James Horner may be a derivative shell of his once-great self these days, but when he wrote the score for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, he was at the top of his game. His movie-scoring career had just gotten started, he had a handful of good or mediocre scores under his belt, and director Nicholas Meyer needed a great adventure score to follow up Jerry Goldsmith's majestic, sweeping epic from Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
Horner had tried his hand at sci-fi adventure a few years earlier with Battle Beyond the Stars, where he had sketched the rough outlines of many of the themes and styles he would refine and, admittedly, reuse shamelessly for the rest of his career. In listening to that score, it's clear that Horner was deeply inspired by Goldsmith's ST:TMP score and was perhaps even trying to emulate it. As movies go, Battle Beyond the Stars is a real piece of crap with a score that, if a little rough, is still ten times too good for the movie to which it's attached. It's almost as if Horner was experimenting on a movie that he knew would have a very low profile.
The Wrath of Khan presented an enormous challenge, however. This was no low-profile movie, and Horner would have to meet or exceed the high standard set by Goldsmith's Oscar-nominated score for the first film. What's more, Khan was in many ways a more ambitious film, even though it had only a fraction of the budget the first film had.
Horner rose to meet the challenge, kicked it squarely in the face, gave it a good hard noogie, and the resulting score is a masterpiece.
The film opens on an empty starfield, an eerie chord piercing the silence. A lone trumpet blares Alexander Courage's classic eight-note theme from the Original Series, the orchestra swells and leaps headfirst into Horner's powerful main title theme, and the viewer is instantly grabbed by the ears and drawn into the movie, ready for adventure.
Movie music doesn't get much better than this. Don't believe me? Listen for yourself.
Get the Flash Player to see this player.