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.

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