Stick these in your ears: Expanded film soundtracks.

I’ve been a fan of film soundtracks as long as I can remember. I have fond memories of obtaining the original 2-record LP edition of the soundtrack for Star Wars in 1977.

(I’ve heard some weirdness about this movie being called “Episode IV” and/or “A New Hope,” but whatever.)

When I was a kid, vinyl records, 8-track tapes and cassettes were the order of the day, and as CDs took over I not only purchased titles in the new format that I already owned, but also started the process of building in earnest a larger library. One of the advantages offered by the CD format which took a while to be exploited was that new releases of older albums could include material not featured the first time around, perhaps owing to space limitations on the older media formats. A niche market of “expanded soundtracks” eventually emerged and the genre seemed to grow in fits and starts with CDs, and continues to do so in the age of the “direct digital download.” Two of the first such “expanded editions” I acquired early on were the soundtracks for Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Superman: The Movie.

That said, for the time being at least, CDs seem to be the arena in which many of these expanded editions will live, as several of the titles I’ve acquired over the last year or two have been sold without a digital download option, and they’re often offered in limited editions consisting of just a few thousand copies being made available. For some of these newer releases, the addition of material never-before released often has the effect of providing an experience akin to hearing the music as though for the first time all over again. I have several of these expanded editions in my collection, as these days I love to listen to such music while writing. Music from the Star Trek television series and films is often quite helpful in “setting the mood” when I’m working on a Trek project, but other scores, such as Black Hawk Down, The Right Stuff, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Pirates of the Caribbean or even something like Sahara or Rambo: First Blood, Part II help in establishing the right mindset when writing a certain type of scene.

As for titles among my most recent acquisitions? Here’s a few, with some accompanying thoughts. The years listed with the film title denote the soundtrack’s original release, along with the year of the expanded edition release:

Alien (1979/2007), composed by Jerry Goldsmith – Until this release the best way to hear Goldsmith’s score for this film was to listen to the isolated music track on the 20th anniversary DVD edition of the movie. Every note has been remixed and remastered to perfection. Spin up this disc and close your eyes, and you’ll find yourself walking the Nostromo‘s dark corridors, wondering what might lurk beyond that next corner.

Outland (1981/2010), composed by Jerry Goldsmith – Sort of a cousin to Alien, particularly in its depiction of “blue-collar” types and the look of well-worn sets and ships, Outland also features a score that has more similarities than differences to the earlier film. The movie’s overall look was an attempt to tap into Alien‘s success, but Goldsmith’s music succeeds in giving the film its own identity, particularly for the scenes depicting the whole “High Noon In Space” showdown which was one of the movie’s big selling points. This was the first time I’d ever heard the bulk of this music apart from the film, and I came away thinking this was one of Goldsmith’s underrated efforts.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982/2009), composed by James Horner – Another soundtrack I bought when it first came out, this time on cassette tape. The first CD release of this was just the original edition again, and the sound quality is serviceable. This new release is a whole other animal, though, incorporating almost 30 minutes of never-before released music. Another feature I like about these newer editions is that the music is also presented in chronological order as heard in the film, something that wasn’t always done back in the days of LPs and cassettes when overall Side A/Side B running time was a factor. This sort of thing also goes a long way toward improving the next release in my list….

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984/2010), composed by James Horner – This score often takes heat for being little more than a knockoff of Star Trek II, an argument that’s strengthened when considering the original soundtrack release. Not so with this new version, which brings with it more than 20 minutes of additional music, including some of the stronger cues which for reasons surpassing understanding were not included the first time around. This may be one of my more recent acquisitions that surprised me the most, as the expansion serves to demonstrate that the score stands on its own as well as being a worthy companion to the Star Trek II soundtrack. I actually enjoyed hearing this new edition more so than the one for the earlier film. As a bonus, a second disc is included, featuring the original 1984 release.

Aliens (1986/2001), composed by James Horner – This was a soundtrack for which I never owned the original release, though I remember thinking the version I saw in stores seemed woefully lacking with respect to the amount of music scored for the film. Fans of the Star Trek films, particularly the two listed above, will hear familiar cues in this soundtrack, but there’s plenty here to distinguish the score’s own identity.

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989/2010), composed by Jerry Goldsmith – The original release of this soundtrack was already one of the few high points of this particular chapter in the Star Trek movie saga, but it greatly benefits from the inclusion of nearly 30 minutes of music that wasn’t previously available. Much of the new material comes from music scored for the film’s earlier scenes, such as the rescue attempt on Nimbus III, as well as a couple of choice tracks used toward the end of the movie. A second disc contains the music as released for the 1989 edition, and there are even a handful of alternate tracks/cues, as well. This new edition increases my appreciation for a film score I already liked, and it remains one of my favorite Goldsmith soundtracks. Trivia: I bought the original edition while stationed on Okinawa in 1989, and its liner notes and other text are rendered in Japanese Kanji.

Star Trek (2009/2010), composed by Michael Giacchino – One might wonder why – aside from the obvious cash grab – they didn’t go with this deluxe release in the first place, because it puts the original version to shame. The edition that came out in 2009 alongside the film’s theatrical release offers fuel to the illusion that Giacchino wrote one theme and phoned in the rest as he wove it through every piece of music he composed for the movie. This new edition is evidence against that, as it contains more than an hour of additional material, spread across two discs and contained within one of the most attractive packaging schemes I’ve seen in a while. Rather than a simple jewel case, it’s more like a book, and includes a 28-page pamphlet that is the weakest part of the whole thing, as it contains more pictures than liner notes. But the music? First-rate, adrenaline-pumping stuff, coupled with several tracks scored for the film’s more emotionally intensive scenes (Kirk’s birth, the aftermath of Vulcan, etc.). It’s not as nuanced or layered as some of the stronger efforts of a Jerry Goldsmith, James Horner, or John Williams, but it’s perfectly-suited to the rollercoaster ride that was the rebooted Star Trek.

So, what about you? Got any favorites?

2 thoughts on “Stick these in your ears: Expanded film soundtracks.

Lay it on me.

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