TMP@30: The Music of Star Trek: The Motion Picture

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.

Featurette discusses unused cues and changes Goldsmith made

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.


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This has always been one of my favorite movie soundtracks. I still pull it out and give it a listen to lift my spirit, especially needful in this era of gloom and doom.

The Enterprise flyby still gives me chills every single time I listen to it – truly a masterpiece. I think it would have been quite interesting to hear a Goldsmith take on The Wrath of Khan.

Best. Soundtrack. Ever.

Man, his wife was hot!!

Excellent appreciation, Mr. Bond.

What do you think of the possibilities of a true full score (with unused and alternate cues) ever being released?

Brilliant soundtrack. I got it as a Christmas gift in 1979 and played it to death. I still have the LP, complete with the special poster that was included!

It’s was so good it was repeated on ST-Next Gen
and the new movie…. major kudos!

BEST SOUNDTRACK EVER MADE FOR STAR TREK! Does anyone know were to get those alternative cues? Although not 100% befitting, I would love to listen to the whole thing.

In a way, I almost hate the fact that TNG incorporated Goldsmith’s TMP theme into its opening credits. Hearing week after week after week, for seven years straight, has admittedly diluted some of the power of hearing it over the credits of THE MOTION PICTURE.

But alas, it’s still stupendously glorious. And “Ilia’s Theme” is absolutely goregous.

And yes, Goldsmith’s wife is quite the looker, but DID YOU SEE ANN-MARGARET?!?!?!??!?!?

the part where the enterprise is fully revealed STILL gives me chills every time i see it. That is my favorite shot of the whole star trek franchise.

Absolutely the best Trek score ever. Period.

I’d still like to hear the entirety of it–I know he didn’t want the bits where he referenced Alexander Courage to make it on to the CD (whenever Kirk does a captain’s log, generally, you hear it), but I love those too.

OH!…and one of the other nominees, Jerry Fielding, did some Classic Trek. Spectre of the Gun, I think?

Great stuff Jeff, always learn something with your articles

Great article!
I’ve listened to the LP, cassette and CD countless times since their release.
Jerry Goldsmith was a master of an artist.

Dear Jeffrey,

Yours is a beautiful essay on a beautiful man’s beautiful work.

C.S. Lewis

#10 — Oh yeah! She looked great too!

In 1979 I importuned my parents to buy the LP (even though we didn’t have a turntable) as well as the eight-track. This score formed the basis for a lifelong love of orchestral music. Even today I can find something new in the soundtrack.

I sent Jerry Goldsmith a fan letter and he dictated a response that was gracious and not at all condescending.

I’ve always loved this soundtrack, both the “old” version and the more recent reissue.

The music really makes the movie much, much better.

Something I just noticed when rewatching it was the way Ilia’s theme is woven into some of the V’ger music after Ilia is taken and recreated as an extension of V’ger. It’s an awesome little detail that enhances the themes and plot of hte movie.

I put Jerry Goldsmith up there as one of my favorite composers.

#9 as a matter of fact…the cut played here above is the closing credits from STTNG….

If memory serves, and I’ll have to get out my CD and run it again, the opening credits for TMP tempo was a bit slower. Yes, that is the theme music, but not the original cut.

Eh, just being picky cause I like the movie version better than the rushed piece for TNG. You know TV, gotta rush, rush, rush.

I’ll never forget seeing Gene Roddenberry in the fall of 1980 when asked if he would change anything about the movie and he mentioned one was as Scotty is bringing the shuttle ’round and the music is building up and as we cut from Kirk’s expression to facing the E , he said he would of liked to have used the original series theme. In the director’s cut, I wish Bob Wise would have changed it to that.

One of the greatest film scores in the history of cinema – a towering, magnificent achievement. Three decades later, it remains a revelation.

Thanks to Jeff and Anthony for this great tribute. Well done.

Terrific article. Thanks, Jeff.

My ST:TMP/Jerry Goldsmith story: I had my Bar Mitzvah in 1988. I was a 13-year old Star Trek geek, and so the “theme” for the party was outer space. I was introduced while a very bad rendition of the ST:TMP main theme was played over the speakers, and the video featured a collage set to “Ilia’s Theme.” It was cheesy (this was the 80’s after all), but delightful in its cheesiness.

Wish they would release the entire TMP score ala recent Kahn CD

Amazing article jeff !

i really miss jerry goldsmith !

Jeez, what is this? Celebrate TMP week?

um, yes

“There is no comparison” truly sums up the music of TMP. Indeed, the Main Title will be used for the entrance of my fiancee and I for our wedding reception!


That is the original TMP main title–that percussion and horn intro to the theme was never used in anything but the original motion picture score.

Without going into any specifics, let’s just say that the next year or so should be a good one for people who want more Star Trek movie and television music.

I not only have the original sound track from 1979, unopened & untouched completely pristine, I have the original receipt, the bag it came in and the dust from that day too, I think I have the ultimate collectible!

#28 – That is excellent news, Jeff! Will there be more TOS episodic scores? Ron Jones TNG soundtracks? Expanded Trek movie scores? When I first read about the complete TWOK score in July, I immediately ordered a copy. Always have collected and listened to Trek music.

Thanks Jeff for a wonderful article on a masterpiece. I really loved the section on the Klingon Battle sequence — I never noticed how tightly choerographed it was with the movements onscreen. Awesome.

And the Blaster Beam rocks the house. :)

By the way, if anyone is into non-Trek soundtracks, you should check out the latest releases for the 007 movies. Mr. Bond (hur hur hur) wrote the liner notes for each soundtrack and they’re definately worth reading.

@25: Must have missed the memo. And the header. And the opening sentence….

@27: I’d pick Illia’s theme myself, it’s gorgeous.

@28: Squee! I’m hoping for the soundtrack to “Friday’s Child”, myself. I think that’s the one that has that awesome “kill the redshirt” sting. :D

@29: Honestly, I know it’d kill the value but open it up and listen. Music like this is too good to hide under a display case.

“A Little Romance”? Georges DelaWHO? Really? Boo-urns, Academy. Boo-urns.

That was some insane competition Jerry Goldsmith was up against for the Oscar — Lalo Schifrin? Bernard Herrmann? Fellow Trek alum Jerry Fielding?? YIKES.
And doesn’t he look like the Third Doctor without the ponytail? :)

I have always considered this the very best of all the Star Trek soundtracks. This one holds up better than all the rest with Goldsmith’s score for First Contact as a close second. I wore out two LPs when this soundtrack was released, a few cassettes and as many CDs. The piece of the Enterprise in drydock is just so powerful! The segment is too long, but Goldsmith’s score makes it totally satisfying. Contrast this to JJ Abrams/Giachino’s admitted tribute to this scene in the new movie which just flies by. Goldsmith’s music was complex and integral to the make up of the Star Trek movies and he will certainly be missed. We are lucky he worked on so many Trek productions before he passed, but luckiest for his contribution to TMP.

#33 no question about it- definitely the best Trek score. Followed closely by that of Wrath.

Great article-yes goldsmith at the top of his game n talent which was considerable-this music always stirs my soul-it soars literally into the cosmic vastness of space n the mystery of vger–Easily best score for any scifi movie ever made-it so deserves jeffs praise–Goldsmiths Logans Run is the next best music he has ever done-any scifi fans who have not seen logans run or heard the soundtrack highly recommended-What a genius–I am glad so many trek fans know tmp is the best score–


I don’t know if anyone feels the same way, but I really enjoyed the music for The Undiscovered Country. It had a darker tone to it. You could probably use it for a Jack Ryan movie and nobody would notice.

This is one of my favourite film scores of all time.

It has an epic, sweeping and romantic quality that I love. The Blaster Beam sound was so cool and worked brilliantly for V’Ger.

Its a shame that film music is never this good these days. I miss Jerry Goldsmith, he was the best.

The music, the ship … awesome.

I fell in love as a 7 year old at the first sight (& sound), and have never seen another starship since!

… and my handicap isn’t too bad either (in terms of being a one starship & song guy) :)

Great majestic music (& ship)!

The Enterprise sequence is great. Kirk falling in love with his first love all over again!

Still one of my favorite soundtracks of all time; I listen to it regularly. Majestic, powerful, emotional. One of the last film soundtracks, if I recall, to include an overture (with Ilia’s Theme playing over a moving starfield before the film began).

The buildup and fanfare when the refit ENTERPRISE is revealed is probably one of my favorite soundtrack and cinematic moments.

A fantastic soundtrack. I have great memories of sitting in the theater on Dec. 7, 1979, and listening to that incredible overture in the darkened theater. Gorgeous music and a brilliant touch.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – Jerry Goldsmith’s Star Trek theme is the defacto Star Trek Theme!! JJ and co please take note for the next movie – as a nod (hell even a tribute) to the genius of Jerry Goldsmith please use his theme somewhere in the film! Always makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end when I hear it!

I don’t know any better film music composer than Jerry Goldsmith.

Jerry Goldsmith so deserved the Oscar that year for ST:TMP; his score was amazing – as this excellent article beautifully demonstrates. Too bad the academy did what it always does: decide honor a small movie that no one cared about and has been completely lost and forgotten over time. Meanwhile Goldsmith’s score continued to reverberate down the years and find new life again and again in the subsequent movies and TV shows.

I guess that’s what Salieri must have been talking about at the end of Amadeus when he compared his music, once celebrated but now growing fainter and fainter, to Mozart’s.


here here

RE: #28 “Without going into any specifics, let’s just say that the next year or so should be a good one for people who want more Star Trek movie and television music.”

Thank you, Mr. Bond- that is something to truly look forward to. The re-release of The Wrath of Khan score was amazing. I can’t wait to see what is coming up. On a somewhat related note, I know it is not a FSM release, but I am so excited to finally be getting Goldsmith’s score to Freud!

How difficult would it be to put out some kind of hi-res soundtrack, like SACD?

For me Jerry Goldsmith’s march is the Star Trek theme.
Its the one theme that represents all of Star Trek. I hope they sneak it into the next movie. This is also the Ring tone on my I phone. In closing I just want to say that the 25th anniversary CD Sound Track is a treat to own, It is linked to this page ,and is on sale at amazon for 8 bucks. If you are a fan and like this theme treat your self. It comes in an awesome cover and 3d metallic Slip cover. You also get Gene Roddenberry’s inside Star Trek as a Bonus.

Oh my gosh! My “Trekkie Spirit” is being killed by ST:XI. I finally remember how great ST:TMP is, the music is great, the story is great, and Kirk’s love for the Enterprise is better in ST:TMP than in ST:XI.