REVIEW: James Horner – Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan original motion picture soundtrack (1982)

STAR TREK II:  The Wrath of Khan original motion picture soundtrack (1982 GNP Crescendo)
Composed and conducted by James Horner

The Wrath of Khan was James Horner’s breakthrough score.  He sold a bajillion albums since, for movies you probably heard of (Titanic, Avatar, Aliens, etc. etc.).  One listen is all it takes to hear why The Wrath of Khan put him on the map.

When the film came out in 1982, it felt brand new in two ways.  One, it felt like Star Trek was alive again.  Khan‘s tight pacing, dialogue and performances were miles ahead of the monumental bore than was Star Trek: The Motion Picture.  Second, the score was top-knotch.  Just as John Williams made Star Wars a brilliant audio ride, so did James Horner with Khan.  Of course this isn’t to knock Jerry Goldsmith, who score The Motion Picture (and lots of other Treks too).  Khan was a different kind of movie, with the kind of action and tension the first film lacked.  The score followed suit.

Perhaps the most exciting cue on this soundtrack is recurring Khan theme heard in “Surprise Attack”.  As stunningly good as it is, the quieter moments in the score are just as important.  Though quiet, they still delivering tension when necessary.  Check out “Kirk’s Explosive Reply”, from the scene in the film when Kirk is stalling for time to take down Khan’s shields.  When a character stalls for time, you need to feel that tension, and it is all there in the track.  “Spock” is also a lovely softer piece, from a thoughtful moment between Spock and the Captain.  There is an air of ambiguous danger.


Surprise attack!

This being Star Trek, you need regal themes for those big widescreen shots of the USS Enterprise gliding past in all her glory.  Check out “Enterprise Clears Moorings” for a the finest example of this.  Of course, Khan was probably best loved for its battle scenes.  “Battle in the Mutara Nebula” and “Genesis Countdown” combined are 16 minutes of adrenaline mixed with tense stretches of quietly humming instruments.   Even when contemplative, this soundtrack is somehow so big and bold.  It is an absolutely huge sounding score.  Brass, military drums, strings…it is a flawless collection of music.  Every bit as exciting as the film, and completely enjoyable as its own work.

People say James Horner plagiarised music from classical composers.  So did John Williams, and you don’t hear fans complaining about it!  The Wrath of Khan could easily one of the best soundtracks you ever buy.

5/5 stars

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15 comments

  1. My ranking of the Star Trek movies.

    1. Star Trek: First Contact
    2. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
    3. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
    4. Memory Failure

    Yeah, I love those three unconditionally, but things get hazy after that. I just rewatched the TNG ones incidentally. Insurrection was much better than I remembered, Generations was still okay, Nemesis was still dreck. Haha.

    I’ve tried to get into the J.J. Abrams ones, but it’s not the same. J.J. bothers me too. When he said if you didn’t like the new Star Wars movies then you were a sexist afraid of strong women, I wrote him off as another holier than thou Hollywood hypocrite. Just the audacity to say there’s no other reason someone might not like The Last Jedi is so arrogant. Couldn’t be that Rey is uncompelling, or that the writing was so pandering and abysmal that it made even the awesome Laura Dern look bad. It doesn’t surprise me that Rian Johnson is a bad writer though, his parents didn’t even know how to spell “Ryan”.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Mine:
      1. Kahn
      2. Whales
      3. Undiscovered

      I can’t believe you left out the whales, man!

      Did JJ actually say that? That sounds like a misquote. I can’t imagine anyone stupid enough to say that. Obviously Star Wars fandom is toxic – I assume he’s referring to Ethan Van Sciver and his mob of assholes.

      Like

      1. https://www.indiewire.com/2018/02/jj-abrams-star-wars-last-jedi-women-1201929593

        I have no problem with strong women. I’ve befriended many of them. One of the things that made them strong was that they didn’t feel insecure enough to have to point out to everyone how strong and capable they were. They just showed it with their actions. I don’t need some uppity Hollywood elitist preaching to me.

        Oh yeah, Whales is #4 on my list then. Amended.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. He should avoid making blanket statements. I also think fans are more open minded than we get credit for. Alien was huge. Aliens was bigger. Everybody wanted to BE Sigourney Weaver. Myself included! Ripley might be the greatest female character in all sci fi. She was incredible.

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  2. YES! So glad you reviewed this.

    This is a top notch score and the arrangement of music on the record makes for a really excellent listening experience. Like the original Star Wars soundtrack albums, you can relive the movie through the record as the music is so disctincitve for each scene and it’s paced so well. We used to use this as a soundtrack (along with Raiders and Elfman’s Batman) for AD&D sessions as it was great for battles!

    The STIII soundtrack by Horner is good too, although the themes are not quite as strong. The “Stealing the Enterprise” section is stellar and has some real suspenseful parts.

    It was a great loss when Horner passed away, although some of his later soundtracks got a bit “meh” with the synthesised choral choirs that started creeping in around the Titanic era. Still, like Williams, you could hum a really good Horner score. I still like humming parts from the Aliens soundtrack when I’m driving and the military snare drum rolls that accompany the loading up of the Marines to the Dropship still serve as a great drum warm-up for me before I play a gig with my band!

    And just because I can…

    KHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAN!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m scheduled to be on the radio tomorrow night to talk about the first movie soundtrack — if I’m not wiped out from house reorganising.

      I think I’m going to invest in a few more Horner soundtracks. Sounds like it would be money well spent.

      Like

  3. By far on of the greatest music score albums of all time. I cannot agree with your review more except to say, find the LA-LA Land expanded 2-disc set. Amazing

    Liked by 1 person

    1. WOAH – there is a 2 disc expanded set??? Oh man. You readers keep costing me more money! LOL. I’m going to get that — absolutely.

      Thanks for the tip MetalMike!!

      Like

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