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The Music Of The Final Frontier
Michael Giacchino is handedly one of the best composers making scores in Hollywood, and he and J.J. Abrams go way back. First working on Alias together, they paired for Lost, Fringe and other television shows, and Giacchino has done the music for all three of Abrams’ directorial efforts, including the first Star Trek. And of course he’s back for Star Trek Into Darkness.
Bringing us into his music studio, the composer played footage from the prologue where Sulu (John Cho) and Uhura (Zoe Saldana) have a serious discussion on a hovercraft about dropping Spock towards the volcanic surface of the planet below as well as a scene where Kirk (Chris Pine) and Bones (Karl Urban) are being chased by a strange alien tribe. The first time he showed the footage he did so without the music – just the dialogue and effects tracks – and then again with only the music. Even without hearing what the characters were saying the score perfectly communicated the stress of the situation.
“Music says what words can’t,” Giacchino said while introducing the footage. “So even though there’s dialogue, even though there’s things that the characters are saying, it’s about ‘what do I need to find that says what these guys aren’t saying.’”
Naturally this means that a big part of his job on the film is establishing each scene’s emotional core. During a chase scene you want something that’s going to make the audience tense while also demonstrating that the characters are running hard and are possibly scared. Comedic moments should have a lighter touch and create a sense of ease. Some might take issue with this idea, seeing it as a form of manipulation, but Giacchino sees no problem with that definition as that’s exactly what filmmaking is all about.
“Everything that J.J. wants you to feel and follow, I’m there to kind of yank you through,” he said. “And yes, you can call that manipulation. It is manipulation! Any film is manipulation, really… Anyone who says, ‘You were manipulating me!’ Well, no shit! Of course we were manipulating you, that’s why you go to the movies – to be manipulated.”
Sometimes it’s important to blend those emotions as well. After their leap off the cliff and swim to the Enterprise, Kirk and Bones get inside the ship and the water is drained. Giacchino makes the music a bit more celebratory in this moment, and keeps that going through a pop-up funny moment with Scotty (Simon Pegg). But part of the job is to remind the audience of the tense situation going on with Spock at the volcano and the score reflects that with underlying tones.
Much like his work on the Mission: Impossible movies, Giacchino’s work on Star Trek comes with an extra special challenge because the theme from the original series is so memorable (I’m sure at least half of you reading this could hum it at the drop of a hat). And that theme is certainly something that the composer wants to feature in his work.
“For me the one thing I would love to incorporate some way, somehow, is the Alexander Courage theme. To me that is Star Trek. How you use it is really up to the story and you really have to think long and hard about how you do it because if you do it in the wrong spot it feels wrong or feels cheesy. And in the instance of the last movie, we tried it in the body of the film, but it never really worked because, you know, the truth is that it wasn’t Star Trek until they were at the end of the film as a crew together on the bridge… with this film I have no idea yet.”
And with the release date all the way in May there’s still plenty of work to be done. All of the various post-production departments are still hard and work trying to get their pieces of the puzzle ready to be part of the larger picture, but rather than being an individual piece Giacchino’s score is more like the spray glue that you use once the puzzle is finished and you want to seal it up perfectly.
“Up to this point the only music I’ve written is what you’ve seen in this, so I don’t know what I’m going to do yet because I haven’t seen the whole film yet,” the composer said. “I don’t know what the rest of the film needs or asks for. I have to wait until I see it.”
And that waiting feeling is certainly relatable.
For more from Star Trek Into Darkness, be sure to head over to our Blend Film Database.
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