At warp speed, J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek Into Darkness is set to scream into theaters this week. So with that in mind it seemed like the perfect opportunity to dust off our FourScore series to help kick off new and upcoming entries to our running feature (which has been long overdue for another installment). Today, we look to the future and also to the past to champion some of the best soundtracks to some influential and seminal space-themed films that boldly go where no one has gone before…
With that said, today we’ll examine one of the funnest space operas of all time, a suffering franchise’s adrenaline fueled reboot that brought together (probably for the first time) fans of the series and a slew of newbies, a look at one of the most fantastic space fiascoes in history and finally a slightly humorous, and a slightly epic look at how man got from gazing at the moon to standing on it. An impressive list of candidates have been matched up and while they all have The Right Stuff (sorry, couldn’t resist) only one score can appropriately define space films. Which one is it?? Find out below…
Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope – I honestly believe that Star Wars would not be as popular as it is without John Williams‘ once in a lifetime amazing score. For all the spectacle on screen it is and continues to be the score that still seems fresh and really stays with people more than the visual cornucopia of light sabers, X-Wings and Wookies. The score is probably Williams’ most popular but it is, hands down, one of his finest efforts. Williams is dynamic and energetic and personally I think his genius lies in the fact that he over-scores which is what makes his work so memorable; the delicate synchronicity of simplicity and complexity. He could have made it kinda cheesy as Star Wars was just a meager 70’s sci-fi film trying to take down the Star Trek dynasty. After all, did anyone at the time think it had a chance? Further, if there’s a person who couldn’t hum the Star Wars theme or “the Imperial March”, it’s only because they haven’t been born yet.
(Favorite Tracks: Main Title/Rebel Blockade Runner (Medley) and Ben Kenobi’s Death/Tie Fighter Attack (Medley))
Star Trek – Compared to the talent in this match-up, if there’s a new kid on the block, and further one I continually admire, it’s Michael Giacchino. If Star Trek needed a reboot, J.J. Abrams delivered the goods but for a fast and fun theme to match it, Giacchino (PIXAR’s golden boy) was the perfect choice. He does get extremely repetitive making me think he studied under the James Horner school of music, but the guy consistently creates some of the catchiest themes I’ve ever heard. His deep brass sections seemed to echo right off the hull of the Enterprise and resonate in the darkness of space. It all feels very grand, and more importantly pays reverence to the beloved but suffering series that’s been around for the past 60 years. Hey, if it wasn’t Abrams that made me a neo-trekkie (which flies in the face of my Star Wars upbringing btw) it’s a good bet Giacchino had a lot to do with it as well.
(Favorite Tracks: Enterprising Young Men and Nero Fiddles, Narada Burns)
Apollo 13 – One of James Horner‘s best (aside from The Rocketeer that is) and even though this is one of his more repetitious scores I do like that it, at times, has a weightless feel. The score truly captures the vastness of space and compliments the film’s frantic moments. Cold and remote, the themes used are as chilling as the dark side of the moon. Giving a military accent to his motifs using the drums and trumpets are an unexpected surprise but it works pretty well. Also he creates one hell of an up lifting and emotional climax at the film’s finale that makes you share in the relief of both ground control and Lovell’s team…even if that is the most repetitious music in the film. High points for sophistication but still nothing quite as good or dynamic as The Rocketeer.
(Favorite Tracks: All Systems Go and Re-Entry And Splashdown)
The Right Stuff – Bill Conti is a composer I don’t think of often but when I do I am so very impressed with his work. I enjoy how Conti infuses some well-known/existing themes into his work and creates a masterful hybrid. It seems like he can take inspiration from about anything and insert it into a score. This makes it feel very relevant as it adds density and relateable personality to the story. Conti’s work here seems to recreate that abundant sense of national pride that drove the U.S. to be first in space. With a large majority of audiences today not having the privilege of growing up in that wondrous time, this score can wash over you with this unexplainable feeling of nostalgia. It is cohesive, fun and more importantly as exciting as seeing a man walk on the moon.
It’s to tough to go with anyone but John Williams here, but…sorry I couldn’t keep that lie going. Winner by a landslide is John Williams! Seems unfair to write this piece to promote Star Trek Into Darkness and not have Star Trek take the win but who are we kidding? When it comes to the themes to space operas, there can be only one.
Sure Williams’ scores today are starting to sound similar but here, in its timeless 1977 brilliance Star Wars is the legendary Williams doing his most iconic work. As beautiful as his work is the key to the success and the longevity of this score is that Williams always over-scores. Even the slow moments have incredible depth and the space scenes as so energetic that you could just imagine Williams flailing his arms like a humming bird and watching the orchestra desperately trying to keep up. His work has become ingrained in our culture making it and the Star Wars brand as well-known and beloved as baseball, apple pie and the 4th of July. Now that’s a bigger feat than blowing up the Death Star.
“Great score Williams, that was one in a million…”