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  • Stefan Riedlinger

Star Trek II - The Wrath of Khan - James Horner - Soundtrack Review

The idea for this post came to my mind after I heard of the death of Leonard Nimony who died in Los Angeles on February 25th 2015.

The movie

I have to say that I always preferred the original “Star Trek” series to the other ones, especially “The Next Generation”. Of course, Patrick Steward gave a great performance as Jean-Luc Picard, and the effects and even the storytelling was better, for example, the episodes about Locutus are amazing. I just like the original ones better, mostly because of Spock, this fascinating character with his special mixture of absolute logic and his emotions because of his human side. Additionally, I think that the general humour of the original one is much better, think of the Tribbles-episode or the constant fighting between McCoy and Spock. Leonard Nimoy played his character so well that there are rumours that Shatner was jealous because Spock became more popular than his Captain Kirk.

With the second movie, the producers wanted to go into a different direction. The first movie was successful, but critics considered the plot too thin for a whole movie. There were also not a lot of action scenes and it was overwhelmed by philosophy. Therefore, Harve Bennett became the new producer, Gene Roddenberry had to step back, and Nicholas Meyer wrote the script and directed. His idea to create a second story about the famous character Khan played by Ricardo Montalbán was a great idea. Here is the trailer:

There was not enough money to hire Jerry Goldsmith again. His score for the first “Star Trek”-movie was highly praised and it raised as one of his best and most popular works. For the second movie, James Horner stepped in, and as in “Aliens” he composed again the music for a second movie of a series originally composed by Jerry.

The music

James Horner’s score is considered as one of his best works, some fans also thinks it is the best soundtrack of the whole series, but I still think that Jerry Goldsmith’s first score is the best among the series. “Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan” is still a highly enjoyable movie, and Horner’s music is a great contribution to the franchise with its fresh musical ideas. Also, starting with this soundtrack, Horner began copying from earlier soundtracks by himself. Nevertheless, the melodies and the action music created an epic atmosphere. Horner demonstrated that he was one of the best composers of the upcoming generation of film music composers. Here is an interview with James Horner:

Let’s start with the “Main Title”. In an interview Meyer said that he was tired of the march music in SF-movies. His idea was that Horner, at that time 28 years old, should emphasize more on the aspects of seafaring and swashbuckling. Horner created a score which reminds us of Erich Wolfgang Korngold.

Horner created a totally new main theme and went straight to action with the second track called “Surprise Attack”. In this five-minute track, Horner gives us an amazing piece of music with atonal effects, a lot of different percussions and beautiful melodies.

There is a lot of very good action music in this soundtrack, for example, the fourth track “Kirk’s explosive reply” and especially “Battle in the Mutara Nebula”, over eight minutes long. Not just on the screen and in combination with the movie, these pieces are highly enjoyable. Horner is best when he can show his ability to deal with the force of a big orchestra. Find it here:

“Khan’s Pets“ brings us the motif for Khan, the music is haunting and dangerous, to emphasize this character's insanity. In contrast, the short piece called “Spock” focuses on the human side of Spock.

“Enterprise Clears Moorings” is another beautiful piece that starts with the new Star Trek melody. “Genesis Countdown” is again a longer track, over six minutes long, and with a dramaturgical structure which is just mind blowing. Horner at his best! “Epilogue/End Title” (You can hear Nimoy’s voice) is the longest piece, an epic track that brings the soundtrack to a great ending.

The score was written in four weeks, and an orchestra of 91 people played the music. The length of the total music in the movie is 72 minutes. The music was a huge success and is very popular among James Horner fans and fans of the Star Trek franchise. Horner composed the music for the next “Star Trek” movie, but that score is not as good as the “Wrath of Khan” and some parts of the “Stealing the Enterprise” track are very similar to Sergej Prokofieff’s ballet “Romeo and Julia”.

I found a very nice version of the score:

Copyright © Stefan Riedlinger, 2015, all rights reserved. The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of Stefan Riedlinger.

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