Hum Along: The Star Trek Trailer Music…or Where Have All the Heroic Themes Gone?

by | Apr 29th, 2009 | 10:00AM | Filed under: Hum Along

Startrekemblem Monday I warned you about the impending pandemic of Giant Slimy Black Cricket Things that Burrow Into Your Belly Button. Well, today I have an even more important Public Safety topic: Our Rapidly Vanishing Supply of Heroic Movie Themes.

While this crisis has been steadily building since the last Lord of the Rings film, my most recent cause for concern comes in the form of the new Star Trek trailer. Erika posted about the trailer last month, and you can read my take on the very first Trek trailer from late last fall.

In the past decade or so I've carefully developed a strong resistance to overblown summer movie expectations. These days I hold my emotions in check; I proceed with cautious optimism, not wild-eyed fanboy drooling. But lately that third Star Trek trailer, released almost two months ago and still dominating the cineplex previews, has got me in full stupidly hopeful, blindly geeked out mode. Against all my better judgment, I am giddy with foolish anticipation.

(Just in case you somehow still haven't seen it, check it out here. And yes, I'm talking about the theatrical trailer, not the Extreme Trek TV ads focusing on the fist fights, sex, and high-altitude sky diving instead of space battles in order to attract a new generation of energy-drink chugging, tattooed, X-gamers. "This is not your father's Trek." Bah.)

Some of my growing adoration of the trailer is from that All-time Great Trailer Moment when McCoy says "We've got no captain and no first officer to replace him," and Kirk steps up and says "Yeah, we do," and takes his rightful place in the Naugahyde seat of destiny. Yep, that's a full-blown 30-years-in-the-making, James T.-worshiping, galactic goose-bumpy, geek-gasm moment right there.

Plus, we finally get to see much more of the fully functional Enterprise in action. I'm not sure non-fans understand just how pure and perfect and beautiful that classic Enterprise shape is to us lifers. Star Trek may be all about Gene Roddenberry's hopeful, humanist view of the future; and about the lifelong friendship and philosophical balance between Spock (the brain), McCoy (the heart), and Kirk (the fists and, um… other parts). But it's also in large part a sea-going adventure story, Horatio Hornblower in Space, as it's often called–and at its heart is that beloved ship.

But all that aside, what really hooked me into the trailer–and the new film–is the music. Finally we get some truly stirring, inspiring, up-on-your-feet feeling it heroic music, and… it's not in the movie. In fact, unlike the trailer-friendly Children of Dune musical cues from Brian Taylor, the epic music in the Star Trek trailer is not from any movie.

StartrekenterpriseInstead it's a piece called "Freedom Fighters" from the trailer-music production company Two Steps from Hell. TSFH consists of two composers–Nick Phoenix and Thomas J. Bergersen–who create whole albums of this time of somewhat generic, multi-purpose instrumental music that is never made available to the general public. Like other production houses, they then hope studio marketing departments will pick up their tracks and use them to fill out trailer soundtracks.

You're hearing production-house trailer music all the time–you usually don't notice it because it's designed to sound like everything else you've heard. It's meant to create a mood without drawing attention away from the stars and the clips, so it just goes in one ear and out the other. Which is why it was surprising this spring that TSFH and "Freedom Fighters" suddenly grabbed so much attention for this Trek trailer–it's like a minor-league call-up player coming off the bench in the ninth to hit a game-winning grand slam.

(The identity of the music was also the subject of much initial fanboy confusion and controversy upon the trailer's release, as there were conflicting reports that it was in fact from Brian Taylor's rightfully ubiquitous Children of Dune score. I won't go into all the convoluted time-line details, but you can get the full story at AICN's post, here. Warning: It's really just for us obsessive movie music geeks who really, really care about this sort of minutia. But you'd think all the attention being focused on this trailer and the
praise for its music would mean that TSFH or its component composers
would have a better shot now at scoring a full-length feature film in
the near future.)

All this brings us back to my question. What's happened to the art of heroic movie themes when the music for a trailer is, by all early accounts, much more gripping, exciting, and memorable than the score that ends up in the actual film?

StartrekbridgeI can't help but feel we're in a Heroic Movie Theme Drought. I'm not saying every action/adventure/fantasy film has to have an instantly classic John Williams Raiders, Superman, or Star Wars score, but if you're making films specially about heroes and heroism, shouldn't they have something on the soundtrack to send us out of the theater with a song in our heart?

Howard Shore's The Lord of the Rings music was suitably rousing and lasting, but that was five years ago. Since then have there been any great heroic soundtracks? I like most of the new superhero movies, but can anyone hum me the main themes from the X-men or Spider-Man franchises? Or from last year's Iron Man? Quick, how does the Transformers music go? (No, the film score, not the "More Than Meets the Eye" jingle…) And I dearly love Christopher Nolan's Batman films–they are a distinct improvement over even the Tim Burton versions. But they do lack Danny Elfman's distinctive, inspiring tunes. And we all know James Bond's iconic theme, but what about Jason Bourne's?

Maybe it's just me. In the years since Return of the King my own taste in scores has grown a bit darker, more moody and existential. (My personal favorite scores of recent years were John Murphy's for Danny Boyle's Sunshine and Nick Cave and Warren Ellis' for The Assassination of Jesse James, so I've definitely gone more anti-hero lately.) Maybe running around humming Grand Themes is a young geek's game, and I'm just not hearing and remembering the newer music the way other fans do. Perhaps I'm forgetting or ignoring a really terrific, obvious recent example.

Or it could just be a cultural, stylistic trend–aiming for younger, hipper audiences (as Star Trek, Iron Man, and Transformers so clearly do) means reaching more often for catchy, driving pop songs than orchestral sweep. These things tend to go in cycles, and perhaps in the next couple years the pendulum will swing back to Big Themes–the kind you hear a few bars and not only instantly know what hero is on his or her way, but feel just a bit more heroic and uplifted yourself.

In the meantime, could the producers of Star Trek just slip a bit of that TSFH trailer music into the final film? Just for me?

5 Responses to “Hum Along: The Star Trek Trailer Music
…or Where Have All the Heroic Themes Gone?”

  1. Heather J.
    Posted on April 29, 2009 at 10:13 am

    I play a game with my 7 yr old son where we take turns humming the theme song to a movie or tv show and the other person has to quickly guess what it is. Of course, he favorite themes are Star Wars and Indiana Jones … but you’re right, there don’t seem to be any “modern” show whose songs are really catchy. Such a shame, really.

  2. Erika Olson
    Posted on April 29, 2009 at 1:21 pm

    Locke -
    I urge you to hold out hope… the brilliant Michael Giacchino has composed the soundtrack for “Star Trek,” and if his incredible work on “Lost” is any indication (I’ve bought all of the Lost soundtracks to date.), you’re bound to be pleased.
    He won an Emmy for his work on that show, landed a Grammy nomination for “The Incredibles” and then won a Grammy for “Ratatouille” (for which he was also nominated for an Oscar).
    The man is good!
    - Erika

  3. Locke Peterseim
    Posted on April 29, 2009 at 1:45 pm

    Hmmm… not sold yet, e.
    Granted, I don’t watch “Lost” (I know, I know… I tried a few early eps, found it a bit too ploddingly humorous… even though I’m utterly FASCINATED by the mythos and the complicated mysteries… I just don’t get much out of watching the actual SHOW. Plus, it has totally stupid character names… But I will try again, maybe this summer on DVD.)
    But you saying that makes me worry that Giacchino’s Star Trek score will be moody and kinda TV background-y. After all, I don’t remember any of the music from The Incredibles or Ratatouille, either. But I know, that’s not fair at all to Giacchino — I’m just being cranky and mule-headed, and all that without ever really having HEARD Giacchino’s music.
    After all, I’m getting recklessly hopeful for the overall film itself (and that’s with my having been fairly blase about JJ Abrams as both a writer and director–though I do like Cloverfield). I have to have SOMETHING to be doubtful about so I then have something to be pleasantly surprised about…

  4. EJ
    Posted on May 29, 2009 at 2:31 am

    Sort of disappointed by Giacchino’s soundtrack. Its not a bad soundtrack of course not, its just very incidental, basically “trailer music shop” fluff.
    His primary theme, theme of Kirk, oddly never seemed to really meld with any scenes. It was too often buried in a mid-tonal region that it never rose to claim its rightful screen time. Of course it could also have been the fact that you hardly spent more than a second on any one particular shot, the seizure of shaky cam and attention deficit cam overwrought the brain of the other senses.
    It was new to hear a nearly entirely orchestral score minus any of Goldsmith’s electronic noises which he used to define sci-fi score music. But as noted, there was a bit of dryness over time where it was just sharp note hits and bits of thematic insertion. Goldsmith did well to write battle themes very musically and melodically in a way that I don’t think he gets much credit for. I did feel sometimes that Giacchino was trying to imitate G’s off beats and wild-shouldn’t-exist-but-does rhythms and the orchestra reacted just as confused. I think he should have gone with his more traditional rhythms in other scores like Lost where its more organic and natural. There are moments in the score where he does do this and its like “oh good he found his place.”

  5. fun games to play
    Posted on October 18, 2012 at 1:43 pm

    Come across considerably from the pondering,and i preferred your own write-up!