Our week-long tribute to Star Trek The Motion picture continues today with a 30th Anniversary look at the music of the film. "Music of Star Trek" author Jeff Bond explores Jerry Goldsmith’s memorable (and Oscar-nominated) score, including a look at it’s history and production.
Jerry Goldsmith and Star Trek – The Motion Picture
By Jeff Bond
Jerry Goldsmith’s march from Star Trek – The Motion Picture is now so familiar and so long associated with the modern incarnations of Star Trek that it’s difficult to recall (especially because the period in question was before some of the readers of this website were born) when the notion of Goldsmith working on a Star Trek project was a staggering idea
According to the late and legendary film composer (whose legacy of film scores included works like Freud, Lonely Are the Brave, The Blue Max, Planet of the Apes, Patton, Chinatown and The Omen), Gene Roddenberry asked him to work on the original TV series in the sixties—a time when Goldsmith and other major film composers were dividing their work between movies and TV series. At the time Goldsmith was under contract to Twentieth Century Fox, doing films like Our Man Flint and working on TV shows like Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. For whatever reason, Goldsmith was unavailable to do Star Trek and Alexander Courage—a friend of Goldsmith’s who became his regular orchestrator in later years—got the job. The two would be reunited, however briefly, when Star Trek – The Motion Picture was being scored late in 1979.
Goldsmith was arguably at the peak of his career that year. He’d won his first and only Oscar in 1976 for The Omen, and as studios scrambled to cash in on the success of Star Wars with bigger and bigger blockbuster films, Goldsmith went head to head with John Williams in terms of the two men’s workloads, public profiles and Academy Award nominations. 1978 had been a huge year for Goldsmith: an Oscar nomination for The Boys From Brazil, the eerie Michael Crichton medical thriller Coma, the first sequel to The Omen, Damien: Omen II, the Anthony Hopkins ventriloquism chiller Magic, even the Irwin Allen bomb The Swarm all boasted some of Goldsmith’s best work. 1979 started inauspiciously with Players, a soap opera about tennis players—but Goldsmith’s music was intelligent and energetic. Much better was Crichton’s Victorian period romp The Great Train Robbery. But Goldsmith had always had an affinity (whether he would admit it or not) for science fiction, and he would round out the year with two blockbuster science fiction scores that would define their genres.
Goldsmith picks up his Oscar for "The Omen"
First was Ridley Scott’s Alien—like Goldsmith’s Planet of the Apes, a groundbreaking work of experimentation in sound, with an almost entirely acoustic orchestra creating a mood of ancient, primitive, utterly unfathomable terror. Goldsmith lent a romantic touch to the film, particularly in the lengthy landing sequence of the giant spacecraft Nostromo—but most of his similar touches were cut out of the movie by Scott, leaving Goldsmith frustrated when the director substituted some music from his 1962 score for the John Huston biopic Freud in place of some of Goldsmith’s cues.
The next assignment was equally grueling—but ultimately more rewarding. Gene Roddenberry’s production of a Star Trek theatrical movie had been in the works since the middle of the decade, mutating from film to television pilot and finally back to a big screen blockbuster in the wake of Star Wars. With Disney’s The Black Hole, Star Trek – The Motion Picture was the first of an onslaught of space and sci fi films engineered to capitalize on the success of the Lucasfilm adventure. But the Star Trek production ran into numerous pitfalls, especially late in the game when visual effects supervisor Robert Abel was sacked, replaced at the last minute with Star Wars and Close Encounters vets John Dykstra and Douglas Trumbull. The film’s postproduction was a nightmare, and Goldsmith was thrown into the middle of it. Sometimes conducting to blank leader, and always writing to fill unedited reams of fresh visual effects footage as it came in from the replacement teams, Goldsmith’s job was Herculean: honor the legacy of Star Trek; deliver on the excitement engendered by fans whose anticipation for the movie after a decade of reruns was at a fever pitch; find a way to make the film’s philosophical plot points register emotionally; find a musical language for Star Trek as a movie that could compete with—but not mimic—the thrilling symphonic sound John Williams had created for the Star Wars movies…and do it all on a deadline.
Goldsmith delivered the goods, although not without a few hiccups. His first takes on several key sequences (the travel pod tour around the refit U.S.S. Enterprise in drydock, the launch of the Enterprise and the rendezvous with Spock’s warp shuttle) were gorgeous and majestic—but Robert Wise was unhappy with the work, finding Goldsmith’s bold Americana writing too redolent of Westerns for his taste (“I kept thinking of conostoga wagons,” the director said. “There was no theme.”). Goldsmith worked on other cues, particularly the V’ger material, while he rethought his approach to Starfleet and the Enterprise. When he returned to the podium he’d created two vital new elements for the score: a pumping, busy motif for cellos and double basses that characterized the workings and mission of Starfleet, and his main theme for the movie itself: a bright, powerful, optimism-charged march with roots in the composer’s energetic, bell-driven action music from Players and the noble, martial Americana theme for Patton.
The first half of the film is dominated by the Enterprise and Starfleet material, the second half by the sinuous, motive-driven material Goldsmith wrote for V’ger: hypnotic material similar to Bernard Herrmann’s striking opening title music to Hitchcock’s Vertigo, designed to propel the listener through several very long visual effects sequences of the Enterprise maneuvering through the V’ger force field clouds on their way to the entity itself. Goldsmith used the Blaster Beam, a bizarre musical instrument designed by Craig Huxley (who’d appeared as a young actor in the original Trek episode “And the Children Shall Lead”), as a chilling clarion call for V’ger itself. Using guitar and piano strings struck by an empty metal artillery shell, the Blaster Beam created a bizarre gong sound with pitch bends that could be controlled by the player: it’s a sound that suggests a massive, incomprehensible force at work.
Goldsmith wrote equally alien music for Spock and Vulcan society: shifting harmonic strings, rumbling percussion (sometimes done with superballs striking piano strings) and an eerie, atonal four note theme for distressed woodwinds, befitting an ancient culture. But Goldsmith also provided a brighter, harp-based motif for Spock inspired by a section from Holst’s The Planets.
The Enterprise reveal scene – relied on Goldsmith’s score
Perhaps the most iconic music in the film apart from Goldsmith’s primary theme is something the composer wrote at the very last minute, mere days before the film’s premiere. Star Trek – The Motion Picture opens with “The Klingon Battle,” a bravura special effects action sequence that’s arguably the most exciting scene in the movie. Keying off the mix of open fifth horn writing and plucked strings he had used in John Milius’ Arab adventure The Wind and the Lion, Goldsmith added hollow clackers and vibrant avant garde string writing for the Klingon battle cruiser scenes, creating a mix that was part Prokofiev, part modern concert hall, with the Blaster Beam battling against Klingon horns as three Klingon warships are destroyed by V’ger. The music is a marvel of energy, tightness and activity. Watch the sequence and note how Goldsmith builds a surging rhythm of low strings through the Klingon bridge sequence, heightening the string line to violas and violins that dance right in time to the Klingon commander’s orders to arm and fire the ship’s torpedoes. The most shrill variation of the string line starts just as the Klingon (Mark Lenard) gives his dynamic, downward-thrusting hand gesture to fire, and the music whirls fiendishly around the resulting images of torpedoes bursting through the Klingon ship’s bow and the shot of the three torpedoes moving forward—and disappearing—on the Klingon’s tactical screens. It’s as if the Klingon commander is conducting the music in a way—a thrilling mixture of imagery, film editing and composition and something you rarely see at work in movies today. Goldsmith began his collaboration with recording engineer Bruce Botnick on Star Trek – The Motion Picture, experimenting with early digital recording technology to create one of the most fantastic-sounding LPs of the era. The stereo imaging in the music is a tour de force and it’s sometimes startling—as in the Klingon scene cutaway to the Epsilon Nine space station when an electronic, signal-like effect ricochets back and forth between the speakers while Goldsmith’s Starfleet motif pumps away underneath and glittering, spacey string and woodwind textures make for a luxurious—but still dramatic—interlude in the middle of the attack sequence.
Klingon battle sequence – another reliant on Goldsmith’
Goldsmith’s efforts did not escape notice when the film was finally released on December 7th, 1979. Even critics unimpressed with the film praised Goldsmith’s score—the album sales were strong and Goldsmith was nominated for another Academy Award (the film was also nominated for art direction and visual effects). Goldsmith was always a hard luck case at the Oscars, with powerhouse scores like Planet of the Apes, Patton, Chinatown and Under Fire losing out, sometimes to music that wouldn’t stand the test of time as well as Goldsmith’s. Star Trek – TMP was no exception. At the 1980 ceremonies Goldsmith’s score lost out to George Delerue’s A Little Romance—a film, and score, little remembered today. In a way Goldsmith may have been a victim of his own success—or at least the success of Star Wars. By 1980 the thrill of hearing symphonic motion picture scores was beginning to turn to a backlash, with critics favoring scores that were either more intimate (as the Vivaldi-flavored A Little Romance was) or contemporary (Vangelis’ electronic Chariots of Fire and the song score to Fame would win Best Score over the next two years). But Goldsmith’s Star Trek – The Motion Picture score remains one of the most spectacular and complex ever written for a film of this type, with Robert Wise even allowing Goldsmith to open the film with a pre-title overture of his idyllic love theme for the doomed character Ilia—the last time this holdover from the widescreen epics of the fifties and sixties would ever be used in American film theaters. Of course, Goldsmith’s music survived and endured—he would weave its themes into Star Trek V – The Final Frontier, Star Trek First Contact, Star Trek Insurrection and Star Trek Nemesis, and his title march would become the musical imprint of the Star Trek – The Next Generation TV series in 1987, reinforcing it in the minds of fans as “the” theme to Star Trek. But with the anniversary of The Motion Picture at hand, we shouldn’t forget the scope and majesty of Goldsmith’s first, and arguably best, score for the movie series. It’s a landmark in science fiction scoring and in film music in general.
Goldsmith’s Main Title – never to be forgotten
The 20th Anniversary Soundtrack of Goldsmith’s Star Trek TMP Score is available at Amazon.
Jeff Bond is the author of The Music of Star Trek and numerous CD soundtrack liner notes; he covers film music for The Hollywood Reporter.