To Boldly Go Where No One Has Gone Before…

by JT Ellison

Space… the Final Frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds; to seek out new life and new civilizations; to boldly go where no man has gone before.

Cue soundtrack.

I had some dental work done this week. Don’t you spare me a moment’s thought of sympathy, though–it was elective, cost a bajillion dollars and made me feel pretty. And I benefitted, in large ways and in small. Why? I got to spend the better part of an afternoon under the lovely sedative grooves of Nitrous Oxide.

I wrote a post a couple of years ago (click here to read it) about the joys of nitrous. Nitrous and I get along well. It’s a creative booster shot, allowing me to get into a completely different frame of mind. I don’t use drugs, but after an hour with the nitrous, I get a glimmer of understanding about why some people might. Chasing the high, I think they call it, what drives most addicts into their addictions in the first place.

Anyway, because this procedure was going to take a while, they suggested I listen to my iPod.

So I queued up something I knew would take my mind off of things. The soundtrack to Star Trek, by the most brilliant Michael Giacchino. Giacchino does a lot of work with JJ Abrams, most notable the themes for ALIAS, LOST, and of course, STAR TREK.

I’m a huge Trekkie. So I was concerned about the re-energization of the franchise. Sometimes that can fall flat on its face, but Abrams did a masterful job. I can’t say enough good things about this movie – it moved me, made me cheer, captured my imagination, allowed my Dad and I to both indulge in our fascination with all things chaos and quantum, started me down a new avenue of research for a possible future book, and entertained me to the point that I saw it twice in the theater and I’m still hankering to see it again.

Part of the mastery of the movie is the script – so brilliantly rendered by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman that I have to single them out – their interpretation and masterful devices allowed the series to be regenerated into films for the modern era, and for that I salute them. The casting is incredible – I adored Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto, as well as everyone else.

But another aspect of the movie that not a lot of people are talking about is the score by Giacchino. It is so subtle, so powerful, and so perfectly matched to the story that I honestly really didn’t even hear it the first time I saw the movie. Oh, it was there, and there were moments when I heard it, but for the most part, it did its job. Scores aren’t meant to be flashy and in your face. They are a compliment, the eggs that bind the batter so it can be made into a cake, the tray that holds the ice as its being frozen into cubes. In other words, absolutely necessary: the lynchpin of a good movie, the tent pole. Seen but unseen, heard but unheard.

Unless you’ve seen the movie, then downloaded the soundtrack, this may sound silly, but through the music, I can recreate every single moment of that film in my imagination. It’s so successful as a score that it becomes an immediate rewind button. Remarkable. That doesn’t happen to me very often. I’ve had soundtracks that I love, of course (Dances with Wolves, Harry Potter) but rarely am I so moved by the music that I can relive the movie, moment by glorious moment.

Giacchino’s score is wonderful – sweeping, poignant, visceral in spots; playful, sexual and seductive in others. There’s no question which music belongs to the heroes and which belongs to the villain. Nero, the Romulan mining ship captain and driving evil force in the movie, benefits from an especially powerful and ominous theme.

Listening to it under the influence of the nitrous, I wondered if Giacchino was influenced at all by Prokofiev – for some reason, I hear the three horns of the Wolf (from Peter and the Wolf) in the notes to signify Nero’s ship. We all know wolves are bad, bad, bad, and Nero qualifies as a wolf – a threat to the Federation of primary importance. (For those of you who are familiar with this, listen to the Andante molto and tell me what you think.)

Talk about evoking emotions with a classical piece – I can recreate the voice-over to Peter and The Wolf just by listening to the album. The fear, the joy. Ah, Disney at its finest (with the attendant happy ending for Sonia the Duck, too.)

It wouldn’t be the first time a composer has been influenced by an old master – the John William’s distinctive two-note heartbeat JAWS theme is suspiciously similar to the Allegro of Antonín Dvořák’s Symphony #9 in E minor (aka The New World Symphony.) Strangely enough, if you meld the Prokofiev and the Dvořák, it really evokes Nero’s theme in Star Trek. Hmm…

While most of you know my passion for wine, few of you know my undying addiction to classical music. I’ve been using classical for years – to drive me, to tell stories, to layer into my books for effect, as themes for each of my books, to get drunk to, to make love to. I played clarinet for years, with brief forays into flute and saxophone, and shared my first kiss with a trumpet player, so I’m kind of partial to orchestral music. Opera works the same way for me, I adore it. It changes me, alters me, if only for a moment. I’ve always loved the line from PRETTY WOMAN, where Richard Gere explains the obsession with opera:

People’s reactions to opera the first time they see it is very dramatic; they either love it or they hate it. If they love it, they will always love it. If they don’t, they may learn to appreciate it, but it will never become part of their soul.

I couldn’t agree more. I adore the stories told through the music – the emotions it evokes, the fact that just the right note can make or break a piece. It’s what I love about a perfectly pitched scored, like the Star Trek soundtrack. It becomes a part of my soul.

And somehow, I managed to remember this line of thought whilst under the influence of some serious drugs. I must admit, listening to the score under the influence was eye-opening. Mind-expanding, if you will. I felt the music in a completely different way than before. The closest I can remember coming to this was a long time ago, under the manipulative control of Grand Marnier (which is like absinthe to me) and listening to Phantom of the Opera over and over until I was in some sort of wicked trance.

I highly recommend you see the movie, download the score, and have a bit of your favorite non-inhibitor and experience this for yourself. It’s truly something to behold. Kind of like space.

Or maybe I was just stoned out of my gourd.

So how about you, ‘Rati faithful? Favorite movie scores? Favorite operas and classical pieces? And did you like the new Star Trek film?

Wine of the Week: De Toren Fusion V – A South African entry recommended by a dear friend. It’s a bordeaux blend that’s been compared to the finest Chateau Latour wines. Can’t wait to try this one!

(Said dear friend also turned me on to the Kurtzman-Orci interview, so many thanks for both recommendations!)

36 thoughts on “To Boldly Go Where No One Has Gone Before…

  1. Chris Hamilton

    In LOST, the episode where Hurley drives the bus down the hill, there’s a nice instrumental treatment of Shambala by Michael Giacchino. It’s on YouTube.

    When I first saw Star Trek II, James Horner’s score was one of the best parts of the movie, I thought. The whole selling point of Star Trek II–after the heaviness of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, was that it was a pure adventure. It was an amusement park ride. And the score evoked that. Horner’s good at that. The soundtrack for Willow was outstanding in that regard. And over the years, NFL Films music, while not technically a soundtrack, has been the perfect compliment to its visual elements (especially the 75 Seasons Suite).

    SPOILER ALERT————-

    They completely reset the timeline. I should hate that. Now a mess of stuff I really like didn’t happen. But it wasn’t Bobby Ewing in the shower. They did a good job of it and now there can be more stories with those characters. They did a very risky thing and pulled it off almost perfectly. I was impressed.

    Now, if I only I didn’t have to wait until February to find out whether Juliet set off the H-Bomb.

    Reply
  2. JD Rhoades

    I was watching a clip from the Kenneth Branagh HENRY V movie the other day and was struck once again by how great the score is, especially the scene after the Battle of Agincourt where Henry and his "band of brothers" walk off the field, looking amazed to still be alive, and singing "Non Nobis Domine". Chills.

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  3. billie

    I love the music from Out of Africa. Also The Droughtman’s Contract. And Cider House Rules.

    I know exactly what you mean about the music capturing the story so well you almost don’t need the film footage any more! There are a number of songs and classical pieces (not soundtracks) where there are "lines" of music so perfect and complete and telling it makes me want to try to translate the emotion and story into a book.

    I used to sit in the pitch dark and listen to This Mortal Coil’s album It’ll End in Tears. Amazing.

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  4. Karen in Ohio

    The score from Shakespeare in Love does it for me. And it’s such lusciously sensuous music; I highly recommend it as background for writing, by the way.

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  5. Shannon

    I think the most haunting soundtrack and one I still listen to for mood is from Great Expectations. I can imagine listening to it on nitrous would be a mind-blowing experience. I love that stuff, I even make them give it to me when I get my teeth cleaned…I always have to hurry out of there and write down all the wierd philosophical things that come to me…lol. And yes, loved the new Star Trek. I was surprised at how character-driven it was…pleasantly surprised.

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  6. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    A few years back I was lying on the dental chair as the Nitrous seeped in and I must have had a strange expression on my face because the dental assistant asked me, "What are you thinking?" and I said, "I’m trying to figure out how it works, I mean, physically, what is the drug doing to my cerebral cortex and how is that being transferred to my central nervous system…" and she stared down at me with a knowing smile and said, "I don’t know how it works, but I love it…."
    And that always made me wonder what dentists and dental assistants did after hours.

    I, too, am very influenced by music, JT. I played clarinet as a child, then switched to the sexier saxophone in high school, ultimately spending my first college year at a jazz music school. I don’t think I would be a writer if not for music. A line of prose is a line of music, syncopated in three-four or four-four or seven-four time. And I find it almost impossible to listen to music when I write because I have to pay attention to the music and not what I’m writing. It’s powerful stuff. It can either make a film or kill a film, too. I’ve seen some films where the scores are so loud and emotionally manipulative that I wonder why the director was ever given the opportunity to make the film in the first place. But a good score magnifies the experience. I can’t listen to the score from Star Wars without seeing every scene and line of dialogue – it’s amazing.

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  7. Pari

    Stephen,
    I can’t write to music for the same reasons.

    A score? Oh, heavens. The only movie I’ve been to lately is UP. And we’ve been watching mainly old TV programs at home — but the score to Singing In the Rain is one of my favorites and I loved the music Chaplin composed for The Kid.

    BTW: I’m picking up my cello today. Next Wed. is my first lesson . . . .

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  8. Louise Ure

    I’ll borrow Stephen’s phrase of "emotionally manipulative" for the soundtrack of BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, but I loved it. As well as the music behind ALL THE PRETTY HORSES and ROOM WITH A VIEW.

    And I’m with you on the nitrous. Check out dentalrelaxation.com. These guys give you nitrous just for reading the magazines in the waiting room. That’s my kind of dental work.

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  9. JT Ellison

    Chris, I’m at least a season behind on LOST (crap, I think two now) so I stopped reading above the spoiler. But I agree, wholeheartedly. I watched WILLOW the other night, too. Weird.

    Dusty, I just put that in my queue. I haven’t seen it, whihc is terrible because I love Kenneth Branagh!

    Oh, Billie, OUT OF AFRICA, YES! I loved that. We have XM, and they have a cinema station that plays soundtracks. It’s been fun to see which I recognize.

    Karen, that’s one of my favorite movies. Of course, I like GI Jane too, so what do I know?

    Shannon, I thought they did a wonderful jobn of recreating the mythology with the character’s backgrounds. All the little details we learned shows both the movie and the original series in a completely different light. Of course, that was part of the genius of the script.

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  10. Jason Pinter

    "Requiem for a Dream" — One of the most haunting scores ever for one of the most haunting movies ever.

    "The Bourne Supremacy" — If you can listen to the music from the rooftop chase scene without it raising your pulse, then you have no pulse.

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  11. JT Ellison

    Stephen, I have the same thing. It really does open up a part of our brains that we leave closed off for some reason. I love Star Wars too – one of my all time favorites.

    Pari, a cello??? How exciting! I love cello! What inspired you to do that?

    Alex, I’ve only seen a couple of those. I’ll have to check them out. As for the nitrous, I leave you to your own devices, unless you want to break a tooth and drive up here. : )

    Louise, I like the emotionally manipulative soundtracks too. One of the best is LEGENDS OF THE FALL. Evokes those mountains and the tension perfectly.

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  12. JT Ellison

    Awesome suggestions, Jason! I’m getting a real hankering for a Bourne marathon. Another great example of a series being catapulted to a new level because of great movie-making.

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  13. karen from mentor

    JT,
    I’ve never had nitrous, but going into a trance from music or letting music move me to the point of distraction, elation, relaxation,melancholy,and/or just plain old unabashed weeping, been there done that.
    music=religion=holy spirit moving through the body. (see my post "Is it just about the music?"from last Sunday)

    I LOVED LOVED LOVED the new Star Trek movie. I’m an original ST fan, but can also appreciate Capt. Picard.
    I saw the new ST on a DATE with a MAN who is 14 YEARS YOUNGER THAN ME, it was the first DATE I’d had since my divorce, and first DATE in 24 years with someone not my EX HUSBAND,
    and I FORGOT ABOUT ALL OF THAT DURING THE MOVIE. It’s that good.
    So hell yes, go see it for the plot AND the music. (take a young hot guy)

    did I really just say all of that?
    um yeah. Do I want to post it? um, ok.(pushes ‘create post’)
    Great post.
    Karen 🙂

    Reply
  14. Pari

    JT,
    Re: the cello
    I’ve been sitting in my younger daughter’s Suzuki lessons for almost two years now. That, combined with the fact that I’ve always wanted to play cello (My mother said I had to play violin because the cello was "unladylike.") AND that taking up an instrument is supposed to be great for the brain — well, I don’t see how I can lose.

    In addition, the teacher — who is my child’s instructor — is magnificent and fun. I’ll be renting the cello for six months at which time I’ll decide whether or not to take the leap.

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  15. toni mcgee causey

    I love listening to movie scores (Gladiator is one), but I was somewhat oblivious to how critical they were until we produced an indie film. (Trailer is here: http://la-308.com) Having a Grammy award winner write and record the score and having a top notch sound engineer put it all together was amazing to watch–and given that we had the budget of a couple of matchsticks, I was thrilled with the outcome. But I do know this–the score made a huge difference and made the rest of the film so much better.

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  16. Andrea McElwain

    I loved the new Star Trek, and love the score just as much. I’ve been a musician since I was five, and love drowning in music. If I find a score that’s just right – the most recent for me was Transformers – I’ll put on the headphones, close my eyes, and lose myself in it.

    It makes it hard to find the right music to write to, though. A lot of the time my mind will follow the music instead. Lyrics are definitely out, but sometimes strong melodies don’t work either.

    I also have an odd obsession about matching movie scores to the exact scenes in the movie. It’s like re-living a bit of the movie. Or maybe I’m just nuts. Anyway, I put together a page on the Star Trek cues a little while ago, if you’re interested in that.

    It’s funny that I read this blog all the time, and it takes a post on music to get me to comment!

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  17. karen from Mentor

    Being the person that I am (can anyone say persnickity?) I just want to add that it was the first <decent> date that I’d been on.
    There was colonoscopy guy, and guy who pulled out the "n" word in the first 16 minutes, which was exaclty how long the date lasted.
    Maybe I am using nitrous, or sodium penthanol…or I just need lunch.

    Reply
  18. JT Ellison

    Tess, Lord of the Rings is definitely great. Good choice.

    Karen, you are cracking me up. I’m so glad you’re finding happiness again, that’s amazingly wonderful news. And with a hot little boy toy? NICE!

    Pari, I remember that unladylike comment about the cello from when I growing up – because we would be expected to SPREAD OUR LEGS! (GASP)

    Toni, as soon as I can get my damn computer’s volume working again, I am going to listen/watch the trailer. It looks so cool! I would LOVE to see a score in progress. I’m jealous.

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  19. JT Ellison

    Andrea, welcome! So glad we dragged you out of lurkdom today. Your link is too, too cool. I’m printing that out, and listening to the score again with your cues to test my memory banks. Geeks Unite!

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  20. Brett Battles

    Scores: THE MISSION, SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, and UNBREAKABLE are three of my favorites! (And I do listen to music when I write.)

    The new STAR TREK? Two huge thumbs up…it would be three if I had three thmbs.

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  21. PK the Bookeemonster

    I am such a Star Trek geek. I grew up so in looovvve Captain Kirk (and James West of Wild Wild West — what is it about alpha heroes named James?). My husband is a longtime Watchman geek so he had his movie this summer, I had mine. Just complete happiness that they didn’t screw it up (other than the Uhura romance thing). Sighs of happiness throughout the movie while watching. Can’t wait for the DVD and hoped for extras. And the next movie. 🙂

    I also like to listen to the soundtrack channel — mine is through AOL radio. Such storytelling in music.

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  22. JT Ellison

    Karen, you naughty, naught girl!

    Brett – great to see you. Hope the trip went well! I can’t listen to lyrics when I write but I’m always looking for good orchestral. All these suggestions today – so little time.

    PK – LOVED WILD WILD WEST. I need to get that on dvd. I’m right there with you.

    Thanks so much, Chris!!!

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  23. Chris Hamilton

    The Mission was an incredible movie. The scene after he climbed the mountain…I don’t know that a redemption scene can be done better.

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  24. Catherine Shipton

    American in Paris. My Mum loved this film and we had it playing throughout the years on random Sunday movie slots. She would sit entranced. I’d get distracted…but let the music follow me as I’d pace wanting to go outside,go down to the creek, or the beach, wanting to be anywhere but stuck in the house on a Sunday. That music just swoops and soars and jolts and still, stirs all that longing to be somewhere else in me.

    I did love one of the early lines, ‘Back home everyone said I didn’t have any talent. They might be saying the same thing over here, but it sounds better in French.’

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  25. kit

    I’m a product of my generation, I guess….one of my all time favorite composers was Giorgio Moroder for soundtracks and other music….my favorite soundtrack would have to be from the movie MIDNIGHT EXPRESS…during the time it was being shown …the CHASE theme was used alot ….but the actual musical theme of the movie..is quite beautiful, going between sadness, hope, despair…it shamelessly usess your emotions…this is the instrumental version…but in the vocal part…the line that sums it all up is
    Until your heart is free to fly– then I will keep the sun for you.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BkeDj2FVK4U&feature=related

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  26. Zoë Sharp

    Hi JT

    Sorry to come soooo late to this, but wanted to chip in and say I LOVED the new Star Trek movie – Simon Pegg was just brilliant as Scotty, complete with authentically dodgy Scottish accent. And when he first appears, did you notice the tribble?

    For scores, GLADIATOR is still one of my favourites, and one of the few I’ve bought on CD afterwards. (I think Toni and I may be sisters separated at birth…)

    For emotionally manipulative, TOP GUN was the first one I remember for really creating a mood – it was dubbed ‘MTV goes to war’. And the use of opera in the gun battle in QUANTUM OF SOLACE is very interestingly done.

    Reply

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