In the last couple of years we have seen a renaissance in expanded releases of Star Trek music, including the Star Trek VI complete soundtrack announced earlier this week. One of the best of these releases has been Film Score Monthly's "Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Ron Jones Project." We have been remiss in not putting out a detailed review, but that ends today. See below to find out what is in this epic 14-disc set.
Review: Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Ron Jones Project
With the release of "Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Ron Jones Project," Film Score Monthly/Screen Archives Entertainment bring TNG fans the most ambitious soundtrack offering in the 46 year history of the franchise. Priced at $149.95 for the 14-disc set (or song by song at iTunes or Amazon), the Ron Jones Project provides more than 16 hours of music. The set includes music from more than 40 episodes of TNG all composed by Ron Jones, from "The Naked Now" to "The Best of Both Worlds." The discs also include music from the video games "Starfleet Academy," "Starfleet Command," and more than 70 different alternative tracks and alternate cues.
Packaging and Design
The Ron Jones Project set arrives in a handsome box and includes three multidisc jewel cases holding all 14 discs. Each jewel case is color coded, and uses the famous LCARS design motif associated with TNG which is a nice nostalgic nod to the era when Picard's crew reigned supreme.
The only real misstep with the packaging and design is that these multidisc jewel cases are somewhat clunky to handle and close, although the alternative of 14 individual jewel cases would have been too cumbersome. The disc design are especially nice, featuring main and secondary character pictures on the front of the disc. Every major character, and favorites such as Reginald Barclay, are included.
The packaging and design shows a great deal of care, much like FSM/SAE showed on their previous Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek III: The Search for Spock expanded scores released last year.
The liner notes are included in an excellently produced 60 page booklet included with the set. The pictures includes both episode/video game images and behind the scenes moments with Jones as he conducts or composes. A six page essay by Jeff Bond and Lukas Kendall begins the liner note book, and it includes many interesting tidbits of soundtrack trivia. For example, even though the pilot episode "Encounter at Farpoint" was composed by Dennis McCarthy, it was Jones who recorded the first ever TNG score because of scheduling. The notes detail why Jones music was selected for the collection, making a convincing argument for why Ron Jones is significant in the pantheon of Trek composers. After the essay, the booklet becomes an indispensable guide to each of the tracks on each of the discs.
For those who enjoy unusual track titles (think the names of the offerings on the Star Trek 2009 movie soundtrack), the tradition continues with such titles "Horny Doctor" (Track 7) of "The Naked Now" or "P for Picard" (Track 28) of "Lonely Among Us." Also of value to soundtrack aficionados is that the liner notes reveal the dates which the score was recorded, usually at the Paramount Pictures Scoring Stage M, although interestingly also at the 20th Century Fox Scoring Stage. All in all, the liner note achieves a level of detail and trivia that most fans will probably enjoy.
Listening to all 14 discs is a dauntingly fun assignment. In doing so, certain trends and ideas emerge. For example, Jones' work on more than 40 episodes represents a history lesson of how TNG music changed when control went from Gene Roddenberry to Rick Berman. Early episodes have a tonality and fullness more in line with the original 1960s show and reference the Jerry Goldsmith theme song often. Later episode scores reflect a more 1990s TV sensibility with more ambiance, less motif and melody. It is quite a testament to the talents of Jones and his fellow composers that they were able to work with these new requirements, although there are perhaps some moments of incidental ambiance music that goes on too long. However, Star Trek writer and director Nicholas Meyer has a theory that art thrives on limitations and Jones' work is consistently of such a quality and enjoyability that it almost proves the theory.
There are many episode scores worth mentioning in their entirety, including "Final Mission," "Who Watches the Watchers," and "The Offspring." One of the best is "The Naked Now." Track 3, "Longing for Sight" is beautiful if brief at one minute, 51 seconds. Track 8, "Exploding Star" is heroic and truly exciting music. A personal favorite is the Romulan themes and music from "The Defector" which syncopates with sulky intrigue. TNG's episodic music isn't perhaps as instantly recognizable as the cues from TOS, however this collection goes a long way in rectifying that because while listening, associations with various characters and moments are relived without the distraction from the composition that dialog and sound effects present. I listened to the Romulans themes again and again in giddy excitement, to tell you truth, and it made me want to rewatch "The Defector."
Interestingly, some of the very best music is from the video games. Track 1, "Starfleet Academy Themes" from disc 14 could have easily been utilized for one of the feature films. It bends the original themes of Star Trek in such a way that an original and beautiful theme emerges with a healthy respect for the history of Trek music.
This is a serious set that would be appreciated by many fans. It is a piece of TNG history and for soundtrack aficionados, it really is an ambitious and rewarding experience to enjoy the most complete collection of a Trek composer's music ever collected.
Available on CD and Digital Download
And you can still enjoy the liner notes, which are available for free at FilmScoreMonthly.
FSM provided sample for this review.