Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)

Composed by Jerry Goldsmith

The Star Trek Next Generation films had an inglorious end with Star Trek Nemesis. The movie sees Shinzon, a Romulan attempt to clone Captain Picard, take over the Romulan Empire, an intergalactic power that has common ancestry with the Vulcans. He claims to want to affect peace between the Empire and the Federation, but soon is shown to have vengeful and ulterior motives. The movie has a very generic and non-unique plot, essentially being a rip-off of Wrath of Khan (just like Into Darkness a decade later) but without a previously established villain. Star Trek in general was approaching the end of its resurgent run and this film killed the film series until the 2009 reboot. In addition to just not being a good film, it was foolishly released in between a James Bond film and the second installment of the red-hot Lord of the Rings trilogy, severely reducing its box-office take. While many have rightfully criticized the recent run of Star Trek films and TV shows, Nemesis surprisingly exhibits many of the problems that have plagued New Trek, from emphasizing action to completely misunderstanding the themes and characters of the franchise. For example, it turned the famously diplomatic Picard into an action hero, walking down hallways and mowing down aliens whilst duel-wielding laser guns. The film score by Jerry goldsmith has also received its fair share of criticism.

Nemesis was the last Star Trek outing for Jerry Goldsmith, who would succumb to cancer a couple years later. The score is considered to be Goldsmith’s weakest offering, a disappointing conclusion to his association with the franchise. Indeed this score does seem to be less innovative, opting for more standard sci-fi action fare. This does reflect the film, which puts too much emphasis on action scenes (admittedly the lengthy space battle is neat, it’s just that audience investment is derailed by the plot). The complete score actually exceeds the space of one disc, a rarity in the pre-2009 film franchise. For those who find the score to be an average output from Goldsmith, this can be viewed as a slog. So how do I rate the last and most criticized Goldsmith Star Trek score? Continue reading

Star Trek: Insurrection (1999)

Composed by Jerry Goldsmith

After witnessing a cinematic showdown with the Borg in First Contact, audiences were let down by Insurrection. The plot of Insurrection revolves around an idyllic village where the human-like inhabitants are blessed with perfect health and, as it turns out, extended lifespans. Working with the alien So’na, a Federation admiral plans to relocate the people so they can tap into the planet’s properties and extend its gifts to its own citizens. Not happy with this forcible removal of people from their homes, Picard and the rest of the Next Generation characters defy authority and seek to protect the villagers while uncovering a conspiracy. If this sounds like a run-of-the-mill episode from the series, then you’ve figured out one of the issues audiences had with the film. Worse, this film came out at the same time the Federation was locked in a galaxy-spanning war with the Dominion on Deep Space Nine. Why the famed Enterprise would focus its efforts on a few hundred villagers instead of fighting on the front lines is anybody’s guess. Also, the moral messaging of the film is undone by plot holes and the ongoing context of the Dominion War. It’s perhaps the dullest and most uninteresting film of the entire franchise, though one would not guess it if he or she were to first listen to Goldsmith’s exciting score.

Goldsmith’s work on Insurrection is not as, how shall I put it, innovative as his previous forays into the series. The plot doesn’t have as much alien elements to work with. However he still takes out the electronics for some unique atmospheric segments. For the most part the score is traditionally orchestral. The primary theme is the Insurrection motif, which usually appears as a rising four-note action signature. In some of its lengthier iterations it almost sounds like Goldsmith’s main theme form The Mummy (which came out the same year). This motif appears in just about every action cue, to the point that it will definitely stick in the listener’s mind. It’s introduced in the midst of the Alexander Courage fanfare at the opening. It frequently appears in counterpoint with a piano rhythm motif that represents the suspense and action. These two motifs are good, but are perhaps repeated too much, producing a potentially tiring listen. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)

Composed by Jerry Goldsmith

With Leonard Nimoy having directed two successful Star Trek films, William Shatner felt that he deserved to have his own shot, creating a film inspired by 80s televangelism. The Final Frontier sees Sybok, a Vulcan who rejects the traditional philosophy of logic in favor of spiritual emotionalism, lure the Enterprise so that he can use it to find the fabled world of Sha Ka Ree. Along the way he brainwashes many to his cause with his variation of the Vulcan mind meld, turning most of Kirk’s crew against him. Also, a Klingon warrior pursues the Enterprise in hopes of defeating Kirk and gaining gory. The Final Frontier proved to be the worst of the original cast films. It had many interesting ideas, the best the concept of the antagonist trying to destroy get at Kirk by destroying his iconic three-way relationship with Spock and Dr. McCoy. However a litany of production troubles (ongoing writer’s strike, budget cuts, etc.) as well as Shatner’s ego created a messy film with astonishingly sub-par special effects, inappropriate comedy, and inconsistent storytelling. To be fair, it is at least fun to watch unlike the other bad Trek films. One of the genuine positives is the return of Jerry Goldsmith to scoring duties.

At the time Star Trek: The Next Generation was just into its second season. The producers used Goldsmith’s Star Trek theme for the show’s opening and closing credits. Now Goldsmith would ensure some continuity between films and television. His score for Final Frontier is very different from his previous offering. This time he did not have long dialogue-lite scenes to work with (save one that produces an excellent piece). The end result is a more conventionally structured score, with shorter cues as opposed to lengthy classical pieces and dueling hero and villain themes. The composer is still experimental, though, relying heavily on electronics to create an alien atmosphere. Since the plot concerns such things as spiritual enlightenment and God, there is an abundance of unique synthesizer-laden cues. While The Motion Picture had Craig Huxley’s growling laser beam, Final Frontier has the synclavier, used most noticeably to create disturbing ethereal sounds for Sybok’s mind meld scenes. The synclavier is a digital system through which one can produce a wide range of sounds via a piano-like keyboard. Goldsmith’s Star Trek theme itself is of course back. With more action scenes and moments of heroism, the theme has more of a recurring presence, though as with its previous foray it’s largely absent for a large chunk of the film as the characters get lost in an alien environment. Continue reading

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

James Horner - Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (Newly Expanded Edition) -  Amazon.com Music

Composed by James Horner

Though it made money, Star Trek: The Motion Picture turned off many audiences and critics with its glacial pacing. Paramount Pictures was also not enthused by its high production costs. As a result the sequel would have a significantly lower budget. In spite of a severely scaled back production (they couldn’t even get the main hero and villain actors, William Shatner and Ricardo Montalban, onscreen together because of tight scheduling issues) the end result was a far more critically successful and audience-pleasing film that ensured Star Trek’s survival. The film sounds like it has a generic plot. Khan, a superhuman antagonist from the original show, has escaped from his penal planet (turned into a wasteland by a cosmic explosion) and wants revenge on James Kirk. In the meantime one of Kirk’s old flames, Dr. Carol Marcus, is developing a device that can turn a dead planet into a rich paradise. The movie was elevated by director Nicholas Meyer, who wonderfully weaved in themes of old age, ramification of past actions, obsessive vengeance, and life in general. There are even strong allusions to literary classics such as Moby Dick and the Bible. The film also notably started a trilogy within the film series that showed Kirk dealing with the fact that he cannot always win. In fact William Shatner’s character goes through an extraordinary amount of character development in these films, not possible in the confines of a weekly pre-recording television show.

Jerry Goldsmith did not return for the sequel, deemed too expensive to hire, and Paramount turned to the young up-and-comer James Horner. Horner did not carry over any of Goldsmith’s themes, yet his own creations would be as iconic. Also, many of the sounds of his music would be inspired by Goldsmith’s work. The alien percussion for the Klingons, for example, would be carried over into the motifs for Khan. Craig Huxley, who devised the blaster beam in The Motion Picture, also returns with “Genesis,” a diagetic synthesizer piece that is somewhat mismatched against Horner’s material but does add some variety. Elements of this cue are present at the conclusion of “Genesis Countdown.” Now let’s look at James Horner’s actual music. Continue reading

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)

Composed by Jerry Goldsmith

In 1979, Gene Rodenberry was able to bring back the cast of his space sci-fi show Star Trek, this time as a movie. Production actually started before Star Wars became a phenomenon, so there was no pressure to create a popcorn action flick (J.J. Abrams would commit this franchise sin thirty years later; also, Star Wars probably did help drive up attendance numbers for Star Trek). Unfortunately, Rodenberry and director Robert Wise went too far in the other direction, creating one of slowest mainstream franchise films of all time. Star Trek: The Motion Picture sees James Kirk, now a Starfleet Admiral, reunite with Spock and the rest of the original characters on the Enterprise. He oversees the investigation of a powerful destructive entity named V’Ger (alternatively spelled Vejur in the tracklisting) that is heading for Earth. Their investigation yields some surprises and also enables the characters and moviegoers to contemplate the definition and nature of life. It’s not a terrible movie. In fact it’s admirable that the cast and crew attempted to create a cerebral big budget sci-fi film, something that could almost never be achieved today.

The composer who would score Star Trek’s entry into cinema was the highly regarded Jerry Goldsmith. This would prove to be one of his most well-known scores, with a couple themes that would permeate the franchise going forward. The film’s plot is not enough to sustain a two hour running time and features several long sequences of the Enterprise being explored and doing exploring. While these scenes drove many moviegoers out of their minds with boredom, they provided an enviable chance for any film composer. With long, slow, dialogue-light sequences, Goldsmith was able to create powerful, lovely cues that could work wonderfully as standalone pieces of classical music. Goldsmith claims that he saw space as a place of romantic potential and, in contrast to the militaristic orchestration of Star Wars and its knock-offs, utilized more in the way of piano, harps, chimes, and similar “soft” instruments. Goldsmith also utilized a fair number of electronic elements in his score. Among these is the blaster beam, a musical instrument patented by none other than Craig Huxley. Huxley portrayed Kirk’s nephew on the TV series. This instrument sounds like an electric instrument, but is really a complex string instrument involving an empty shell casing. The blaster beam is heard in some of the cues focusing on V’Ger, adding to the unusual alien menace of the main antagonist. The use of the blaster beam, electronics, glass tubes, and ominous rhythms make for a decidedly alien musical palette. Continue reading

The Mummy

The Mummy: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

Composed by: Jerry Goldsmith

In 1999 Universal Studios produced a remake of one of its horror monster classics. However, this Mummy is far from a horror flick. It’s instead a loud action-adventure film and the CGI is too poor to really induce any fear (though a couple scenes with the scarabs are definitely icky). While it strays from its creepier roots, The Mummy is rousing good fun and one of my favorite movies. Not sharing my opinion is Jerry Goldsmith, who loathed it. Thankfully, being the professional he was, he put his all into it and delivered a fantastic score. Continue reading