which usually isn't a good sign. Phasers on stun.

One of the many strengths behind The Original Series was its powerful theme and accompanying music, which to me represents the best television score ever. Here, Giacchino doesn't introduce anything new or particularly interesting, returning to his 2009 theme throughout by borrowing from his track Enterprising Young Men. That's ok, so long as other memorable tracks are being produced alongside it. Instead, we get a lot of noisy elements, made to impact the scene without being able to stand on their own. Loud drums, screeching violins, and a menagerie of noise permeate the experience, which usually tells you a lot about the creative team's thoughts about the role of music in their film. An example here is track 12 Mocking Jaylah, which features both a chorus and a full orchestra, but plods and meanders, sounding like random pieces assembled into unruly track that just ends without a meaningful push.

And then there's the rather inventive titles for several tracks. No. 14's Krall-y Krally Oxen Free and 9's Franklin My Dear feel like cheap naming conventions that take away from the importance behind the music as a backbone to any successful visual medium. Star Trek Beyond doesn't hold a candle to scores like 2016's The Neon Demon because it fails to exist outside of the film itself. You don't tie any track here to any particular scene in the movie, because it just isn't crafted that way. Jerry Goldsmith understood that when he created a completely new theme and music for 1979's The Motion Picture, seamlessly integrating it back into The Original Series theme for future films. A great score will allow you to do this, because its DNA is so strong. That's the measure of whether a score is merely noise (like track 15's Shutdown Happens), or if it has the ability to transcend the film itself.

Giacchino will soon score Marvel's Doctor Strange, and I hope that the studio gives him full range to give The Sorcerer Supreme a powerful and memorable theme. He's certainly capable of opening his imagination to strange, new worlds, but none of that is apparent in the highly pedestrian Star Trek Beyond - Music from the Motion Picture. It's a competent but noisy and unremarkable score that luckily doesn't impact my appreciation for the movie. Skip the soundtrack to see the film twice - I promise you won't be disappointed.

Star Trek Beyond is playing everywhere. Music From The Motion Picture is available digitally, will soon warp to a CD release on July 29 (U.S. and Canada), and eventually on August 5, 2016 (rest of the world).

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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