James Horner’s Score for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan Returns in a New CD Set
For nearly forty years, one of the most iconic parts of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan has been its music. From the time of its original release from Atlantic Records, this score has been a mixture of sweeping adventure, exciting action, drama, and optimism, all of which was the embodiment of both the film and the original series. And to think it was the work of a young twenty-eight-year-old composer named James Horner, who had done the scores for smaller films such as Battle Beyond the Stars, Deadly Blessing, and Wolfen. However, it turned out to be Star Trek II that pushed him into the mainstream of film scoring from the 1980s on. And all within a short span of only five weeks in April and May of 1982.
The original album contained forty-five minutes of Horner’s music from the film. In 2009, Retrograde Records released the first expanded edition of the complete film score, including an alternate version of the film’s epilogue and end credits, which was about a minute shorter and had later been re-recorded and expanded because of scenes added by Producer Robert Sallin to set up Star Trek III. Now, La-La Land Records has revisited this classic score in a brand new, limited edition, two-disc set of 10,000 copies that further brings listeners behind the curtain of Horner’s iconic score.
The first disc presents Horner’s score as heard in the film, which runs sixty-six minutes in length, and if you think you’ve heard it clearly, think again! This time, the score, produced and remastered by Mike Matessino from first-generation three-track tapes, yields a sound that is much clearer, cleaner, and dynamic, more than you could have ever anticipated from the original Atlantic release. Just listen to “The Eels of Ceti Alpha V”, for example, and you will hear its full intensity. Of course, older favorites such as “Battle in the Mutara Nebula” sound just as driven and bigger than before. When I had first heard the cue on the original Atlantic release, the wild dramatic underscore that was present in the film as the Enterprise and the Reliant blindly approached each other was not present on the album; it had been dialed out. But with the Retrograde release and now with this release, that wild music is pushed to the forefront as it should be, increasing the intensity of the moment.
Of course, the most heartbreaking cue is also the most controversial one from the time that also became the most memorable for fans, Horner’s adaptation of the traditional Christian hymn “Amazing Grace”, complete with Scottish bagpipes and a beautiful adaptation of the hymn that ends with the five-note motif for Spock. It still touches my heart after all these years.
I have a problem with the epilogue and end credits music on this release. The CD’s track listing indicates that this is the film version of the cue. It is actually not. Granted, it does have the new music to underscore the new footage that Robert Sallin shot, which was re-recorded only a month before the film’s release. But Leonard Nimoy’s narration of the “Space, the final frontier” script has been completely removed from the track, presenting a clean version of the score (similar to the removal of Margot Kidder’s “Can You Read My Mind” from “The Flying Sequence” on the recent Superman CD releases). If you go back to the film, you’ll notice that there is a bit of an edit in Nimoy’s narration, where his reading is much closer than in the original 1982 album presentation and the 2009 Retrograde release. So, we now have three versions of the end credits music: the original album version, the actual film version, and now this version. Still, to call this the film version of the cue without Nimoy’s narration is a big step back, in my book.
On the second CD, we are first treated to a presentation of the original forty-five-minute soundtrack album from 1982, which is also sourced from the first generation three-track master tapes. This includes the album version of “Battle in the Mutara Nebula” without the wild music underscore, and the album version of the epilogue and end credits with the Nimoy narration intact.
From there, we move into a collection of additional tracks, mostly alternate versions but still a good find nonetheless. First, we have the “Genesis Project” underscore, written and performed by Craig Huxley, which gives listeners a chance to hear his complete recording of the track, parts of which are used in the final film during the scene when Kirk, Spock, and McCoy review the Genesis tape.
We also have discrete versions of “The Eels of Ceti Alpha V” and “Kirk in Space Shuttle” which aren’t as discrete as their film versions on Disc 1. Alternate versions of “Kirk Takes Command” and “Buried Alive”, however, reveal interesting differences and thankfully were re-recorded. There is a collection of “Wild Orchestra” segments that were proposed for overlay in “Battle in the Mutara Nebula”, all of which are not as effective as what is audible at that part in the film. Two alternate takes of “Amazing Grace” reveal differences in the orchestral score and the Scottish bagpipes, respectively. Also included on Disc 2 is the original version of the end credits music. The disc concludes with an interesting edit of the opening fanfare from the main credits and music from the end credits, which was apparently intended for radio airplay.
All in all, this new version of the Star Trek II soundtrack is the most lavish representation of the film score that propelled James Horner to bigger and more celebrated scores such as the eventual Star Trek III, Field of Dreams, and Titanic, among others. It’s sad he is no longer with us. He would be pleased with the final result.
The new edition of the Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan soundtrack is available exclusively from lalaland.com.
A lifelong Star Trek fan since the age of six, Bill Williams has written and reviewed numerous Star Trek novels, videos, and products since 2001 for TrekWeb.com. He has also contributed material to the 2006 publication Voyages of Imagination: The Star Trek Fiction Companion from Simon & Schuster, and has written and published several independent books. He currently contributes articles for CapedWonder.com and maintains a writer’s page on Facebook.