Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan – Remastered & Complete Score

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan – Remastered & Complete Score
Score by: James Horner
Distributed by: Screen Archives Entertainment

There is no exaggeration when I say, I’ve watched The Wrath of Khan at least 1,000 times. It was and is the only movie my parents had to buy three times, because each time I wore out the poor VHS tape. There was a moment during my junior high years where I would literally come home from school, drop my bags, open the VHS closet, take out the movie, play the movie, and then go about my afternoon rituals. I connected my Radio Shack tape deck to the back of the VCR and recorded all the audio onto a very well-worn 180 minute cassette. Without question, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, is the single most watched movie of my life. Period. There isn’t a single fact about the movie I do not know. Not a one. This isn’t a challenge to best me, merely a statement of fact. So, it was with some excitement when I heard we Trek fans were finally going to get a chance to hear James Horner’s complete score to that fantastic film. Still, I didn’t expect anything too terribly ground breaking. I mean, so many other CDs have come out, each one claiming to have a track or two of “lost” ensembles. However, I wouldn’t be the Trek fan I claim were I to skip this album. First off, the packaging is gorgeous. Screen Archives Entertainment really went out of their way to deliver the visual goods. It is this kind of attention to detail and respect for the completist collector that will save the retail music market. But, the music is what really matters. Now, after knowing everything there is to know about my obsession with the Wrath of  Khan, I must ask:

Where the hell did this music come from?!

Sure, it sounds like James Horner’s classic composer. The booklet claims this is from The Wrath of Khan. Yup, right there on the bottom right, “Copyright 2009 Paramount Pictures”. Why the hell haven’t I heard this version of the score before? I mean ever. Not in the dozens of recordings I own. Not in the countless copies of the movie sitting on my shelf. Not even during the few times I’ve been lucky enough to catch it on the big screen. This sounds like a completely soundtrack. As the cliché goes, I am hearing it again for the first time. From the slow techno build in the opening seconds of the Main Title giving way to the Alexander Courage inspired French horns, followed by the strings and brass backing that tells you that you are in for one  hell of a ride, this is aural perfection. As Main Title slows, in creeps Surprise on Ceti Alpha V. In all my listening and viewing, I never once heard darkly sinister male chorus in the background. Khan’s Pets continues this darkness with simple strings that help to accentuate Khan’s malicious revelation. Good with the musical “jump scares”, Horner kicks it into major “oogy” territory with The Eels of Ceti Alpha V. With each crescendo, you can feel those little beasts making their way into your ears. Gnawing. Biting. Chewing. Until finally, wrapping themselves around your cerebral cortex. In direct conflict with this horrendous image, Kirk in Space Shuttle reminds you that the good guys are just around the corner. There is hope.

Being a sucker for over the top fanfare, the remastered Enterprise Clears All Moorings is just glorious. You can almost hear the ships engine pushing the ship along with the music. A new addition to most collectors, Chekov Lies and Spock both reveal character traits with simplicity. In Chekov Lies, we see hear the loyal friend not wanting to betray his captain, but Khan’s dark shadow looms so very strong over him. Spock is haunting and beautiful. Cementing the friendship between Kirk and Spock, this short track also foreshadows the sadness that will soon fall upon these life-long friends. This trend continues in Kirk Takes Command and He Tasks Me. Indeed, the spirit of both captains (Kirk with the Enterprise and Khan in the Reliant) come out in the track. Kirk, knowing that each of the “kids” on his  ship can rise to their duty. While Khan, full of hate and vengeance will sacrifice all that look to him for leadership.

Genesis Project, a newly restored piece composed by Craig Huxley, is a slightly creepy mechanical work. Like the Genesis device itself, it evokes an unnatural feeling within the listener. Though it little off-putting, I think it is a necessary element to the score as a complete work of art. Surprise Attack, Kirk’s Explosive Reply, and Regula 1 offer nothing new, musically. However, they have never been presented with such clarity and raw power. While I’ve yet to watch it, I sincerely hope the Blu-Ray edition to Star Trek II sounds as rich and true as this album. If not, there really isn’t a reason to buy it.  I’ll just find some tech geek to remix my audio track off the CD.

With Inside Regula, Horner starts composing The Wrath of Khan like it’s a Hammer era horror film. Trailing into the equally unnerving Brainwashed, this thematic switch works beautifully. Horner bridges this small arc with Brainwashed and Captain Terrell’s Death. Again, Khan’s influence is felt by anyone and everyone he comes into contact with, directly or not. Finally reaching a powerful end with Buried Alive, Horner takes the listener to the classic abyss from which all heroes must ascend, or die trying.

The Genesis Cave is a natural lead into this climb. With a renewed sense of drive, Battle in the Mutara Nebula, along with Enterprise Attacks Reliant, and Genesis Countdown cements a nautical tone for the final confrontation. James Horner knew he was essentially drafting an audio Horatio Hornblower, with epic battles and heroic action. James Cameron fans will instantly recognize themes from Aliens in these tracks. With little time to finish, Horner bastardized many tracks from The Wrath of Khan in order to make the theatrical deadline. It is wonderful to hear these original works stand alone once again.

Finally, we come to Spock Dies. Returning from the notes first hinted at with Spock, this is the end of an icon. Literally. When one separates what came after Star Trek II from the music itself, it is hard to no feel any emotion. Mixing simple reed work with the spanning Alexander Courage theme, Spock Dies is still a powerful work of music that can make even the hardest fan mist up a bit. Moving seamlessly into the bagpipes of Amazing Grace, you understand Khan’s vengeance was both a success and failure. Abruptly ending bagpipes in favor of a full orchestra, Amazing Grace flows directly into the restored Epilogue and End Titles. Just as the score opened, strong and confident brass horns reminds the listener that life finds a way.

From hate comes hope. As Mr. Spock say (and I copy from the film), “there are always…possibilities”.

My thanks to James Horner for allowing me to come to this place again, for the first time.

Smell like there's no tomorrow

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