The Soundtrack

THE SOUNDTRACK: STAR TREK

By • Jul 29th, 2009 •

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I eagerly awaited the release of the latest STAR TREK movie and was not disappointed. The music however remains another matter…

Oddly, the genesis of the STAR TREK movies was not unlike that of the TV series itself. STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE, although impressive, lacked – ‘something’. Some say the spirit and humour of the original series was absent, that it was a little sombre. Some called it ‘the motionless picture’ or even ‘the emotionless picture’. But it was still successful enough to generate a second movie. But this time there had to be ray guns and villains and space battles etc. This had been the case with STAR TREK’s original pilot episode THE CAGE. Whilst being an excellent science fiction story the execs deemed it too ‘cerebral’ for its perceived audience, but they were impressed enough by it to commission a second pilot, which was unprecedented at that time, ‘but this time we want ray guns and villains and space battles’ etc., in other words WAGON TRAIN in space.

This of course was my first introduction to the music of the STAR TREK universe, a realm I’ve learned more about in the forty years (my God is it that long?) since that introduction. The musical groundwork for the series was provided by Alexander Courage who also provided episodic music for LOST IN SPACE, another current and competing series at the time, and that memorable STAR TREK theme. Now, I always thought that the theme was incongruous with the rest of the music for the episodes, even as a child. It sounded like a dance band tune and I imagined the bridge crew playing the various instruments: Sulu on keyboards; Kirk on bongos; Spock on maracas and Uhura wailing away in the background. What an image. The theme I could never take seriously. The episodic themes and motifs however have remained with me for life, especially the additions from Sol Kaplan, Gerald Fried and in particular Fred Steiner. THAT was the sound of the STAR TREK universe and different to anything else on TV at the time. They were the leitmotifs, a technique that John Williams would later use in his STAR WARS and INDIANA JONES scores: the villains (usually Klingons) had there own themes; Spock had his own little pieces and the triumphant hero his. There was always also the humorous tag scene at the end of the show with its own specific score.

After a 12 year break came STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE, a long longed for resurrection of the show, and a very different musical approach. The great Jerry Goldsmith produced a majestic Vaughan-Williams style score, and one of his best, to accompany the new ‘human adventure’, which, on screen, even gave a little nod to Courage’s original theme during an early ‘Captain’s Log’ sequence. Sadly this nod is not present on any subsequent releases of the soundtrack. Goldsmith also, after a little prompting by the movie’s director Robert Wise, eventually came up with another memorable theme that became the theme for this movie, the NEXT GENERATION adventures on TV and four more STAR TREK movies.

As I said earlier, though STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE was successful, the follow-up had to be more adventuresome and more in keeping with the style of the original show.

Harve Bennett, the producer and writer of STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN, arguably still the best of all the STAR TREK movies, watched all the episodes of the show to get the correct feel of it and even resurrected an old adversary of Kirk’s as the titular antagonist. The music too had to be more action-packed. Composer James Horner was approached and was basically told he could score the movie as long as it sounded like his score to BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS. Horner came up with an appropriately swashbuckling score in keeping with STAR TREK creator Gene Roddenberry’s original inspiration for his starship captain, one Horatio Hornblower, and fitted in with the Napoleonic naval cut of the new crew uniforms. He also re-introduced Alexander Courage’s TV series fanfare into the opening title so we knew exactly where we were. And this time, sure enough, we had ray guns and villains and space battles etc. Horner continued with the next movie THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK, the two films basically forming a two-part episode.

STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME brought a much needed shot of humour into the franchise with our valiant crew travelling back in time in an invisible Klingon Warbird to bring two humpback whales back to the future to save the Earth from an alien probe. Where else eh? This time the score was provided by Leonard Rosenman – how ‘bout that? Three Leonards in one movie (I’ll let you work it out). A bit of an oddity in the STAR TREK soundtrack canon; when not in his discordant FANTASTIC VOYAGE/PLANET OF THE APES movie mode, his main themes were a little too reminiscent of Hobbits and his score for the animated LORD OF THE RINGS for my liking, though he did incorporate far more of Alexander Courage’s original theme than had either Goldsmith or Horner.

Albeit for what turned out to be a lacklustre affair, Jerry Goldsmith returned to score STAR TREK V: THE FINAL FRONTIER, reprising his MOTION PICTURE theme, though now prefacing it with Courage’s TV series fanfare (as had THE NEXT GENERATION on TV), something he would continue to do with subsequent STAR TREK movies. Now this begs a question: Why did they go back to the original MOTION PICTURE theme, which was now, with THE NEXT GENERATION, acknowledged as the representation of STAR TREK on TV? Simply, they tied in the old with the new, but it does get a bit befuddled as the old crew had that theme way before the NEXT GEN did, but I suppose that’s by the by. The theme linked the cinematic and TV versions of the franchise together. But then, for the next two cinematic adventures, they ditched it.

STAR TREK VI: THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY was a much darker venture, dealing with political intrigue and assassination. All previous scores were cast to the winds and Cliff Eidelman’s score is an appropriately mysterious and brooding affair during the opening credits (I thought at one point I’d walked in on a BATMAN movie), throwing in a few Holstian ‘Mars’ barrages and echoes, whether intentional or not, of ‘Ilia’s Theme’ from THE MOTION PICTURE, but ending with a wonderfully triumphant flourish as the cast members literally sign off during the closing credits, signifying their last mission, and movie, together as the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise.

Next up was STAR TREK: GENERATIONS, the first movie to feature the STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION cast, and also the first to drop the numbering system. Here we find the two famous captains of the Enterprise, James T. Kirk and Jean Luc Picard, brought face to face through a quirk in time and space to fight a common enemy. A wasted opportunity as far as I’m concerned but the NEXT GENERATION cast brought with them to the big screen their TV score composer Dennis McCarthy, and a splendid job he did too. McCarthy had scored NEXT GENERATION, and would go on to score many episodes of DEEP SPACE NINE, STAR TREK: VOYAGER (again featuring a main theme by Jerry Goldsmith) and ENTERPRISE. In fact he has composed more hours of music for STAR TREK than any other composer.

Jerry Goldsmith returned again to score the next movie, STAR TREK: FIRST CONTACT, probably the best of the NEXT GENERATION cast’s forays onto the big screen and one of Jerry’s best STAR TREK scores (second only to his score for THE MOTION PICTURE) with some really heartfelt melodies and character themes, and of course bringing back once again the MOTION PICTURE/NEXT GENERATION theme, which would remain for the rest of the NEXT GENERATION crew’s cinematic outings.

STAR TREK: INSURRECTION was sadly another lily-livered entry into the series with mediocre villains and no real sense of jeopardy for our heroes, but once again scored by Jerry Goldsmith to give it some bravado and kudos.

The final NEXT GENERATION cast movie (so far) was STAR TREK: NEMESIS again scored by Jerry Goldsmith. Overall a disappointing finale for the NEXT GENERATION crew, but though the film is not, the score is memorable.

Now we come to the latest offering, simply entitled STAR TREK.

Now, I’m in a quandary over this. When I heard Michael Giacchino was going to be scoring it I was very excited. I had loved his work on THE INCREDIBLES where he had parodied John Barry’s Bond scores beautifully, and I couldn’t wait to hear what he would do with the music of STAR TREK. Basically he didn’t do anything with it. The score is totally original. No nods to Kaplan, Fried or Steiner, which was disappointing, as the film itself used heavily the sound effects from the original TV show, transporters, bridge sounds etc., even Majel Barratt-Rodenberry as the voice of the ship’s computer, so some musical acknowledgement to the old show would have been nice too, but not to be – yet. It’s a good score; suitably dramatic with a strong recurring motif, though I’m not sure whose theme it is meant to be: Kirk’s or Nero’s. But here’s my quandary. The score is powerful, action packed, tense and driven (and a bit gothic in parts – bit more SPIDERMAN than BATMAN this time) but then we segue at the end into the old TV show theme by Courage. Now, whilst it admittedly raised a smile, it just didn’t fit. But then, as I said, I could never take it seriously in the first place, so maybe it was appropriate after all, and I can still keep listening to it happily, and it did feel as if STAR TREK had come home.

I can’t think of any other film franchise that has been represented by so many different musical styles. As Spock would have it – Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combination.
Live Long and Prosper.

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4 Responses »

  1. Was good to read such a knowledgeabe review of STARTREK by someone who obviously admired the TV programmes and most of the films but aboveall the music which plays a much greater part of the impact and pleasure we get from the film world than we sometimes realise. This was written by someone who loved his subject..

  2. Thank you for the kind words Eve.

  3. Leonard Rosenman didn’t score Planet of the Apes. Jerry Goldsmith did.

  4. Rosenman scored BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES.

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