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Star Trek: The Motion Picture
  • Composed by Jerry Goldsmith
  • La-La Land Records / 2012 / 221:13 (score 85:03)

When Star Trek transported itself onto the big screen in 1979, there was much anticipation.  Everyone was on a high with space-based science fiction movies after Star Wars, the Star Trek fan base was huge and people thought that all the best qualities of the original show could be made even better with the gargantuan budget (it was one of the most expensive movies ever made at that time, and even today its budget wouldn’t be thought inconsiderable).  People queued up in excitement, went into the cinema, watched… waited… the movie started… went on and on… OK, something will happen in a minute?.. no… two hours later… still not much has happened… oh dear… go home.  But one thing did happen – they were, perhaps unknowingly, experiencing a Jerry Goldsmith symphony – one that just happened to be accompanied by slow-moving special effects shots and wooden acting.

In truth, time has been quite kind to the film – compared with today’s blast-em-up science fiction movies, its restraint seems admirable, its lethargic pacing something of a welcome reprieve and its special effects are done artfully and with imagination, rather than trying to push the envelope of what computers can generate all by themselves.  And its score – well, its score seems just as good today as it ever did and can now be appreciated anew thanks to its release in complete form for the first time.

Jerry Goldsmith

Jerry Goldsmith

Before the movie started, it featured a two-minute musical overture – hearkening back to the golden age, it was actually the last Hollywood movie to feature such a wonderful opportunity for the composer (and audience).  Goldsmith chose to present “Ilia’s Theme”, his beautiful, longing theme of love and regret, culminating in the briefest of hints of his Star Trek march.  He fleshed the piece out for the soundtrack album; it can be heard in its film form for the first time on this new release.  It’s such a ravishing, romantic, old-fashioned piece of film music, it’s a surprise to find it in the score for a film like this – perhaps the composer’s intention – and it’s interesting that he chose to use it for the Overture given that it doesn’t have much of a role to play in the score until the finale.

As for the main theme itself, it’s a pity really that it was used, in a considerably watered-down form, as the main title for Star Trek: The Next Generation over so many years, because the sheer raw power of the theme has probably been diminished as a result – but it is a remarkable piece, surely Goldsmith’s most famous and probably finest theme, and hearing it for the very first time over the opening titles must surely have served only to push the expectant audience’s hopes up yet further into the stratosphere.  Goldsmith himself used to say, dismissively, that he never really understood any of the Star Trek films he scored; one listen to that theme shows he was lying.  He really did get it – on a couple of the later films, he probably got it more than the people who wrote or directed them! – the optimistic note that runs through the theme, the contrast between that and the march structure – he got it just fine.  Ironically, he didn’t actually get it at first – it was only after he had started recording the score that director Robert Wise said “That’s all good, but where’s the theme?”  The original take on the theme wasn’t quite there, so he went back and rewrote it, weaving it through the score – and on this album you can hear his original takes of some of the important cues with the earlier incarnation of the theme.

Following the main title comes “Klingon Battle”, another extraordinary piece with a terrific mixture of percussion, brass and a “blaster beam”, which would certainly rank as the finest piece of action music heard in a Star Trek movie; it also introduced the now-familiar Klingon Theme for the first time, which has also been a victim of watered-down overuse, this time by Goldsmith himself in his subsequent Star Trek assignments.  It’s such a good piece – dynamic and energetic, but also full of primitive mystery thanks to the unusual orchestration.  “Total Logic” underscores Spock’s failure to complete a Vulcan ritual when his human emotions are stimulated; the evocative, impressionistic, avant garde music for the first half of the sequence is suddenly interrupted by a gloriously upbeat presentation of the main march theme as Captain (or, in this instance, Admiral) Kirk’s first appearance is noted.  Then comes the wonderful, if brief, “Floating Office”, a graceful and slight piece which works in a distinctly 2001-ish sequence in the movie.

The score’s pièce de resistance is “The Enterprise”, a six-minute masterpiece that would be a strong contender for Jerry Goldsmith’s crowning achievement.  If you’re feeling brave enough, just try watching the scene with the sound off (there’s no dialogue or sound effects, so all you’re missing is the music) – literally nothing happens.  It’s six minutes of looking at the Starship Enterprise.  Now, think that when Goldsmith wrote it, he couldn’t even do that – the effects shots weren’t finished, so he had to write the piece based on nothing.  It’s majestic, rhapsodic music, a fantasia on the Star Trek theme – surely the best piece of film music Goldsmith ever penned, adding energy to a scene that has none.  Film score as ballet.

“Malfunction” is a brief, moody piece; “Goodbye Klingon / Goodbye Epsilon Nine / Pre-Launch” were actually written by Fred Steiner based on Goldsmith’s material (the score was written and recorded in an incredible rush so Steiner was enlisted to help out on a handful of cues) and includes a wonderful moment as the V’Ger theme – heard briefly in “Klingon Battle” earlier on – is presented in one of its most dynamic arrangements.  “Leaving Drydock” returns to the territory of “The Enterprise” with another portentous presentation of the theme as the starship clears moorings and heads out into the great unknown.  “TV Theme / Warp Point Eight” presents an arrangement of the old Star Trek theme by Alexander Courage (which is not at all in keeping with Goldsmith’s music – I don’t suppose he was particularly happy about its inclusion – and in fact Goldsmith himself had been asked to write the theme for the tv show back in the 1960s but couldn’t do it because of other commitments) and another brief piece of Steiner adventure music.  Ilia’s Theme is heard for the first time since the Overture in the brief “No Goodbyes”.

“Spock’s Arrival” is a change of pace, as the popular character’s reunification with his former colleagues is scored in an almost sombre way, reflecting the complete change in the character in the film (they managed to remove all of his redeeming features and turn him into a grumpy, annoying, colourless automaton – fortunately this was reversed again in subsequent movies).  Another brief diversion into completely different territory comes in “TV Theme / Warp Point Nine” before the score gets back to form in “Meet V’Ger”.  The piece was again a Steiner adaptation of Goldsmith material, this time focusing on the V’Ger Theme; the religious quality added by using the massive pipe organ on the Fox scoring stage is a wonderful touch.  There’s more than a hint of Bernard Herrmann in “The Cloud”, with its distinctly Vertigo-like swirling “mystery motif”.  It’s one of the score’s most important pieces and marks a shift in tone from the colourful adventure of its first half to the V’Ger-focused second half.  This piece itself is almost the flip-side of “The Enterprise”, scoring another sequence of characters looking at special effects; the music is hugely evocative, with grand statements of wonder and hints of danger. The style and mood continue in “V’Ger Flyover” and “The Force Field”, with more focus on the V’ger Theme, and more of Craig Huxley’s blaster beam, which produces a wonderful sound adding to the incredible atmosphere Goldsmith created.

The brief, previously-unreleased “Micro Exam” blends V’Ger’s and Ilia’s themes as she appears in her new guise as the space probe’s representative.  “Games” opens up with a brief, somewhat restrained performance of Ilia’s Theme before some low brass and percussion usher in a darker sound, almost immediately contrasted by a soaring burst of Ilia’s Theme and then some more of the magical wonder heard in the previous few tracks.  As the movie plods towards its conclusion, the final section is introduced with “Spock Walk” as the Vulcan science officer leaves the ship and goes off for a look around the interior of the cloud.  It’s a particularly busy and sometimes aggressive cue, probably the closest the scores gets to horror music, reprising some music from the earlier “The Cloud” but in a more energetic, vital arrangement.  “System Inoperative” – another Steiner cue – is an excellent, brooding reprise of the Spock music from early in the score, continuing into “Hidden Information”.

“Inner Workings” presents more of the slightly cold music for Vejur’s interior.  The low-end brass material and echoing horns (later appropriated by James Horner both for Star Trek II and Aliens) are a superbly imaginative suspense-generating device.  “V’Ger Speaks” is a quiet and slow Steiner piece that, in truth, adds little to the album, though in most scores it would admittedly stand out as a superb piece of suspense music.  On the other hand, “The Meld” is one of the outstanding pieces on the album, gradually building to a kind of religious frenzy as the crew finally saves life as we know it once again.  Goldsmith’s writing is actually not at all dissimilar to that he would later employ to underscore the second coming of Christ in The Final Conflict!  “A Good Start” then presents a rapturous, dynamic variation on the main theme as the film ends on an optimistic note.  The end credits piece sandwiches Ilia’s Theme in between two versions of the main theme in what was to become Goldsmith’s regular practice on his subsequent Star Trek assignments.  Arguably none of the subsequent versions would have quite the same power and energy as this one, energy which seems arguably even greater with the abrupt opening (lacking the later addition of Alexander Courage’s 1966 Star Trek fanfare).

There was a magnificent 40-minute soundtrack LP released at the time of the film (and briefly available on CD in the late 1980s).  In 1999, there was a 20th anniversary CD edition on Sony which added about 25 minutes of extra material.  Goldsmith himself vetoed the release of the complete score, much to many people’s frustration.  This 2012 release from La-La Land not only adds all the missing music, there’s a wealth of additional material too, including the early cues recorded by Goldsmith (the first version of “The Enterprise” is particularly interesting) and plenty more besides, including a full recreation of the original album and a couple of curios like Bob James’s jazz arrangement of the main theme and Shaun Cassidy’s vocal version of the love theme, “A Star Beyond Time”.  The ultimate playlist of the score would probably omit a couple of the Steiner/Courage cues and swap out the film version of the overture for the album version of “Ilia’s Theme”.  (But however you cut it, it’s pretty magnificent.)  There’s a wonderful 40-page booklet with notes by Jeff Bond and Mike Matessino; the sound quality benefits from a careful remaster by Matessino and Bruce Botnick, going some way to removing the dry ambience which has featured on the previous releases.  It’s a magnificent package from La-La Land, in a year of many strong releases still managing to tower over all others thanks to the importance of the music itself and the care that’s gone into every aspect of the album production.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture is an extraordinary score; it would be easy to argue that it is Goldsmith’s finest and indeed many consider it to be the greatest anyone’s ever written, a position easy to understand when you consider what the film would be like without it.  Goldsmith was at the pinnacle of his creativity at the time and there are great depths to the music.  The achievement is even greater when you consider the trying circumstances under which it was written – with the effects sequences delayed and delayed, the composer found himself under great pressure recording the music just days before the film was due to première.  This music is amongst the most notable achievements by the finest film composer who ever lived – if you haven’t already bought this release, what are you waiting for?  ***** |

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  2. Dave Buzan (Reply) on Sunday 23 December, 2012 at 21:07

    By stating that Jerry Goldsmith was “…the finest film composer who ever lived…” you make a a declaration that I also consider to be the absolute truth. And this is a score that totally backs up that claim. What’s so marvelous about ST:TMP is that it’s as much a dazzyling symphony as it is a rich musical puzzle. Of all the hundreds of times that I’ve listened to this score over the years, there is always something new to discover whenever I play it.

    Outstanding review!

  3. orion_mk3 (Reply) on Monday 24 December, 2012 at 04:11

    “The ultimate playlist of the score would probably omit a couple of the Steiner/Courage cues and swap out the film version of the overture for the album version of ‘Ilia’s Theme’.”

    I agree–you just described the 1999 release! The La-La Land set is beyond reproach in terms of its extras and notes, but I do prefer the 1999 disc as a listening program.

  4. Roman Martel (Reply) on Monday 24 December, 2012 at 17:02

    Great review James, and easily my pick for album of the year. I never get tired of listening to this score, and the expanded format really brought out further nuance to the score that I never caught onto before (the Federation motif). Even for someone on a tight sountrack budget, picking this up was a no brainer. 🙂

  5. Vincent (Reply) on Thursday 7 September, 2017 at 22:01

    I actually have to disagree with your entire review. When I watched this film for the very first time a couple of months ago, its score left no impression on me whatsoever. The main theme is catchy, of course, but when I listened to the score afterwards, I honestly dind’t understand why people liked it so much. Still don’t.