#8: STAR TREK III (James Horner)

October 13, 2005
A thought by James Berardinelli

As a former Star Trek fan, it was likely that a Star Trek score would show up on this list. From a musical perspective, one of the problems with the 10-film Star Trek series (especially early, before Jerry Goldsmith took over on a "regular" basis for entries VIII, IX, and X) is a lack of coherence and consistency. The work of five composers (Jerry Goldsmith, James Horner, Leonard Rosenman, Cliff Eidelman, Dennis McCarthy) was spread across 20 years, with the only constant being that all of the movies used at least a piece of Alexander Courage's original theme song. It's hard to find two more dissimilar scores than the jaunty, jazzy one for Star Trek IV (Rosenman) and the brooding, Holst-inspired one for Star Trek VI (Eidelman).

James Horner composed the scores for the second and third Star Trek movies. Both occurred early in his career, when he was hungry and before he began to recycle his own material. (Although parts of his Star Trek work sound suspiciously like cues developed from Battle Beyond the Stars.) I like the music for both Star Trek II and Star Trek III, and it was a little difficult to decide which of the two is more deserving of a spot on the list. In the end, I chose the third film, since the score is a little more polished.

The best track in any of the Star Trek movies occurs on the Star Trek III CD. Called "Stealing the Enterprise," it's a diverse and engaging piece, spanning the range from quiet and introspective to playful to suspenseful to bombastic. Other notable tracks include "Prologue and Main Title" (which includes Leonard Nimoy intoning "Space, the final frontier..."), "Bird of Prey Decloaks" (the battle sequence), and "End Title." The last one is noteworthy because it is the only time in all of the movies that we are treated to a full rendition of Courage's TV theme (not just the opening bars).

After Horner completed his work on the two Star Trek scores, he went on to bigger movies, including Aliens (parts of which were noticeably derived from his Star Trek work) and Braveheart. His career probably peaked in 1997 when he composed and conducted the music for Titanic. Yet, it seemed the more Horner worked, the less inspired his compositions became. A lot of his post-1990 material is regurgitated, and can't compare to his early stuff. Horner is prolific. He is credited with as many scores in 25 years (about 150) as John Barry has in 40+ years. (Although he is far, far behind the pace set by Ennio Morricone.) For me, Horner's best work arrived and left with the '80s.