Composer Michael Giacchino on Star Trek puns and the wrath of Trekkers

19 February 2015, 21:42 | Updated: 20 February 2015, 15:09

Oscar-winning film composer Michael Giacchino took great pains to create a new score that would make Star Trek fans happy. But not everyone appreciated his flippant treatment of the subject matter.

When Michael Giacchino was asked to compose the score for director J.J. Abrams's re-boot of the much-loved Star Trek franchise, he found himself facing a monumental task – trying to do something new while respecting Star Trek's heritage and pleasing millions of fervent 'Trekkers' around the world.

"When I first started working on Star Trek, it was the hardest thing I ever had done," Giacchino tells Classic FM's Tommy Pearson on this week's Saturday Night at the Movies (Saturday 21 February, 5pm). "There were all these expectations, many of them fabricated in my own head... expectations of 'this has to be great' and 'this has to sound like Star Trek'."

After trying out more than 20 different themes, the composer was still struggling to work out what defined the new Star Trek. 

"We didn't know because we were so hung up on everything that came before," he says. 

Listen here to Michael Giacchino talking about his work on Star Trek:

Giacchino says he finally nailed it when he started focussing on the relationship between Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock at the suggestion of screenwriter Damon Lindelof, who said: "Think of a story between two people who meet, become the best of friends and then are going to spend the rest of their life together on these incredible adventures and they're going to get to know each other and they're going to not be able to live without each other by the end of it." 

"And I thought that was pretty much what it is in a nutshell," says the composer. "It took a bit of letting go of what I thought people wanted to hear."

Even after the soundtrack album was released, Giacchino was still faced with having to convince the Trekkers of his commitment.

Giacchino is partial to a pun when giving titles to the pieces on his film scores. For example, his music for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes included tracks called Aped Crusaders and Close encounters of the furred kind. He gave the same flippant treatment to Star Trek, with tracks named: Enterprising young men and Nero death experience.

"My soundtrack CDs all have these crazy, insane, funny titles," he says. "I remember on some of the message boards, there were some arguments about whether or not I should have done that on Star Trek. And people were saying 'Does he not take this seriously? This is Star Trek!'" 

"People really care about it - and understandably. I get it – it's fantastic. I loved it as a kid too." 

Giacchino started out as a composer of video game music, finding wider acclaim for his scores for 117 episodes of the TV series Lost for J.J. AbramsHis big break in films came from Pixar director Brad Bird who asked Giacchino to write the music for The Incredibles. Bird had loved his music for the video games Medal of Honour.

"I thought every step of the way that I was going to get fired from that movie because there was just no good reason to hire me," Giacchino says. "I had never done a movie before. I had done television. I had done tons of video games."

Giacchino is concerned that typecasting is just as common a problem for composers in Hollywood as it is for actors.

"With each step – even from video games to television – no one would hire me in TV because they thought I had been a video game guy."

The composer owes a lot to J.J. Abrams, who has now taken on a number of franchises with massive cult followings: Mission ImpossibleStar Trek and now Star Wars.

Abrams, says Giacchino, "has great instincts and a great track record. And he's wonderful with people and you can really see him doing these wonderful things with these cherished properties. There's no wonder they went to somebody like him to take it, respect it but also do something different with it."

Listen to Michael Giacchino – and Clint Mansell – in conversation with Tommy Pearson, on Saturday Night at the Movies, 21 February 2015, 5pm.