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Star Trek - The Motion Picture - Jerry Goldsmith - Soundtrack Review

Jerry Goldsmith’s first score to the “Star Trek”-franchise is also one of his best, and the new main theme he created works as a benchmark how good a movie theme should be. The love theme is one of his finest, and the soundtrack was at that time mind-blowing because of the use of electronics. Time to discuss this score finally on my blog.

The movie

When the original television series was cancelled in 1969, Gene Roddenberry, the creator of “Star Trek”, got in touch with Paramount to continue the franchise with a feature film. The final success of the series convinced the studio to begin work on the film beginning in 1975, but the different attempts did not convince the studio. Steven Spielberg’s successful “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (1977) let Paramount get back to the idea of a “Star Trek” feature movie.

Director Robert Wise was assigned to direct the movie. Wise, winner of two Academy Awards, worked with Goldsmith together on the classic “The Sand Pebbles” (1966) starring Steve McQueen, and also directed the first adaptation of a Michael Crichton novel called “The Andromeda Strain” (1971) and one of the best movies based on a book by this famous author. I found a nice interview with Wise and Goldsmith:

How the script was developed and the final movie was put together, is a very complicated story that I do not want to summarize here. In my opinion, the plot is not convincing and lacks the quality of a big screen adventure, it is more the plot of a TV episode which was blown up to fit a movie with 132 minutes. Even though the original cast returned and the Special Effects were astonishing. Finally, Douglas Trumbull and John Dykstra were assigned to finish the Special Effects. In addition, 100 matte paintings were used, provided by Richard Yuricich.

The music

Jerry Goldsmith did not compose the music for all the movies, he composed the music for the first move, then took a long break and came back with the great score of “Star Trek: The Final Frontier” (1989), composed the wonderful theme for “Star Trek: Voyager” and worked then on the feature-films of the Star Trek Next Generation crew: “Star Trek: First contact” (1996, with his son Joel, and for me Jerry’s best score for the franchise), “Star Trek: Insurrection” (1998) and “(Star Trek Nemesis” (2002, the last movie with a score by Jerry Goldsmith I saw in a movie theatre).

“Star Trek: The Motion Picture” is not only one of Jerry Goldsmith’s best scores and one of the best soundtracks ever, it also typical in a lot of ways for Jerry Goldsmith: an astonishing score for a movie that did not convince critics and failed to achieve a cult status such as “Star Wars”. Compared to “Superman”, “Star Trek” was more successful but because of a dialogue-heavy storyline and a lack of action scenes, fans do like the sequel “The Wrath of Khan” better, and that has a score of James Horner.

While researching about the movie, I read that Gene Roddenberry had originally wanted Goldsmith to score Star Trek's pilot episode, "The Cage", but the composer was unavailable for this job. When Wise signed on to direct, Paramount asked the director if he had any objection to using Goldsmith. Wise replied: "Hell, no. He's great!" Wise later considered his work with Goldsmith one of the best relationships he ever had with a composer.

Even though, Goldsmith had a period of three to four months to compose the music, I read that because of the time pressure, Alexander Courage (composer of the original Star Trek theme) who later became another orchestrator for Jerry among his friend and long-time orchestrator Arthur Morton, was hired to provide arrangements, and also Fred Steiner write some cues.

I found a nice video about the shootings. You can see the struggle of Indian actor Persis Khambatta who played in her debut Ilia the struggle when she finally loves her wonderful hair. I totally agree with one of the comments on this video: It is totally strange after seeing her hairless now seeing her with hair, you cannot imagine her with hair anymore.

“Star Trek”, as the original series pointed out, is a series about discovery and exploring new worlds. Therefore, the space ship can be considered as vehicles such as ships or waggon to explore new territory like people in the Wild West did. Goldsmith's initial bombastic main theme reminded Wise of sailing ships, but unable to articulate what he felt was wrong with the piece, the director recommended writing an entirely different piece. Compared to the original theme, this new Star Trek theme is more elegant and more majestic and during this collaboration with the franchise, Goldsmith created variations of the theme. I was so lucky to attend one of Goldsmith’s concerts in the Barbican Hall in London where Goldsmith focused a lot on the musical material for the “Star Trek”-franchise.

The importance of the score for the movie, you can see at the fact that a three-minute “Overture” was composed for the movie, as an initial opening before the credits opening. For this track, Goldsmith used the “Ilia” theme, the love theme of the movie. Among the famous main theme and the love theme, we have the “Kingon”-Theme which is thrilling because of the percussion effects. Goldsmith used a lot of electronic instruments for the score, for example, the Blaster Beam, an electronic instrument 4m long and created by musician Craig Huxley, who played a small role in an episode of the original. This Blaster had steel wires connected to amplifiers fitted to the main piece of aluminium, and the instrument was played with an artillery shell. Goldsmith decided to use it for V'Ger's cues. Here is the scene with this battle:

There are different album versions of the soundtrack, and I will focus on the 20th Anniversary Collector's Edition, a two CD Set, with 18 tracks. The CD starts with the “Ilia’s Theme”, the love theme of the score, a wonderful romantic piece of music. With track 2, we have the “Main Title” with the new theme and then immediately the famous “Klingon Battle” for the first attack the cloud. This track is well-know and very famous for the percussion effects in music.

I do not want to go all of the following tracks. My favourite one is track 6 “The Enterprise”. I copied a link to the scene here. If you watch how Kirk looks at the Enterprise you get the feeling that this music is also a kind of love music (from 2’40). It is one of the best examples how to underscore a scene like this, what a great piece of music with a perfect suspense line until you finally see the new spaceship at 3’59, and, of course, the music fully erupts here.

Track 7 “Leaving Drydock” continues with this approach and gives us another fine performance of the main theme. This scene is created like similar scenes in the old swashbuckler movies when the ship finally leaves the harbour and reaches the open ocean to explore new adventures.

Half of the music on the album underscores the Enterprise flying into the cloud and doing researches. It is therefore very difficult to just mention one or two tracks because these tracks work more than a suite and it is difficult to separate them. One of my favourite ones is track 9 called “The Cloud” because I love the winding effects in the beginning. Goldsmith is marvellous here in building up tension and the space atmosphere but using the different instruments of an orchestra and combining it with the various electronic effects. That is just an astonishing piece of music! The following track “Vejur Flyover” is perhaps even better and uses the way of creating atmosphere in a more advanced way but you should also have the scenes in mind. Track 13 “Spock Walk” is highly entertaining because of the short action music when Spocks pushed his energy on and enters the cloud.

With track 17 “A Good Start” and then the famous “End Title” the albums come to the end. I love the energy of this last track with its main theme that even after nearly 40 years it is has still the power to carry a whole new franchise. Compare this theme with Michael Giacchino’s for the new franchise-series, and you know what I mean.

“Star Trek – The Motion Picture” is a classic SF picture and even though it is because of this lack of humour and the philosophical overkill not my favourite one in the series, Jerry Goldsmith’s score is one of his best scores ever and still a masterpiece of modern film music composing.

Copyright © Stefan Riedlinger, 2017, all rights reserved. The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of Stefan Riedlinger.

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