Michael Giacchino brings his a-game with Star Trek Into Darkness, improving on the first considerably with a great new villain motif and many an appearance by both old and new Star Trek themes.
One of this sequel score’s biggest strengths is a bit of an unusual one; a really strong opening action sequence that after a few tracks then culminates in the standout cue. In my time exploring the world of film music, I’ve often found a bit of a pattern in album presentations; they tend to open well (but not too well), plateau a bit in the middle and then go out with a bang at the end (saving the best until last), but for me Into Darkness seems to do its best work right at the start with several action-central tracks.
The sequence begins quietly, with Logos/Pranking The Natives opening with a slow yet hopeful rendition of Giacchino’s Star Trek theme played out entirely through brass. The orchestra then rapidly builds to crescendo before almost dissipating entirely with a wave of soft strings. This doesn’t last long however before the brass then near-instantly builds back up, accompanied this time by fast-paced strings and percussion. A few notes from the ST’09 theme (Giacchino’s new theme, titled as such as it was composed in 2009) then play in frantic form, followed closely by a short rendition of the new theme for Spock before the music suddenly ends.
Spock Drops, Kirk Jumps starts right where Logos left off, before then dialing up the intensity to sky-high levels with loud, dramatic brass and a few seconds of particularly intense vocals. Being a rather short track, it doesn’t take long before things then seamlessly transition into the standout cue; Sub Prime Directive. It opens with a rather victorious and brass-heavy rendition of the ST’09 theme, that then culminates in a short appearance from the original Star Trek theme. The music then slows down slightly, softening up with cheerful strings before then darting right back into dramatic territory as the percussion begins to build in the background and the brass starts to appear, and it’s here that the ST’09 theme showcases itself in its epic full form for thirty loud and glorious seconds before the track (and the album’s opening sequence) draws to a close. I’m completely blown away every time I listen to these three tracks, and in all honesty, for me they remain one of the best musical action sequences that Giacchino has ever composed.
Into Darkness’ villain theme for the character of Khan is then given a light and piano-based introduction in London Calling before then getting its first big brass playthrough in Meld-Merized. As villain themes go this one is pretty great, being quite memorable, rather menacing and easily the best of the three Giacchino Star Trek score villain motifs. It also gets a much bigger fleshing out in the Deluxe Edition of Into Darkness’ score with Ode To Harrison, where the theme starts off quiet and sombre and slowly builds up over the course of six minutes into a very dark, foreboding and grandiose musical setpiece.
The action then returns with Ship To Ship, opening with rapid strings and a particularly tense tone. A minute or so in the brass then kicks in and the score starts to build, getting louder and more frantic until a particularly dramatic thematic (haha) burst arrives, delivering a spectacularly interwoven rendition of the ST’09 and Khan themes. Given their considerable tonal and notational difference I was surprised to hear just how well they work together here, but this is Michael Giacchino after all, and if there’s one thing he can do, it’s themes. The musical rapidity then continues in Earthbound And Down, a strings and brass-heavy piece that initially doubles down on the frantic nature of the previous track before slowing down about halfway through for a pretty incredible rendition of the ST’09 theme – or at least I thought so, until I listened to the next cue.
Warp Core Values is a fantastic piece of music. It starts off just as frenzied as the last few tracks, before dropping the speed almost entirely, bringing the strings to the forefront and cranking the volume for a slow yet incredibly dramatic rendition of the ST’09 theme. The strings and choral build-up to the moment is simply sublime, and that coupled with the rather explosively epic finale would have made this the standout cue if not for the score’s opening action sequence (Sub Prime Directive just edges it). Piano and light strings then take the now rather pensive musical forefront inBuying The Space Farm, playing out a pretty slow and beautiful-sounding musical sequel to Values before then rapidly building up with brass towards the end in order to lead into the action-centric finale piece; The San Fran Hustle. Here the franticity of previous cues returns in glorious form, with breakneck strings and bursts of brass leading the orchestral charge for a highly enjoyable five minute setpiece.
The more wondrous side of Giacchino’s Star Trek scores then makes its long-awaited return in Kirk Enterprises, with slow strings and low vocals playing out a rather breathtaking rendition of the ST’09 theme initially before then really hammering the final frontier feeling home with a light brass-based appearance from the original Alexander Courage Star Trek theme. To finish up the album Giacchino then has one final treat in store for us with a fantastically four-minute-long rendition of his new Star Trek theme. Like so many of the amazing tracks on this album this too was very nearly the standout cue, and I certainly wouldn’t argue if you felt it deserved the top spot, but for me, Sub Prime Directive is just that little bit more epic, with its thematic renditions just a little more spectacular, so Star Trek Main Theme just misses out. That doesn’t stop it from being a mind-blowingly good track however, and a perfect finale to the album.
All-in, Michael Giacchino’s Star Trek Into Darkness is simply the score that keeps on giving. The opening action sequence features some of the best musical moments that the composer has ever written, and he’s only just getting started. Just when you think the album cannot possibly get any better, the next track appears and it does (case and point – Warp Core Values). The ST’09 theme is also used in glorious form throughout the album, and this combined with the incredibly menacing motif for Khan and a few welcome appearances from the original Star Trek theme by Alexander Courage leaves nobody wanting for thematic material here. The action and emotional setpieces are also stunning, and overall I’d say Into Darkness is certainly the best Giacchino Star Trek score, and one of the composer’s most outstanding albums yet.
Standout Cue: 3. Sub Prime Directive