Star Trek misses chance to explore ‘classic’ music
BY C.S. MORRISSEY
Star Trek: Beyond introduces a great new alien character, Jaylah. Jaylah has a penchant for loud music with shouts and a beat. Her music collection comes in handy during a key battle scene.
But the movie has Doctor “Bones” McCoy refer to the song she plays as “classical music.” It’s intended as a joke, as if hip-hop could be considered “classical music” in the distant future.
It’s a lost opportunity, because the movie could have affirmed the value of real classical music. Instead, we get Captain Kirk endorsing Jaylah’s questionable music selection.
True, it is a reference to an earlier Star Trek film, when young Kirk has the same song (Sabotage) playing on a car radio. But it’s a pretty thin payoff to have such an aggressively unremarkable song woven into Star Trek mythology.
One hundred years from now, the Sabotage song will simply be forgotten or, at best, reviled. Its only shot at immortality is riding parasitically on Star Trek, assuming the show will stand the test of time.
I suspect the pioneering sci-fi of Star Trek: The Original Series will endure through the ages. But none of the movies will (except for The Wrath of Khan), nor the other Star Trek series.
Still, how can we know what is of lasting value? How can we know what will endure as a cultural treasure, worth revisiting in the future?
Yet that’s the idea behind designating some things as “classics.” The Latin word classicus means “of a higher rank.” It designates something that is “superior.” For this reason, it identifies whatever sets the highest “standard.”
It’s ridiculous that a sci-fi scenario would be so self-indulgent as to enshrine an ephemeral pop-culture reference to the Beastie Boys. Science fiction, as a genre, is supposed to engage the imagination. But this choice of music is profoundly unimaginative. It fails to imagine what really could be considered “classic” in a future filled with space travel.
One of the most famous classical music pieces of all time is Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. It’s instantly recognizable, even by people who don’t know classical music. Hundreds of years from now, I am sure it will still be played.
But in what form will it be played? That’s the key question that an act of the imagination could have helped us with. What would Vivaldi sound like in a science fiction future?
It was easier to include the Beastie Boys, because the writers wanted something loud and obnoxious for a battle scene full of explosions. Vivaldi’s Four Seasons is not only less belligerent by comparison; most people are sick of hearing it, no matter how charming it is, because it is so overplayed. Besides, how can we imagine a warrior like Jaylah being fond of Vivaldi?
Yet someone with true imagination could have devised solutions to all these problems. That’s why it was a lost opportunity for Star Trek.
The classics endure because they keep getting remade. They have enough depth and dimension that the process of reinterpretation can go on and on. For example, the classic story of Ben-Hur has been remade many times.
It was remade for movie theatres in 2016 (a really good version, emphasizing the Christian themes) and for television in 2010 (a letdown, which downplays the religious aspects of the story). There’s even a 2003 animated version (a good way to reach a new generation).
But MGM’s classic 1959 movie version was not the first Ben-Hur. Lew Wallace had a best-selling novel in 1880 with Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ. It was soon adapted into a stage version that played for 25 years.
Ben-Hur then became a movie in 1907, as a 15-minute silent film. It was remade in 1925, again as a silent film. That one cost MGM four million dollars, making it the most expensive movie ever made at the time.
William Wyler remade the film 34 years later. He oversaw the creation of the most famous epic version of Ben-Hur, still beloved by many. Wyler’s reinterpretation, starring Charlton Heston, was made for $15 million, another new record. It’s a total classic.
A classic, therefore, does not have to be the first version of something. Hence, the version of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons listened to in the future at Starfleet Academy might be something like the recomposed version of 2012 by contemporary British composer Max Richter. Richter proved Vivaldi’s opus can be reinterpreted in a fresh way, helping us to appreciate its everlasting greatness.
However, to best fit the requirements of Jaylah’s taste in music, Star Trek: Beyond should have used a selection from the absolutely brilliant heavy metal reinterpretation of the Four Seasons released this year by the Vivaldi Metal Project.
With over 130 musicians, including an orchestra from Poland, a string quartet from Belgium, and three choirs from Croatia and Bulgaria, the Vivaldi Metal Project adds lyrics and singers to the Four Seasons, reconceiving it as an epic about the cycle of life.
The perfect song for the Jaylah music moment in Star Trek: Beyond would have been track 10 of the Vivaldi Metal Project: “Autumn #3: Allegro.”
The movie missed the opportunity, but you needn’t miss out. Buy this classic. Set your headphones to warp factor ten.