When people think about Star Trek, they generally think about the original score from Alexander Courage, or Goldsmith's Next Generation, or Horner's continually self-referential scores. People tend to expect more of the same- especially with a series as long-lived as Star Trek. And in the trailers, a 'temp track' was used that some people thought was part of the film. Some even hoped that the trailer music would be used. (It was so well received that the company who created it, and specializes in trailer music, retired it.) It is not, and that isn't a bad thing.
I can tell you straight up: this is not the same stuff in a fancy new package. Yes, there is a homage to the original Courage theme, but it is in the end credits. And there are echoes of both Goldsmith and Horners percussion-driven battle music as well. But overall this is a unique new 'sound' for the 'reboot' of Star Trek, and it works. Michael Giacchino creates music that goes with the slam-bang roller-coaster ride that is this movie, and he does a wonderful job. For soundtrack afficionados like me, it was refreshing to get a 'traditional' style soundtrack.
My fears were that with the 'reboot' we'd see a total redo of the soundscape- perhaps a McCreary-esque Battlestar Galactica style use of taiko drums and tons of ethnic instruments. Or perhaps a Hans Zimmer-esque electronic score. Thankfully, those fears were groundless. This is a traditional orchestral score- with minimal use of electronics and maximal use of the strings, brass, percussion and chorus. The new theme for the Enterprise/Kirk is muscular without being bombastic.
The film opens with a prelude- the story of Kirk's birth. Frantic battle-music covers the first part, and then there's a dreamily peaceful theme, "Labor of Love" that plays on top of the poignant remainder of the scene. It is a bit of musical cognitive dissonance that plays quite well. That leads in to the first 'sighting' of the main theme, signalled by a single note trumpet fanfare that leads into the main part of the film.
"Hella Bar Talk" sounds like a lushly romantic salute to John Barry's style of composition, and the title is a pun on Romantic composer Bela Bartok. In fact, the list of titles is full of delightful pun-tiffication, and is, in itself a fun puzzle to solve, if you're inclined to do so.
Standout tracks include "Enterprising Young Men", which plays under the shuttle trip to the brand-new Enterprise. The 'beauty shots' of the ship are well scored here, but not too long.
"Nero Sighted" gives us a theme more for Nero's nasty-looking ship Narada, than for Nero himself, who gets a nice brassy theme, complete with Apocalyptic Chorus towards the end.
Spock (and the Vulcans) are not left out- they are treated with a surprisingly emotional theme in "That New Car Smell", played on the only recognisably 'ethnic' instrument used in the score- a Chinese violin. Giacchino's use of scoring opposite of our expectations works here as it did with the destruction of the Kelvin in the opening scenes.
And in "To Boldly Go", the composer manages to 'stack' the old and the new themes together musically, making them a melded whole before breaking out into Courage's original theme in the closing credits.
All in all, the soundtrack 'fit' with the movie. There were uses of 'outside' music in the film, too, but these tracks were not included on the orchestral track, but are credited on the movie itself. The music served to amplify the overall emotional tone of the film, and give us something both familiar and brand-new at the same time.
While this soundtrack is simply the music from the movie, I can safely say (without giving away spoilers) that the sound design of this movie is one of the best I've heard in a very long time. The audio engineers take full advantage of the surround sound environment, and the sound has a dimensional vividness to it that ought to garner it an Oscar nod. Pay attention in the battle and bridge scenes- they sound very realistic.