Sunday, September 22, 2013

Star Trek: Into Darkness ... A Short Review

J.J. Abrams returns to the Star Trek universe with his second film in the franchise, Star Trek Into Darkness. The sequel ramps up the action compared to the last film, offering plenty of ship-shattering set-pieces. Michael Giacchino offers a score to match the raw energy of the Abrams film series. The score rarely slows down to take a breath. Giacchino blends material from the last film and adds a few new ideas to continue the new, bold direction for Star Trek.

Highlights abound on this album. “London Calling” features a 12/8, homophonic melody over arpeggiated chords for piano. In an interview with HuffPost Entertainment, Giacchino explains his approach with “London Calling”:

"J.J. (Abrams) just wanted it to feel like we weren't in a 'Star Trek' movie. It was a very conscious decision to make that base sound different; then, from there, we were able to evolve to our theme for the character. I remember when J.J. heard it, he said, 'Oh, it sounds English. That's perfect!' I'm not exactly sure what that meant, but in his mind it fit perfectly. I was just going for something that felt emotional and questioning as opposed to being so direct that it tells you what's going on” (

“Kronos Wartet” is a polar opposite of “London Calling”. The 41-person choir rips through the track while the percussion provides additional, brute force. “The San Fran Hustle” uses a dash of music from the original series, music from the pivotal fight scene in the episode, “Amok Time”.

“Star Trek Main Title” concludes the score with a straight rendition of Giacchino's main theme, rather than Alexander Courage's theme for the original show. Although the end credits performance of Courage's theme is similar to the first film's presentation, its absence here is keenly felt, especially since the penultimate track, “Kirk Enterprises”, leads so naturally into Courage's theme.

Varese Sarabande's 44-minute release makes for a decent, though short, sampling of Giacchino's work. The running time of this release is similar to the Varese release for the 2009 film. Varese later released a limited edition, expanded release, which more than doubled the running time from the first release. One can only hope Star Trek Into Darkness would receive the same treatment sometime in the not-too-distant future; preferably sometime before the 23rd century. 

Friday, June 14, 2013

Hans Zimmer's The Man of Steel

When you reach for the stars, you may not quite get one, but you won't come up with a handful of mud either.”

Advertising executive and creative genius Leo Burnett used this quote to describe his unwavering quest for greatness. Burnett's reach for the stars inspired many memorable ad campaigns; the Jolly Green Giant, Tony the Tiger, the Pillsbury Dough Boy and others. There is no mud in this cast of commercial characters.

Burnett's model of reaching for the stars could easily be applied to John Williams. Throughout his career, Williams has scored hundreds of films with a seemingly endless amount of energy and creativity. He has on many times reached those celestial bounds. His score for Superman: The Movie is a perfect example.

That film landed in cinemas in 1978. The superhero film has since changed. The starry-eyed vision of hope was laced with a grittier, more cynical demeanor. This dark shift is perfectly captured by Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy. In their own ways, these films reached for the stars.

Hans Zimmer received a lot of negative press over many of his recent works. His Dark Knight scores have been lambasted as “predictable,” “painful,” and “shapeless”. Inception was considered as Zimmer writing from his “comfort zone”; that it lacked originality. This is a sad turn of events for a composer who once was acknowledged for his stellar work such as Driving Miss Daisy, Backdraft, The Lion King and Crimson Tide. Man of Steel offered Zimmer a chance to shake off this criticism. All he needed to do was reach for the stars.

He reached within his bag of tricks, and pulled out a lot of mud instead. It is hard to accept that where Williams succeeded, Zimmer failed. Man of Steel has a simple, percussive theme that is more headache-inducing than heroically uplifting. The rest of the score varies in volume from loud to ear-splitting. It drifts aimlessly from one scene to another. It lacks the cohesion that Williams worked into his Superman: The Movie. It is bogged down by its own heavy-handed approach, its insistence on synthetic-sounding instrumentation. It is mud.

 There is a small sliver of hope that Zimmer will once again reach for the stars and produce work that truly befits the tag-line, “Music composed by Hans Zimmer.” Man of Steel is not that score, though it truly should have been.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Reviews Coming Soon

One of my resolutions for 2013 is to provide reviews of recent film scores. I should have the first review up in a week. Stay tuned for more information.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

UNT Main Auditorium

Please visit for information and photographs of the most interesting building on the campus of the University of North Texas.

Feel free to leave feedback. Thanks.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A James Horner Poem

The Danger Motif

Heaven help us!

The world is in danger; the four-note motif

is playing somewhere, out there.

I can hear it clearly; da-da-da-dum.

In Solfège: Do, Di, Re, Di.

This motif resonates as a testament,

a titanic call that goes beyond borders.

It travels like radio, up from the depths,

it heralds that something wicked

this way comes.

Do, Di, Re, Di.

From the land before time; a far off place,

to the new world, this enemy at the gates

we recognize as a deadly blessing,

is far from the devil's own.

For when we hear its four-note call,

we know a clear and present danger,

lurks in the next scene,

in the next few frames,

to test our hero's courage under fire.

If the meaning of these four notes escapes you,

take 48 hours, watch a few films,

then take another 48 hours

to soak in the glory

of James Horner's Do, Di, Re, Di.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

A Filmtracks Tribute

There was a time when I thought I was alone in the universe. A freak of nature. Someone to be avoided at all costs. That was around the late 1990s, after I had discovered the realm of film music.

Then shortly after my depressing self-imaging, I found a website dedicated to my new found passion. Chrisitan Clemmensen's showed me that I wasn't a freak of nature after all, or at least, not the only one.

There were others who shared the same interest. I visited the site once or twice a week. I loved to read about new works. I wanted to know more about those few composers I had just gotten to appreciate; Jerry Goldsmith, John Williams, James Horner and James Newton Howard were some of the first. It was through this site that I learned of other composers; Joel McNeely, John Debney, Bruce Broughton. I continued to learn with each visit.

I would tell my parent of the scores I wanted to try, based solely on the reviews of "that Filmtracks guy". They must have gotten sick of me telling them all the time. I eventually compiled my wish list, which eventually evolved into ReelMusic Magazine.

Years passed. I grew up. I visited other sites, started writing for some of them. Still, I kept coming back to Filmtracks. I met new people, such as Craig Richard Lysy, Jonathan Broxton and Kalaisan Kalaichelvan, among others. Though I have never met these men in person, I feel indebted to them for their words of wisdom and friendship (and KK's composer competitions). 

Years ago, the places I visited for information on film music began to die off. The market seemed doomed, especially when Film Score Monthly ceased publication. I hoped that my first love would never cease to be. Not long ago, Christian Clemmensen acknowledged that his site needed funds in order to survive. This was terrible news. I could hear the words of Isildur, "Our list of allies grows thin."

It is true that Clemmensen can be a bit snarky, especially when dealing with religion or politics. He can offend with a snide phrase or two in his reviews or occasional scoreboard post. He may allow too much "adult" material to slip through to the forum (those pesky profile pictures). These minor quibbles should not spell the end to what has been a bulwark for the film music industry.

So if you haven't been to the site before, and you have any interest in film music, I suggest you take a look at Tell them I sent you. 

Monday, April 30, 2012

Joel Goldsmith (1957-2012)

First, the father. Now, the son. May they rest in peace.

Joel Goldsmith was more than just a footnote in Jerry Goldsmith's life. Joel was born November 19, 1957. He was the elder of Jerry Goldsmith's six children. It was early in his career that he helped his father program the synthesizers that made those years so distinctive. Joel was a composer in his own right. He provided Stargate's many series with top grade episodic music. He scored several films, including Diamonds, Kull the Conqueror, Moon 44 and co-scoring Star Trek: First Contact with his father.

I visited his website,, today. His death is not mentioned there yet. On his site, Joel is still alive. He still embraces Sophia, who is adorned with a Jaffa insignia on her forehead. His site shows off his many works, his impressive workstations and custom studio.

It is a depressing thought to know his projects page will never be updated again. There will be no more new works, new stories or snapshots of the man who was still in his prime.

If you never heard any of his works before now, please do so. He may be gone, but I pray he will never be forgotten.