Star Trek: First Contact (1996)

Composed by Jerry Goldsmith and Joel Goldsmith

First Contact is considered to be the only truly good film starring the Next Generation cast. The plot sees the Borg mount another assault on earth. This time Starfleet is able to destroy the Borg Cube, but Picard learns that it sent out a time machine. Following it back in time, he learns that the Borg seek to prevent earth from contacting alien life and thus eliminate Starfleet as a threat in the present. The Borg overrun part of the Enterprise and the two sides have a series of fights. On the character side of things Picard’s PTSD from his previous experience with the Borg starts to cloud his judgment as he focuses on personal vengeance. I have some issues with the movie, particularly with how it portrays earth’s first contact with an alien species, but it’s definitely the best of the four TNG films. One thing that definitely works in its favor is the permanent return of Goldsmith to the franchise. The composer would score this and the next two films.

The greatest positive of Goldsmith’s longer tenure is the cohesion of the themes. Now every film would have his Star Trek theme. He would actually use it less, preferring to focus on his newer material. There’s not much in the way of new variations of the theme, but this is more than made up for by both new and other returning themes. Of the new themes, the most memorable one is the First Contact theme. It’s a lovely optimistic melody, symbolizing humankind’s ascent to the stars. Doubtlessly not wanting to simply rehash the main theme again, Goldsmith lets this theme grace the opening credits in “Main Title” (0:38). As with the main theme Goldsmith doesn’t reference it that much, but when he does it’s to great effect. Most of its iterations conclude with a familiar motif. It’s the Quest theme from Final Frontier. Recognizing its reliable flexibility, Goldsmith began to frequently pull it out in his TNG scores. One of its main uses is as an ender for the First Contact theme, where its statements are tied together by two extra notes (2:29 in “Main Title”). Finishing up the heroes’ side of things is the Klingon theme. Though the Klingons are not present as a faction in the story, Goldsmith is still able to bring back this popular melody to represent the race’s sole representative, famed character Worf. One might find it odd that one member of the Enterprise gets a theme and the others don’t, but Goldsmith’s melody is so good that listeners won’t care. It helps that as a warrior in a more action-oriented Star Trek film, Worf is constantly called upon so the theme’s inclusion is appropriate.

One of the attractions of the score is seeing how a famous composer would choose to score the Borg. For those who don’t know, the Borg is a collective species that assimilates others’ technology, and more chillingly their bodies. They represent the suppression of individuality, turning sentient species into cyborgs within a collective system. Goldsmith’s identities for the Borg aren’t as pleasant or memorable, but this works for a cold, mechanical race. The primary Borg theme is a more straightforward villain motif. Goldsmith introduces it on bombastic horns in “Red Alert” (0:17). In non-action settings the first part of the theme will appear on cold synthesizers or metallic percussion. The second is a Borg Collective motif, a cold  rhythm introduced when Picard has a nightmare about his assimilation experience (3:28 in “Main Title/Locutus”). Though it does appear on strings and brass on occasion, it’s better identified when presented on mechanical percussion. Both themes lack sustained personality, which is important for an alien race that completely rejects individuality. The Borg music extends beyond these two themes, with much of the remaining underscore being given the same cold atmosphere.

Much of the Borg-centric material is actually scored by Jerry’s own son Joel Goldsmith. Thanks to a scheduling mishap, the elder composer could not do all of the score so his son filled in the gaps. The bulk of Joel’s contributions come in the middle section when the Borg take over the Enterprise (tracks 7-11 on the expanded edition), though he also helped with the climatic “Flight of the Phoenix.” Perhaps due to familial bonds, Joel Goldsmith’s material meshes well with this father’s. In the end, though, Jerry ended up composing most of the essential pieces. Joel’s work on the film likely helped him get the job as the top composer for the Stargate TV shows.

As is tradition, “Main Title” starts with Alexander Courage’s fanfare. It sounds as bold as ever, but at a slower tempo. This is so it can herald a stirring introduction of the First Contact theme. A piano crash at 2:47 transitions into “Locutus,” the first contribution by Joel Goldsmith. It’s a cold, mechanical introduction to the Borg material. The bite-sized “How Many Ships” interestingly merges the main and Klingon themes. “Battle Watch” is a dark cue from Joel Goldsmith with a brassier version of the Borg Collective motif and snare-drums. “Red Alert” is the first big action cue. The Quest theme builds into a brief iteration of the main theme, only to be cut off by the Borg theme. At 0:47 the Klingon theme backs the appearance of Worf, piloting the Defiant (at this point in Star Trek chronology he was running a warship on the spin-off Deep Space Nine). The main theme returns with heroic brass. “Temporal Wake” begins with Borg percussion and more of the Klingon theme. At 0:49 apocalyptic fare underscores the new reality of a Borg earth, along with the counterpoint melody of the Quest theme and more Borg percussion. The Borg theme appears on more subdued but still menacing tones in “Shields Down.”

The Borg takeover of the Enterprise, mostly scored by Joel Goldsmith, begins with the short “They’re Here,” a short clanging piece with the Borg theme on horror strings. “39.1 Degrees Celsius” is a menacing suspense cue with the Borg Collective rhythm. About two minutes in military percussion and some surprisingly light-hearted woodwinds come in to represent the crew as it gears up for action. This makes up a motif created by Joel just for this sequence. The woodwinds and drums continue on in “Search for the Borg.” Said search ends with “Retreat.” Borg textures dominate the first minute. At 1:33 the metallic percussion returns, leading to all-out action. Metallic percussion duels with the search motif as a battle breaks out. Worf’s participation is represented by the Klingon theme at 3:15. “No Success” merges the two Borg motifs together, with more emphasis on the primary Borg theme. “Borg Montage” follows a short sequence where the Borg takes out stragglers and assimilates part of the ship.

“Welcome Aboard” starts with the Quest theme and more importantly finally a post-opening presentation of the First Contact theme. At 1:42 this warm interlude is broken by Borg percussion as the Borg Queen (a character that has proven divisive within the Star Trek fandom) is introduced. “Smorgasborg” and “Stimulation” offer yet more Borg material. The former is more based on the percussive Borg Collective motif while the latter features eerily cold synthesizers and a brief harp flourish. After more of the Quest theme in “Getting Ready,” the Borg music takes over again in “Fully Functional.” After a short action cue, the Borg theme appears on sinister lower registers. Cold synthesizers continue to dominate until the conclusion when urgent strings back a brief chase scene down on Earth.

“The Dish” is one of the two action/suspense highlights. The two Borg motifs play alongside each other as the heroes approach a dish on the bottom of the Enterprise. An action variant of the Quest theme breaks out (1:28) before the Borg motifs quickly reassert themselves. The pace picks up again with string flutters, the Quest theme, and a faster iteration of the Borg Collective motif. One notable bit occurs at 4:32, with swirling synthesizers and a perilous high-pitched rendition of the Quest theme backing one of the gravitational incidents in the fight. At 5:19 the Borg them acts out on French horns. After more percussion Worf’s theme nobly plays on trumpets (6:03), followed by a triumphal iteration of the Quest theme. This is only a small victory, however, as “Objection Noted” sees a tense bass-and-horn rhythm with foreboding statements of the Borg theme.

“Not Again” starts with the First Contact theme on muted horns, right after Picard’s famously memed “NO!” moment. The Quest theme triumphantly plays again as Picard begins to see reason. “Evacuate” is the start of the last act, with a heroic rhythm-backed performance of the Quest theme. The First Contact theme warmly takes over (1:21), but ends in a forbidding synthesizer. “New Order/All the Time” features a bittersweet version of the Quest theme that concludes with a melancholic iteration of the Borg theme (0:56). The rest of the track is more Borg ambience. “Flight of the Phoenix” is the other big action/suspense highlight. Synthesizers kick things off, followed by pessimistic strings and muted horns. At 1:08 a high-pitched trumpet version of the Quest theme starts the action portion. Goldsmith’s Star Trek theme, which has been dormant for a while, finally awakens to signify that this is the action finale. In the middle section an apparent villain victory is represented by dark brass and percussion. At 3:27 the pace picks up again with an urgent rhythm and trumpet blasts. Over four minutes in the music crescendos as Picard has a final showdown with the Borg Queen. After a final iteration of the Borg theme (4:24), Joel Goldsmith references his earlier cue “Battle Watch” to bring the adventure full circle.

With the Borg threat defeated, the Quest theme opens up “First Contact.” Strings rise along the theme and it then repeats on noble horns. At 1:13 a wondrous melody made of long notes starts up, representing the earthlings’ first encounter with an alien species. Throughout this the First Contact theme makes a few appearances in truncated form. At 3:03 it finally breaks out in full. Although it’s been used sparingly up to this point, Goldsmith makes the most of it for the remainder of the track, putting it through multiple variations. At 5:10 a heroic rhythm backs up the Quest theme as the heroes prepare to return to the present. “End Credits” sees the score’s only actual full iteration of Goldsmith’s Star Trek theme. Here it bookends another presentation of the First Contact theme along with its Quest theme extension.

First Contact is a good return from Goldsmith, with some capable assistance from his son. The First Contact theme, when it appears, is wonderful and the return of the Quest theme is welcome. Goldsmith continues to show his inventiveness for the franchise with the Borg material. Ironically the effective representation of the villains is also a shortcoming in the album experience. When allowed to be bombastic in cues such as “Red Alert” and “Retreat,” the Borg music is awesome. But in the moodier portions of the score it’s often too cold to be engaging (on the expanded edition it can get very repetitive). Also Goldsmith did not have the panoramic opportunities of his last two entries to create lengthy masterpieces. Overall, this is a very effective score with some wonderful highlights. If one is too put off by the moodier Borg pieces, he or she can always assemble a shorter album or just buy the original album, which gets rid of much of the uninteresting underscore but also misses a couple neat pieces in the process such as “Flight in the Phoenix.”

Rating: 8/10

Tracklistings

*composed by Joel Goldsmith

Original Album

  1. Main Title/Locutus* (4:17)
  2. Red Alert (2:13)
  3. Temporal Wake (2:07)
  4. Welcome Aboard (2:40)
  5. Fully Functional (3:18)
  6. Retreat* (3:59)
  7. Evacuate (2:19)
  8. 39.1 Degrees Celsius* (4:44)
  9. The Dish (7:05)
  10. First Contact (5:52)
  11. End Credits (5:24)
  12. Magic Carpet Ride (performed by Steppenwolf)
  13. Ooby Dooby (performed by Roy Orbison)

Expanded Album

  1. Main Title/Locutus* (4:16)
  2. How Many Ships (0:28)
  3. Battle Watch* (1:10)
  4. Red Alert (2:13)
  5. Temporal Wake (2:07)
  6. Shields Down (1:45)
  7. The Phoenix* (1:00)
  8. They’re Here* (0:25)
  9. 39.1 Degrees Celsius* (4:45)
  10. Search for the Borg* (1:50)
  11. Retreat* (3:59)
  12. No Success (1:31)
  13. Borg Montage* (1:02)
  14. Welcome Aboard (2:40)
  15. Stimulation (1:04)
  16. Smorgasborg* (1:28)
  17. Getting Ready (1:33)
  18. Fully Functional (3:19)
  19. The Dish (7:06)
  20. Objection Noted (1:54)
  21. Not Again (2:41)
  22. Evacuate (2:20)
  23. New Orders/All the Time (3:49)
  24. Flight of the Phoenix* (6:20)
  25. First Contact (6:00)
  26. End Credits (5:26)
  27. The Phoenix (alternate) (1:07)
  28. Borg Montage (alternate) (1:17)
  29. Main Title (alternate) (2:54)

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