This episode focuses on Star Trek II and III and Jerry Goldsmith’s influence on the early stages of James Horner’s career.
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This episode covers the following scores:
[divider]1982-1984: JERRY GOLDSMITH AND STAR TREK[/divider]
The previous episodes of Fond Memories made several mentions of Jerry Goldsmith’s influence on the young Horner: such intimate dramas as Lilies of The Field (1963) and A Patch of Blue (1965) seep through in The Lady in Red (1979), the disturbing Alien (1979) left its print on Humanoids From the Deep (1980) and Battle Beyond the Stars (1980), and Deadly Blessing (1981) featured faint echoes of the diabolical The Omen (1976).
[divider]JERRY GOLDSMITH[/divider]
James Horner always had a great deal of respect for Jerry Goldsmith.
"My peers at the time, the people who were most respected at that time, and who I looked up to, were John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith and Elmer Bernstein. I would often be at their recording sessions listening to everything." 1
James Horner was particularly impressed by the recording sessions of Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979).
"I did go to the sessions with Jerry Goldsmith while I was working at Roger Corman. I knew Jerry and I wanted to see what big sessions were like. I was impressed with Jerry’s sound world." 2
I was curious what Jerry would do, and he invited me to the sessions and I hung out a lot and that was sort of a big event for me to see that being conducted and that being put together.” 3
First off, the Goldsmith influence was mandated by the producers:
"When I started, for sure I was influenced by Goldsmith and his large orchestral scores, but at the same time the people who employed me wanted that kind of music. I was not able to tell them, "Go to hell!" 4
That is often what one is up against. A producer or director has seen the move and test-tracked it with somebody else's music and has fallen in love with that score, and says: this is what we want, period." 5
Of course, James Horner and Jerry Goldsmith were inspired by the same classical composers, which automatically puts them on common ground.
"A lot of people say that they hear Jerry Goldsmith, but that's only because they know Jerry Goldsmith's music. I mean, other people think they hear Debussy's music or Mahler's music or Strauss’ music or Beethoven, it just depends on who one talks to." 5
Finally, James Horner realized that the kinds of movies thrown at him early in his career were similar to the ones Jerry Goldsmith worked on, and so the musical approaches were bound to be similar to some degree.
"Most of the films that I've been doing are, in fact, adventure, horror or whatever, and those are the kinds of films Goldsmith does, he very rarely does sensitive films." 5
Beyond this musical influence, a persistent rumor has long floated around to the effect that James Horner dated Jerry Goldsmith’s daughter for some time. However, Carrie Goldsmith denied this in her father's biography:
"I’d known James Horner in high school through a friend of mine he was dating…Dad loved to exaggerate my one outing with Jamie Horner into boyfriend proportions…." 6
Although friends in the early eighties, the two composers ended up drifting apart as James Horner pointed out in 1998:
"He refused to come and conduct his own Fanfare for Oscar and the ceremony because he absolutely did not want to play the music of Titanic. I'm no longer the young man who was once his friend. Times changed a long time ago. I am a rival now." 4
When principal photography on Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan began in November 1981, no composer had been signed. At that time, Joel Sill, vice president of Paramount’s music department, stumbled upon a demo tape of a 28-year-old composer.7 What he heard struck him as fresh and unique. He then made the bold choice to entrust James Horner with two important productions: Nicholas Meyer’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) and Walter Hill’s 48 HRS (1982).
James Horner had just finished two telefilms: Rascal & Robbers: The Secret Adventures of Tom Sawyer and A Piano for Mrs. Cimino (see episode 5), when his agent got a call from Harve Bennett, producer of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
At the time, James Horner was beamed up into Star Trek II thanks to two main factors:
"a much lower budget and the search for a different musical color". 8
Episode II’s tighter budget prevented both the return of Jerry Goldsmith, who had penned an Oscar-nominated score for the first episode, and the hiring of Miklos Rosza, who had previously worked with director Nicholas Meyer on Time After Time (1979).9

In addition, producers Harve Bennett and Roger Sallin and director Nicholas Meyer wanted a different musical approach for the second installment of the franchise.
"They did not want the kind of score they had gotten before, they did not want a John Williams score, per se. They wanted something different, more modern." 5
"In terms of first "Star Trek", the studio was very disappointed with the way the movie came out commercially and they wanted something much more exciting and visceral and not so much of a thought process. I was asked to do more of an adventure score and that’s how I approached it initially." 3
"The producers loved my work for Wolfen, and had heard my music for several other projects, and I think, so far as I've been told, they liked my versatility very much. I wanted the assignment, and I met with them, we all got along well, they were impressed with my music, and that's how it happened." 5
In early 1982, James Horner had signed on the dotted line, even though he didn’t watch much television and was very unfamiliar with the original Star Trek show.
I knew nothing about Star Trek. I don’t watch TV so I knew nothing about the series. I had seen the first Star Trek and wasn’t particularly impressed, although I did love the visuals and the effects, but emotionally it didn’t do much for me.” 10
Although not very knowledgeable about the Star Trek universe, James Horner followed his instincts as a dramatist and decided to hone in, as he often would throughout his career, on the emotional dimension of the piece, going straight for the relationship between Kirk and Spock.
It was an action movie but the thrust of what I wanted to give it was the tune that goes between Kirk and Spock.
I’m always looking for the core story, and that’s what I narrate. I wanted to make much more of Spock than had ever been done before. That unique undercurrent of Spock and the Captain, Jim, was a relationship that had never played in anybody’s approach. I wanted to make that bond very tight. That was really important because there was a Star Trek 3 and that bond ended up being the whole thing of Star Trek 3. I wanted to tell the story of two men and their friendship, and that’s what I gleaned out of the series and out of the first movie. So the closer I could play that bond during the movie, the more I could make of that bond separation when Spock dies, the more I could break the audience's heart at the end of the movie. Seeds I was sowing in Star Trek 2 were now going to be able to bloom and work in Star Trek 3, and that was very important, and that was all part of the work and how it was all going to be woven together.” 3
James Horner started composing halfway through January 1982. 11
Since principal photography had not wrapped, the composer was invited to cameo as a crew member on the Enterprise.
During the writing process, Horner found it easy to work for director Nicholas Meyer, who was a big music lover and had lots of specific ideas for the music.
"The director was passionate about classical music. There was much talk of Mahler, Prokofiev, the symphonic approach, contrasts between brass and strings. It was stimulating. There were times when he could describe things in terms of symphony movement and form." 8
"He and I talked about it at great length. We spent so much time together on this project that we've become rather close friends. Nick knows what he's talking about, musically. He wanted to give the feeling of an adventure on the high seas. It's that sort of nautical, under-sail, wind-blowing spirit that I'm after, as opposed to Star Wars' very imperial, martial kind of theme." 11
"It took me a little over four weeks. I freed myself from the musical imprint of Jerry Goldsmith, who had composed the first Star Trek, and I brought back the theme of the TV series, composed by Alexander Courage. " 8
And so, over the course of four and a half weeks, James Horner composed 72 minutes of music for an orchestra of 94 musicians.
"Star Trek had a large brass section—six French horns, otherwise it was a general, large symphonic orchestra.” 12
With Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, James Horner enjoyed the effect of a full-sized ensemble: on his first space opera, Battle Beyond The Stars (1980), he had to make do with just 40 players….
The recording sessions started on April 12, 1982 at The Burbank Studios (Warner Bros.) and lasted 3 days.
Two other sessions were held afterward: on April 30, for the Mutara Nebula battle; and on May 3 to accommodate a modified epilogue after the original version had been deemed too dark by audiences at test-screenings. 7
The music was recorded by veteran Dan Wallin, who worked on over 500 films during his lengthy career. He is one of four sound engineers with whom James Horner worked on a regular basis. Their first collaboration was on The Lady in Red (1979) and The Hand (1981), they would team up again on more than a dozen projects (48 HRS, Gorky Park, Star Trek III …).
Incidentally, the score featured Craig Huxley on the Blaster Beam, an electronic instrument of his own invention that looks like a long metal beam more than 5 meters (12 feet) long with lots of strings. Pressure applied to them or pinching of the strings by fingers, sticks and pipes of various sizes results in a very distinctive dark sound. Jerry Goldsmith had already used it on Star Trek The Motion Picture (1979), James Horner followed suit with Battle Beyond The Stars (1980) and Star Trek II.
During the recording sessions, James Horner had to adapt certain cues to the re-editing of scenes as ILM’s special effects started coming in.
"There were quite a few instances where I would be called up on a sequence that we had timed out, asking to change lengths because they couldn't use the full special effects shot, or they had lengthened it or re-cut it slightly." 6
By far the most problematic cue of the entire score, according to the composer, was Spock’s funeral, which drew on the hymn "Amazing Grace".
"I never wanted to use it. I begged, begged, 'Please don't make me use 'Amazing Grace. ' It was the only battle in the film I lost. They all seemed to feel that 'Amazing Grace' was the only thing to make them happy. It was 15 seconds—I just did it. It had already been shot, and I had to match it." 12
Star Trek had a rushed production schedule; they had to be in theaters by June 4th, and they started dubbing April 9th. I had to have the music available by April 15th. They locked the picture four weeks prior to that, and they were still getting special effects shots while I was writing it. It was a very rushed schedule. Nicholas was editing while he was directing: editing nights, directing days. Hollywood doesn't usually do it that way, but the film turned out to be wonderful. Every sequence I scored was in the film. There was one bit I wanted taken out. It was after Kirk surprises the Reliant, hits it with photon torpedoes, and Scotty carries the dead guy up to the bridge. Everyone just closes their eyes on the bridge, then they cut to the Enterprise, 'blowing in the wind.' I scored a big bittersweet chord for that cut. I wanted it to play very ghostly, very, very quiet, after all that battle noise. And we finally cut the music at that point. It works terrifically. Now the Enterprise just turns in that silence. It's really kind of nice.” 12
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan bears testament to James Horner’s ability to leave a personal print on even his early films, even though as we have seen, the influence of the great Jerry Goldsmith was considerable.
James Horner’s solid classical background automatically puts him inside the realm of great composers past. It seemed readily apparent to him that the most passionate music can exist alongside the work of composers who themselves had extensive musical training and an undeniable talent for applying music to drama – and in doing so, create an original world.
Jerry Goldsmith always researched sounds and created original instrumental timbres, giving a film a distinct personality. All great composers have had this obsession (think Maurice Jarre), but Jerry Goldsmith was a master. His audacity was almost unparalleled.
Examples are many: the use of such instrumental oddities as the blaster beam (featured heavily in the last third of Star Trek II), or the variety of percussive elements accompanying the majestic themes of the Enterprise or Ilia, or the mysterious textures of the world of Vulcan and Spock and V'Ger….
The monumental Jerry Goldsmith score for Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) had a romantic dimension, in the vein of Mahler. Star Trek II had a more restricted budget and ended up being more modestly sized. And yet the 28-year-old composer pulled of the considerable feat of making us forget the budgetary constraints and the reduced orchestra size!
It is probably no coincidence that Mahler’s first symphony, Titan, is hinted at in the first measures of the score, as if Horner was telling the audience that we’re still in the same general musical territory as the first film. The use of brass and winds also refers to the Viennese composer in such cues as Main Title and Enterprise Clears Moorings.
There’s also a Prokofiev reference: in Jerry Goldsmith it permeates the world of the Klingons (Klingon Battle – the cue James Horner was asked to imitate in Battle Beyond The Stars, blaster beam and all). In James Horner’s score, the Prokofiev touch is found in the battle scenes between Khan and the Enterprise (Surprise Attack, Battle in the Mutara Nebula), especially in the "col legno" writing or the string arpeggios. Not unusually in the world of James Horner, there are memories of Alexander Nevsky.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture required Goldsmith to establish both a musical geography (the music of the Klingons, the Federation, the Vulcans and V'Ger) and musical building stones for various characters and their relationships. Goldsmith ended up adapting the aforementioned material to the characters, especially the central link between Ilia and Decker.
Goldsmith had also placed the first film firmly within the confines of the exuberant space-opera, quite unlike the cold 2001 or Alien. Therefore, James Horner no longer had to establish the geography. Rather, his task was to breathe fresh air into that universe as per the wishes of Nicholas Meyer, add the notion of a sea-faring, nautical world, and especially highlight this second chapter’s strengths: a superb character drama much closer to the classical theatre that Meyer loves so much, rather than a grandiose philosophically-tinged space odyssey.
"The villain stuff, the big effects stuff, the chases, all of that takes care of itself because it’s all visually stunning. What has to be brought to the surface more in the storytelling is the deep affection that occurs between these two characters, Spock and Kirk, and that’s really what I focused on. It ended up fortuitously working to set it up that way because it cemented something that wasn’t in the first movie, it cemented something on a big scale that wasn’t in the television series. It was always implied. I tried to nail it in the movie." 10
And then there’s Benjamin Britten, another of James Horner’s favorites: the four orchestral interludes are quoted both in the large orchestral tutti of Kirk's Explosive Reply or the Genesis Countdown, and Horner would use it again in the concluding scenes of Cocoon (1985).
Finally, albeit to a lesser extent, there are faint memories of Bernard Herrmann, who was a stronger influence on Goldsmith. Think of Vertigo and its hypnotic patterns, the importance of brass and the massive sound that recalls Journey to the Center of the Earth. This material is fundamental to the characterization of the "creature" V'Ger, which comes across as mysterious and even frightening.
James Horner evokes Herrmann’s style in Kirk's Explosive Reply or Genesis Countdown, especially with the succession of high-pitched brass tutti followed by extremely low brass tutti. It’s a musical idea that Horner would use again one year later in Krull (1983).
Star Trek II has multiple themes, each of which has a specific role to play.
"I believe that you had to have 2, maybe maximum 3 themes that an audience could keep track of, and then it was important that 3 themes be your principal themes and then have maybe a motif or two that were very short but narrated other things. And themes tended to be long melodies and the motifs could be short blasts of things." 3
"The score is designed to help create a feeling of tremendous speed and power for the Enterprise" 12
"There was a theme I composed for Kirk, (that nautical, Horatio Hornblower-sounding theme), a separate theme for the Enterprise, and the two themes are intertwined—Kirk and the Enterprise as one. There's a very strange, ethereal theme for Spock." 12
 Enterprise Clears MooringsStar Trek II: The Wrath of Khan – Original Soundtrack by James Horner
© 1982 Paramount Pictures, under license to FSM Retrograde FSM-80128-2

One major difference, beyond the production’s budget and the composer's style, lies in the desire to transform the main theme into a theme that is not solemn, martial or hieratic as in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, but water evokes the popular adventure of Horatio Hornblower. The theme is more fluid, its outline is more curved than square. And suddenly proves to be more in the vein of James Horner than Jerry Goldsmith. Spock has a theme of his own, rather than musical material associated with the Vulcans. Finally, Khan also has his own musical material.

"Nicholas Meyer wanted something very sea-faring, something that gave the feeling of space as an ocean, and I tried to achieve that without getting too literal about it."  6
Producer Harve Bennett would've probably been more comfortable had I reused material from the television show, but I chose not to do that and Nick (Nicholas Meyer ed.) backed me up on that decision. They didn’t want to repeat the theme of Star Trek 1. They wanted a new theme. Nick wanted it to be seafaring, as I told you, so they didn’t want to re-use or reference anything of Star Trek 1. That was history now. So we had to come up with a new theme and it had to be very musical and had to be memorable.” 3
As per the filmmakers’ wishes, the theme of the original series would make a couple of appearances too, but James Horner thought it was slightly dated and only referenced it to better develop his own original material:
"Well I was little more rebellious probably than Jerry was. I refused to use the Alexander Courage theme. Honestly it’s a period type of tune and I felt it didn’t have the emotional thing that I wanted to get out of it " 3
"I didn’t think there would be a place for it in the film. I said I would think about it." 12
"At first I was not going to do it, but then as I started writing the music I figured out a way to incorporate part of the fanfare into the music, and it works very well." 6
"I worked out a way to use the Star Trek fanfare, which I used about four or five times. I always had wanted to use that fanfare, actually. Unlike the first Star Trek film, I wanted right from the start, from where the curtain first opened, to grip the audience, to tell them that they were going to see Star Trek.” 12
"I felt it was very important to Star Trek to somehow tie in the characters and the ship that everybody knew. The audience seems to like it. When they first hear the music they start applauding!" 6
"There are only two things that can do that, either the Enterprise, or the Star Trek fanfare. The fanfare draws you in immediately—you know you're going to get a good movie." 12
One of the most exciting sequences is Enterprise Clears Moorings. The excitement of seeing the Enterprise undock is matched by the music, perhaps even more beautifully so in Star Trek III. In this sequence, the orchestra players can let rip, the composer has carte blanche to fill the sound space, and the music is allowed to flourish free from the usual constraints of sound effects and mixing.
"One of my absolute favorite sequences of Star Trek was seeing the Enterprise in Drydock. I just thought that was unbelievable. And the whole leaving Drydock for the first time. And I had to write a really long sequence to narrate that, and I had to make it perfect because I thought the sequence was perfect, visually. The music works in a very special way. I wanted it to be as ship-like and as old-fashioned as it could be, and as majestic as it could be. It's not so much the music that I’m proud of. It’s the whole sequence when you watch it. And I always believe that you shouldn’t be aware of the music. What I’m proud of is the marriage, that you're just in awe of the sequence and it's the visuals and the music working together that make that moment dramatically, that whole long 12-minute sequence of pulling out of Drydock. It's just such a terrific sequence." 3
James Horner refers to the musical style of the TV show, in He Tasks Me, Brainwashed, Captain Terrell's Death, and Buried Alive, which featured the same use of brass and strings and dissonant writing that Alexander Courage and Fred Steiner had introduced in the early episodes, giving the show such a unique musical identity – and one so appreciated for being inventive.
James Horner even plays with an Alexander Courage theme at 2:18 into The Eels of Ceti Alpha V / Kirk in Space Shuttle. It can be heard in the Star Trek The Original Series Soundtrack Collection box, early in Prime Specimen (The Cage).
"There were certain ways that drama was treated musically on the TV show. In certain spots in the film I tried to play on that. In the sequence where the Ceti eels are put into the
helmets, Khan says 'That's better. Now tell me about Genesis…." There, you hear a very high, weird lyre. And the strings are doubled with several percussion and electronic instruments. That's a very weird permutation of the Star Trek love theme from the TV series. It's a strange inside joke on my part. Very few people recognize it, but it's the kind of thing I smile at when I hear it. Maybe I perverted it so much that no one can recognize it now." 12
To comment on Khan’s madness, James Horner harkens back to material that he had already used for the creatures of Wolfen (1981) and would use again some years later, perhaps as a result of the incredibly tight schedule, in Aliens (1986): a form of orchestral staccato which builds momentum, a bit like the shark theme in Jaws (1976), signaling the approach or the presence of danger. James Horner, however, gives this musical motif greater symphonic breadth than Williams’s shark motif. This short musical phrase is presented upon Khan’s discovery of Ceti Alpha V. It is heard in the trumpets, after an eerie dissonant introduction for trumpets, horn, flutes and strings.
Surprise AttackStar Trek II: The Wrath of Khan – Original Soundtrack by James Horner
© 1982 Paramount Pictures, under license to FSM Retrograde FSM-80128-2
"Khan didn’t have a long theme. Khan had a high, sort of war-like thing that I did in high french horns. But it helps you know right away that that's Khan’s music, and it's very short and distinctive, and that plays against the theme of the Enterprise, which is a long melodic thing. I wanted it to be really something that was strong and war-like, and to me the high horns in terms of color did that. Not the trumpets. But in terms of sheer power…I think it was 8 french horns that did that. It was something that I could play, a short blast of power. It wasn’t really a theme, it was just a motif for Khan and then, I could do that, and then when you cut back to Kirk, you could have Kirk’s theme, very simply so that these chases could be very easily theme-driven because there was a lot of battle music…and it was incessant. And I had to find a way to musically say who was what, and what was who, and who was damaged, who was not damaged. And that helped a great deal, knowing how the battle was going and I think that that is really, really important when you are having long battle sequences. Otherwise it's just action music." 3
"It's sort of a menacing undertone, very quiet music that underplays his insanity in a subtle way that wil have a disquieting effect on the audience. When he's involved in battles, the music is wild and pagan. A lot is going on in this movie, and by means of music you can help the story along. You can represent how characters feel about each other in an instant by using a bristling theme or a friendship theme. We do that with Khan. You know he's crazy the moment you see him, but you don't know why you feel that way." 11
For Spock, James Horner carried over the “exotic” touch that Jerry Goldsmith had composed for the Vulcans. Horner’s theme, however, with its overtones of spirituality and wisdom, is strictly assigned to the character himself. The very special instrumental colors (Emil Richards’s "rub rods” for example) are mainly rendered by high-register synths and flutes.
 Enterprise Clears MooringsStar Trek II: The Wrath of Khan – Original Soundtrack by James Horner
© 1982 Paramount Pictures, under license to FSM Retrograde FSM-80128-2
"Spock's motif is a very haunting theme, very different from anything else in the film, but done with conventional instruments. It emphasizes his humanness more than his alienness. By putting a theme over Spock, it warms him and he becomes three-dimensional rather than a collection of schticks." 11
"Spock had never had a theme before, and I wanted to give him a theme to tie the whole of 'Genesis' and 'Spock' by the end of the film, so that it would all mean something." 12
The most beautiful, surprising and endearing part of this Hollywood score is perhaps the material Horner composed for Genesis. It is introduced in Genesis Cave with long chords in the vein of the great György Ligeti. Horner then develops the material in Genesis Countdown when the terraforming process begins. This elegiac theme of great nobility that James Horner composed for the start of life in space plays in unison with and contaminates (the term is appropriate here) Spock’s theme, and makes for a great introduction to Star Trek III.
"It's not the swelling dawn-of-creation, Stravinsky-violins theme you might expect. It's kind of awe-inspiring. There are large sustained orchestral chords which change slowly and almost imperceptibly. The closest comparison I could give you would probably be certain passages in 2001. It's got a nice texture, but we're not in it for all that long." 11
Let’s not dwell on the use of Amazing Grace performed by Scottish bagpipes and its arrangement forced on the composer. It is clearly a faux pas and it speaks for itself.…
"Despite the cramped production schedule and the curse of the bagpipes, Star Trek II is the most enjoyable project I've worked on (in 1982, ed.). Everyone—Harve Bennett, Bob Sallin, the actors—were great to work with." 12
The enthusiasm of the end credits cue says a lot about the fun that James had working on this project and the way he forged new professional and artistic relationships. It allowed the young composer to earn his place in the Star Trek pantheon and it stands comfortably alongside Jerry Goldsmith’s iconic original. Today this score is a James Horner favorite, even to those who are not wild about the work he did in the nineties. Furthermore, it inspired a whole new generation of music lovers and composers (John Ottman, to name just one) who hold this score in high esteem.
The runaway successes that were Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and 48 HRS, both entrusted to James Horner by Joel Sill, vice-president of Paramount’s music department, were critical career-changing opportunities for the young composer. A particularly busy 1983 is ample proof of this.
One year later, in 1983, Horner had become Hollywood’s hottest new music property.
With Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, the successor to Jerry Goldsmith proved once again that he could work quickly and well and that producers could rely on him. So far his talent and reliable hard work, his track record of rejected scores (zero) and his ability to steer a steady course through the vagaries of the movie industry had been exemplary. James Horner never made a big deal out of it, but he came to the world of cinema through his father.
Although his early classical music career in London kept him far from Hollywood, he did not, it seems, have a hard time reconnecting with Tinseltown after this radical choice to trade in teaching and concert-hall commissions for Hollywood’s mass media and commercial fare.
Star Trek III
When he committed to Star Trek II, James Horner did not imagine that a direct sequel was in the offing and that his participation would be required to provide musical continuity between the two episodes.
"Initially when I was doing Star Trek II there was no Star Trek III. Star Trek III got formulated somewhere along the end while we were doing it, I had to change the end of Star Trek II musically and they changed the cut so that it merged into the beginning of Star Trek III and it actually held me in very good stead. Star Trek II was really to me, an emotional story between Kirk and Spock and that really paid off in a big way obviously in the next movie and I always look for those types of things in the films I do. It's like a trademark of my writing." 3
The imminent start of Star Trek III did not prevent James Horner from engaging in a plethora of projects, because the success of Star Trek II had opened many doors, making 1983 one of the most prolific years of his career, with big-scale productions (Brainstorm, Krull, Gorky Park, Something Wicked This Way Comes) alongside more intimate movies (The Dresser, Testament), the latter category often representing Horner’s favorite projects.
"I have very mixed feelings about doing epic scores. Lately I've been trying to do more and more small films, gentle films rather than this sort of epic blockbusters, because I like what I can do with a small film. I find it more interesting than what I can do, usually, in a large film." 13
Horner had promised producer Harve Bennett to score the sequel to Star Trek II if it came to it, and two years later agreed to rejoin the crew of the Enterprise, still reeling from Spock’s loss.
During his long and numerous discussions with Harve Bennett and Leonard Nimoy, the new director and famous Spock actor, James Horner had joined them in stressing the romantic and sensitive nature of the new episode, an approach which the composer responded to with particular fervor.
"That was 2 years ago for me. I was twenty-seven and a half when I wrote Star Trek II and now I'm thirty. So a lot of musical time has gone by for me and I just think that the score for Star Trek III is just so much vastly better than Star Trek II. It's just a much more interesting score and, for me, a much more beautiful and emotional score than Star Trek II." 13


It's an opportunity for all those involved to breathe new life into the established themes and melodies, for Genesis and especially for Spock. A powerful tutti opens the film and the score (blaster beam and all). On the one hand, Horner pays homage to the lofty mysticism of the link between the humans and the Vulcan Spock, on the other hand he indulges in the grotesque humor represented by the Klingons. The Klingon and Enterprise elements contrast heavily in the film’s editing and allow the composer to further develop a technique he experimented with in Star Trek II for the Enterprise and Khan.

"I'm using a couple of themes and reweaving them differently." 13

The "barbarian" aspect outlined by Jerry Goldsmith in the opening scene of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, depicting the Klingons waging war under Prokofiev’s watchful eye, is back in full, with its chromatic phrases, cousins of Khan’s motifs conceived two years earlier.

"It's percussive and atonal. I don't know how one would characterize it. It's obviously very different from any of the other themes. This film deals a lot with Klingons, and there's a lot of Klingon music in it." 13
Klingons Star Trek III: The Search of Spock – Original Soundtrack by James Horner
© 1984 Paramount Pictures, under license to FSM Retrograde FSM-80129-2
However, James Horner supplemented his orchestra with a set of drums and, surprisingly, the serpent (which Goldsmith had used himself in Alien), and keeping the brass in the lower register, which yields a large, massive and brutal sound. The power of the piece comes across even better on the album. The Prokofiev influence – that is to say, a sense of the grotesque that the Russian genius was so great at – is also present in this material, the better to emphasize the irony of a scene or to describe the characters, as in Grissom Destroyed.
The emotional, even mystical aspect of the film allowed for more elegiac and mysterioso writing. One of the highlights of the score is the cue for the Katra ritual. The rise of the orchestra, towards heaven or the spirit world (obviously high registers) recalls some of the sublime writing of Brainstorm (1983) composed the year before. Here, the percussion instruments add a special color to the Vulcan world (The Mind Meld, The Katra Ritual). This is the key moment of the film and of the score, an emotional peak that highlights the orchestra’s place in the film.
Like the film, there’s room for humor in Horner’s second Star Trek score (Nicholas Meyer had intentionally changed the tone of Star Trek to give it more humor compared to the very serious first film). It is interesting to note that the introductory nod to the sword duel from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet (The Death of Tybalt) in Stealing The Enterprise was significantly dialed back in the film but was kept for the album. These rapid-fire phrases for the strings, like a locomotive launching at full throttle, add small touches of irony that accompany this wonderful scene, which combines suspense, irony and ultimately the grandiose aspect of the Enterprise hastily leaving the space station. Lengthy and complex from both a narrative and a dramatic perspective, this sequence has a lot more going on than the comparatively simple Enterprise Clears Moorings in the second episode. The music is by necessity richer and deeper.
James Horner develops the sly humor all through the film’s last third (A Fighting Chance To Live, Genesis Destroyed) where references to Sergei Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet return and give Star Trek a tragic and romantic touch.
"Star Trek is what it is. It's never going to be God's gift to man, never ever. And Star Trek is also the kind of thing that the studio, for better or worse, is never going to spend 50 million dollars making, either. They have a budget and certain constraints. I think that Star Trek III is the best of all the Star Treks. It's made with the most amount of feeling, in a certain sense, of all of them. It's made by someone who knows the characters of Star Trek so much more intimately than anybody else involved, except maybe Gene Roddenberry. The fact that Leonard Nimoy directed this film gives it a whole interesting light that it would never have had with anyone else. It was fascinating to work with him." 13

The Search for Spock marks the end of the James Horner Star Trek saga.

"What appeals to me about writing film music is that each project is completely different. I could have chosen to do another Star Trek or two or three Star Treks because I was certainly asked, but I wasn't interested after doing a couple of them."
With these two scores, the composer earned his stripes in this particular world created by Gene Roddenbery and more generally in the popular realm of science fiction cinema. Star Trek II and III remain very popular scores. Even more than on the second episode, James Horner proved with The Search for Spock that he knew how to go straight to the emotional heart of a movie, regardless of its subject matter. The emotional impact that results from this score is deeper and more beautiful, the story and its staging by Leonard Nimoy allowing for even greater musicality.

Article by David Hocquet et Jean-Baptiste Martin
Special Thanks to Javier Burgos, John Andrews, Olivier Soudé, Nick Martin, Chodisetti-Ravi Chandra Shankar, Christian Lauliac, Yves Taillandier, Randall D. Larson and Kjell Neckebroeck
Photo credit: © Paramount Pictures

Sources :
1 – Bafta Guru: A Conversation with James Horner (2015)
2 – CinemaScore, issue # 11/12, 1983; interview by Randall D. Larson
3 – Documentary “James Horner: Composing Genesis” – Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (Restored) [Blu-ray] (2010) – Paramount Pictures
4 – Interview with James Horner by Didier Leprêtre,. Dreams to Dream … 's 1998.
5 – Star Trek II, excerpt from CinemaScore, issue # 10, Fall 1982; reviewed and interviewed by Randall D. Larson
6 – Deconstructing Dad: The Unfinished Life and Times of Jerry Goldsmith, by Carrie Goldsmith
7- Bond, Jeff; Kendall, Lukas; Kaplan, Alexander (2009). Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan Expanded Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Media notes). Retrograde Records. p. 5.
9 – Bond, Jeff (1999). The Music of Star Trek. Lone Eagle Publishing Company. p. 105. ISBN 1-58065-012-0.
10 – James Horner reveals the story behind five of his classic film scores – Interview by Sophie Monks Kaufman – Little White Lies – 30 April 2015.
11 – Anderson, Kay (1982). "'Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan': How the TV series became a hit movie, at last". Cinefantastique 12 (5-6): 50–74.
12 – James Horner – New Melodies for the Starship “Enterprise” By Tom Sciacca – Starlog number 63 October 1982


  1. I love learning about James and his collaboration with Nicholas Meyer and Leonard Nimoy on the Star Trek movies. I wonder how he landed the cameo role. As always amazing article well worth reading.

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