REVIEW: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan soundtrack CD (2009 FSM Expanded Edition)

I first bought James Horner’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan soundtrack back in 1992. As I knew from watching the film over the previous ten years, the music was fantastic. However, from the first time I played it up until the present day, I always found the album a little disappointing. Clocking in at only 45 minutes, the original soundtrack always felt too short. Key compositions were missing. Horner’s work, the best ever composed for any incarnation of Star Trek, deserved a double LP when it was first released in 1982.

For years, I hoped for an expanded edition. 2002, a logical year since it was the 20th anniversary of the film, came and went. No new soundtrack release. Surely, the 25th anniversary in 2007 would see a new release, but nothing; no word that anyone was even planning one in the future.

“Never give up,” James Kirk once said, somewhere along the line. Finally, in 2009 (the 27th anniversary of the movie, who would have guessed), courtesy of Film Score Monthly, an expanded version of Horner’s Star Trek II soundtrack is now available, packed with seventy-five minutes of music.

In the spirit of Twitter (though I am too long-winded to actually write this on Twitter), I am going to try something new here and review the tracks as I hear them for the first time. As I start this review, I have no idea if this CD is going to be a winner or another disappointment.

If I get behind by writing too much, though, I may have to cheat and hit the pause button.

“Main Title”: The CD kicks off with the beautiful main theme, with improved sound evident right from the beginning. No one has ever bested this Star Trek opening.

“Surprise on Ceti Alpha V” (previously unreleased): A short but effective track, ending with an incredible crescendo.

“Khan’s Pets”: Again, the sound here is really incredible, folks. This blows the old GNP/Crescendo CD away.

“The Eels of Ceti Alpha V”/”Kirk in Space Shuttle” (previously unreleased): If, like my wife, you are one of those that did not like the scene where the Ceti eels entered the ears of Chekov and Terrell, this opening section may give you flashbacks. Next up is the music as Kirk approaches and boards the Enterprise. Just this one track, and the CD has already paid for itself. Another great thing about this FSM version versus the original is that we now get the tracks in the correct order to match the film. I have played them in the film order for years, though, as I do with all of my soundtracks. It just seems weird any other way.

Enterprise Clears Moorings”: Perhaps the best piece of music ever composed for Star Trek, this one fortunately made the original soundtrack as well. Sound here is much improved. You can imagine the Enterprise taking flight as the horns get a real workout. What a difference music and editing can make. When you watch the movie, this scene is almost identical (including effects) to the Jerry Goldsmith-scored departure scene in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. The difference is that Goldsmith’s score helps lull you to sleep while Horner’s score makes you jump to your feet and pump your fist as the Enterprise leaves dock. (By the way, Goldsmith did audiences a favor by scoring The Motion Picture as a lullaby – better to sleep than actually watch that movie.)

“Chekov Lies” (previously unreleased): Another short but memorable cue.

“Spock”: Horner’s theme for Spock is perfect, reminiscent of the one used in the original series.

“Kirk Takes Command”/“He Tasks Me” (previously unreleased): We hear more of Spock’s theme as Spock pushes Kirk to take command of the starship. The drums start rolling and we are off. This is another track that makes upgrading to the expanded soundtrack more than worth it.

“Genesis Project” (previously unreleased): This is electronic music played during the computer-generated Genesis presentation. It was composed and performed by Craig Huxley. Nice as a curiosity piece and to hear in its entirety.

“Surprise Attack”: This is actually one of my least favorite pieces from Star Trek II. On the original soundtrack, this was the second track right after the great opening titles. I guess they wanted to lead right into an action cue.

“Kirk’s Explosive Reply”: Nice to finally have this one in pristine sound quality. Horner builds tension here like other Trek composers could only dream of doing. Brilliant track.

“Inside Regula I” (previously unreleased): This is mostly “mood music” as the crew walks around the abandoned Regula I space station. That mood being, unlike most Trek films, horror.

“Brainwashed” (previously unreleased): Mostly incidental music, with terrific sound quality.

“Captain Terrell’s Death” (previously unreleased): Khan orders Chekov and Terrell to kill Kirk, and Horner ratchets up the tension again.

“Buried Alive” (previously unreleased): This is the music that plays in the now infamous scene where Kirk yells, “Khaaan!” to trick Khan into believing he has won and that Kirk is beaten.

“The Genesis Cave” (previously unreleased): Though short, I am glad to finally have this gem. Another highlight.

“Battle in the Mutara Nebula”: From the original soundtrack, presented with much improved sound. The only problem I am having here is that I want to turn this CD off and go watch the movie.

Enterprise Attacks Reliant (previously unreleased): Finally, the missing part of the battle music. Another track that pays for this CD, and then some.

“Genesis Countdown”: More tension builds to an exciting climax as it appears that maybe the Enterprise has not won after all, continues with quiet contemplation on the birth of a new planet, and then builds again as Kirk fears losing Spock.

“Spock (Dies)” (previously unreleased): You are not a real Trekkie if you can keep your eyes dray while listening to this next pair of tracks. Hearing them now, it is unfathomable that they were left off from the original version.

“Amazing Grace” (previously unreleased): Spock’s funeral, complete with bagpipe and then orchestral version of “Amazing Grace.” Incredible. This was the track I missed the most from the original version of the soundtrack. Thank you, Film Score Monthly. You could have just stuck these two tracks on the original CD and I would have been happy. Instead, you made the ultimate Star Trek II soundtrack.

“Epilogue”/“End Title”: Horner’s conclusion is as perfect as the rest of his music. This track still includes Leonard Nimoy’s voice-over as Spock. FSM did it right.

“Epilogue” (original version-previously unreleased)/“End Title”: After director Nicholas Meyer completed The Wrath of Khan, producer Harve Bennett went back and tacked on the “There are always possibilities” ending to leave Spock’s ultimate fate a little more open-ended and set up a potential sequel. Meyer was not happy with this decision, which was one of the reasons he was not involved on Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. He did, of course, return to co-write Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home with Bennett, as well as direct and co-write Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. For the first time, here is the music to Meyer’s original ending. Notably, there is no Nimoy narration on this version of the track. Perhaps Meyer’s alternate ending will also appear as a bonus on some future Blu-ray release of Star Trek II (the current one does not include it). The “End Title” portion is the same as previously released.

This expanded soundtrack was obviously an act of love. The original tracks are all here, with their same names and approximate lengths, with vastly improved sound quality. You also get tons of newly released material. I also must make mention of the extremely detailed and well-written liner notes.

The care and thought that went into every aspect of this release is obvious. For example, if you do not like the new cover art, then you can just flip the CD booklet over to the other side and have an approximation of the original album’s cover art instead.

The expanded Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan soundtrack from Film Score Monthly should be the standard everyone uses for all soundtrack releases – particularly special edition re-issues like this one. I am patiently waiting for an FSM edition of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, Horner’s other foray into Star Trek.

After 27 years of a soundtrack album that failed to fully represent the material, Star Trek fans now have the definitive edition of James Horner’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Horner’s masterpiece takes its rightful place alongside Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back as one of the three greatest movie soundtracks of all time.

Music: 10 (out of 10)
Audio Quality: 10
Liner Notes: 10
Cover Art: 7
Packaging: 10
Overall Experience: 10

Go to Film Score Monthly for more information on the expanded Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan soundtrack, including sound clips.