Star Trek: Old vs New

You nerve-pinched my mother again, didn’t you?

There’s no arguing about the success of the new Star Trek films. And indeed, I enjoy both the old and the new. But just for fun, let’s stack them up side-by-side and compare their scores. Which, when you examine the wealth of material, basically becomes Jerry Goldsmith & James Horner vs Michael Giacchino.

Let’s start with the obvious comparison: main themes. These are the glue that hold the entire thematic library together. Goldsmith’s theme started out non-existent – that is, the prevailing scifi scoring techniques at the time were to avoid thematic writing as much as possible. However, Star Wars came along with John Williams’ sweeping, groundbreaking score and changed all of that entirely. Star Trek: The Motion Picture, coming out a mere two years later, felt the enormous pressure put forth by the copious success of that film. So when Goldsmith assembled a hundred-piece orchestra and wrote out some great music, director Robert Wise said “no, it’s missing something…a theme.” And thus, Jerry constructed a theme (through much toil, from his words) and came up with one of the most classic musical fanfares of adventure and discovery known to modern cinema:

Goldsmith March

Pretty tough to beat, right? But here comes the challenger! In this corner, we have composer for Up and The Increadibles…movie scoring extraordinaire Michael Giacchino! The producers brought him in when they decided to reboot the franchise and as such, they wanted a new sound as well. Here is his new take on the continuing voyages of the Starship Enterprise:

Giacchino Fanfare

Here we have a great theme that is flashier and edgier. In other words, a perfect compliment to what the new Star Trek movies are. But does that make it better? Really, that’s a matter of opinion. Each style is fantastic in its own way. Personally, I’m a sucker for the old march…maybe because I grew up with it.

Next, let’s examine the lesser themes. Only one theme was written for the same character in both instances: Mr. Spock. James Horner’s theme was perfect for old Spock, capturing his advanced age and wisdom:

Horner’s Spock Theme

Here is Giacchino’s Spock theme, this time tapping into the pride of his Vulcan traditions by using the elegant Erhu:

Giacchino’s Spock Theme

Here the Italian composer knocks it out of the park. An no, it’s not just the instrumentation…it manages to capture that wisdom and stoicism while simultaneously illuminating Spock’s youth and the new beginnings he is facing. It also very easily doubles as horrifying pain brought on by the destruction of his home world.  There’s just a lot more character development here, and the music reflects that and still manages to be simple and effective. Bravo, sir.

To me, Giacchino and Goldsmith are tied in the “awesome action cues” department:

Ba’ku Villiage

Nero Death Experience

As well as knowing how to orchestrate VERY well:

The Enterprise (Motion Picture)

Hella Bar Talk

And also have fantastic Klingon themes:

Klingon Theme

(although I’m not 100% sure if Giacchino’s is an actual theme for the Klingons…but this motif was used in the only scene containing them and it’s pretty badass):

The Kronos Wartet (Into Darkness)

But the thing is, Goldsmith just had this amazing way of crafting a thematic score. Check out this interesting motif (I don’t know that it represents anything, but it shows up quite a lot in different capacities):

My Right Arm (Nemesis)

An Angry God (Final Frontier)

The Dish (First Contact)

So instead of borrowing stuff from other composers, or copying his own cues in both style and content (I have seen this happen), he just ends up re-using the same motifs with radically different variations even for incidental music.

But, at the same time, the bad guy got a fun little theme in the first reboot film, whereas I don’t think a villain in the old movies ever got one:

Nero’s Theme

Ah, but good old Goldsmith has Ilia’s Theme as part of his Oscar-nominated score for The Motion Picture:

Ilia’s Theme

It’s hard to beat a true master of the craft like Goldsmith, but Giacchino has come achingly close. I only hope he starts to come up with more character themes, given how character-centric these new movies are.

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