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The Wrath of Khan

by James Horner

In my opinion, this is one of James Horner’s finest scores.  Bursting with enthusiasm (a quality his current soundtracks lack,) this is my second favorite Star Trek score, after TMP.  It has some of the best action sequences ever conceived, as well as magnificent themes.  The score is built around three key themes: the Main/Kirk/Enterprise theme, Khan’s motif, and Spock’s theme.

Track by Track Analysis
1. Main Title (3:03)
 After a few seconds of a sustained tone, Alexander Courage’s TOS fanfare sounds, followed by a huge orchestral tutti leading up to Horner’s main theme.  It conjures up nautical images and sounds very noble.  The theme ends as it began with a sustained electronic tone.
2. Surprise Attack (5:06)
 Underscores one of the many encounters between the Enterprise and the Reliant.  Khan’s scathing theme makes its first appearance.  The cue alternates between Kirk’s and Khan’s themes as one person scores a hit on the other.
3. Spock (1:10)
This cue introduces the Vulcan’s surprisingly emotional theme on bright, quiet synthesizers.
4. Kirk’s Explosive Reply (4:02)
 Khan has finally crippled the Enterprise and demands information on the classified project Genesis in exchange for the crew’s lives.  He gives them one minute to decide and retrieve the information.  Horner scores this scene with a low, pounding string ostinato.  Eventually, Kirk devises a crafty escape plan.  Since the Reliant is a stolen Federation ship, it has a command code that will force it to lower shields.  Tense strings followed by a brass fanfare show Khan’s desperation and Kirk’s triumph, respectively.  The track ends in despair, as the Enterprise realizes how many casualties they have.
5. Khan’s Pets (4:18)
 Khan inserts mind-controlling Ceti eels into Chekov’s and Terrell’s ears.  This track has some very dissonant string and synth orchestration.

 The next four tracks demonstrate James Horner at his very best.  Twenty minutes of unadulterated film score heaven.
6. Enterprise Clears Moorings
 Starts with a triumphant variation on the main theme and proceeds to a full statement of it.  A marvelous track.
7. Battle in the Mutara Nebula (8:08)
 I’ll let you guess what this track underscores.  It begins with optimistic strings, with woodwinds giving a new statement of the main theme.  A huge brass fanfare follows as the Enterprise goes into battle.  Khan’s theme comes next as Kirk realizes how fast the Reliant is overtaking them.  A tense statement of the main theme followed by another jubilant fanfare come next.  Kirk decides to hide the Enterprise in the Mutara Nebula.  Khan’s theme is stated as he follows them in.  Dissonance lasting almost a minute occurs, depicting the instability of the nebula.  The two ships wander aimlessly, hoping to find each other.  Finally, Kirk comes within ramming distance of the Reliant, and the brass explodes when he fires two torpedoes up their tailpipe.  Later, Khan does the same thing to the Enterprise, and Kirk & Co. are damaged badly accompanied by a maliciously gleeful statement of Khan’s theme.
8. Genesis Countdown (6:36)
 Kirk has nearly destroyed the Reliant, but just when he becomes confident, Khan sets the destruct sequence on the Genesis torpedo.  This passage is scored with tense action music.  The Enterprise crew realizes that there is no way for them to get out alive.  Spock, however, has different plans.  He jumps into the warp core room and repairs the engine manually.  Scotty and Dr. McCoy try desperately to hold him back, since the warp room is completely flooded with radiation.  The preceding scene has a desperate string ostinato that simply takes one’s breath away.  Back on the bridge, Kirk & Co. begin to despair.  Just as the Reliant explodes, the warp engines come back online and the Enterprise jumps to safety.  Jim Kirk gets a distressing call on his communicator warning him to get to the engine room immediately.  It turns out that Spock has taken a fatal dose of radiation and, with his dying breath, says goodbye to Kirk.  Here, the composer uses a pleading version of Kirk’s theme.
9. Epilogue and End Title (8:40)
Although victorious against Khan, James Kirk has taken a horribly crushing blow: the death of his best friend Spock.  After his funeral, Kirk and Bones stare out at the viewscreen at the newly formed Genesis planet, which may have the chance of resurrecting Spock.  The epilogue is a very touching version of Spock’s theme that escalates into an emotional string passage as we see his casket on the surface of the planet.  The orchestra calms and presents the original series fanfare as Leonard Nimoy states the famous “To boldly go…” speech.  A giant orchestral rush segues the track into the end credits.  Here, the main theme, Genesis theme, and Spock’s theme are all restated.  This arrangement of Spock’s theme is particularly good.

As I said above, this is my second favorite Star Trek score.  It is still widely available at most music stores, and I highly recommend that you get it.  My only real complaint is the performance, most notably the strings.  It just seems that they overpower a lot of the cues, particularly the Epilogue and End Title.  Add to that that they are strikingly out of tune at some points.  However, don’t let this small quibble keep you from buying one of James Horner’s best scores.

Star Trek 2: The Final Score
Music Rating 10/10
Packaging/Liner Notes 7/10
Orchestral Performance 6/10
Sound Quality 4/10
Length 7/10

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CD Copyright 1990 by GNP Crescendo Records.  Star Trek is a registered trademark of Paramount Pictures.  Its appearance on this site is for review purposes only.  No copyright infringement is intended.
Review Copyright 1999 by Andrew Drannon.  These opinions are my own, and do not reflect those of Paramount, Tripod, or any other parties.