In the coming weeks, I will be taking a look at each of the scores to the films in the Star Trek franchise. Here, I will talk a bit about the first film, which really set the template for what Trek film music would sound like for more than 35 years.
In 1979, Star Trek, a TV show that had been on the air only for three short seasons yet drew a fan base unequaled for its time through syndication, was reborn as a feature film. While the music written for the series by Alexander Courage, Gerald Fried, Fred Steiner, and others had often been memorable but not what I would call “cinematic.” To bring Trek to the big screen would require the skills of one of the biggest names in film music: Jerry Goldsmith.
Goldsmith had previously worked with director Robert Wise on the film THE SAND PEBBLES (1966) and was known to science fiction fans as having composed the scores to two of the Planet of the Apes films. Also in 1979, he would score Ridley Scott’s sci-fi/horror film ALIEN. A decade earlier, Goldsmith had been producer Gene Roddenberry’s first choice to score the original Trek pilot, “The Cage,” but scheduling conflicts prevented that from happening.
Thus, the first Star Trek film would give Goldsmith a chance to finally make a mark on the series’s musical landscape, and the result is an absolute masterpiece and one of the best film scores ever composed.
The Thematic Identity of Star Trek
With his main theme to STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE, Jerry Goldsmith provided THE musical signature of the Star Trek universe outside of the Alexander Courage fanfare. The main title theme for the film is now instantly recognizable, and in my humble opinion, goes down as one of the most important themes in film history. In 1987, its impact on Trek’s musical landscape was strengthened even more when Roddenberry chose it as the main title theme for the series’ return to the small screen in Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Note: despite its not including the famous Courage fanfare, I’ve always been a fan of the opening to the main titles. For most of the soundtrack releases, the snare riffs were toned down and this was unfortunately also done for the Director’s Edition DVD. The recent 3-CD release by La-La Land Records has restored the cue to its original presentation, which I greatly prefer.
What is ironic is that this famous theme was almost never written.
When Goldsmith first wrote the cue for the sequence where Admiral Kirk and Scotty travel to the Enterprise, it was very similar to the final version EXCEPT that it was lacking the signature theme. This is most evident during the sequence where Admiral Kirk and Scotty fly over to the Enterprise. As originally scored. there are hints of phrases that would develop into the famous theme, but the overall thematic structure is rather incomplete. When Robert Wise heard the initial cue, he had a hard time articulating what was bothering him until he simply said, “There’s no theme!” Upon hearing this, Goldsmith returned to the piano, eventually writing the melody that would come to help define the Star Trek sound.
Comparing excerpts of the two cues makes for an interesting exercise, as so much of the underlying music is consistent minus the theme:
Final Cue (used in the film):
Of Blaster Beams and Klingons
While the new Star Trek Theme forms a strong backbone for the score, it is far from the only lasting impression that he made on the sonic landscape of Trek. One of the most iconic aspects of this score is Goldsmith’s use of the Blaster Beam, which was constructed by Craig Huxley. This percussion instrument provided the unusual sounds for the V’Ger cloud/probe and is composed of a long metal beam with wires/strings mounted above electric guitar pickups, producing a sound that is unique and instantly recognizable.
Excerpt from “The Force Field”
Although prominent use of the Blaster Beam is unique to THE MOTION PICTURE, James Horner would later feature it, albeit sparingly, in his subsequent Star Trek scores.
Another melody that would resurface over the years in subsequent Star Trek scores composed by Goldsmith is his theme for the Klingons, which appears in the opening sequence featuring three Klingon warships as they are the first to encounter V’Ger. The theme is noble, heroic, and feels slightly barbaric due to its unusual orchestration of double reeds (oboe, English horn, and bassoon) paired with a tenor saxophone played over plucked strings, percussion, and once again the Blaster Beam.
Excerpt from “Klingon Battle”
The opening sequence is the only time that this theme appears in the original film, despite the fact that it could serve as the main theme to many science fiction films. In that way, Goldsmith’s Klingon Theme is perhaps analogous to John Williams’ Planet Krypton Theme from SUPERMAN (1978). In both cases, you have two masters of their craft writing themes that appear only briefly in their respective films, but still make a strong and lasting impression.
The Human Adventure Is Just Beginning…
In all honesty, I could list every single cue from this film and have something positive to say about it. Jerry Goldsmith’s score to STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE is easily one of my favorite scores and permanently has a place on my “desert island” list of movie soundtracks. Although he would not return to the Trek universe until STAR TREK V (Dennis McCarthy would also adapt his theme from this film for “Star Trek: The Next Generation” in 1987), his work here certainly created the template for the films that would come in between.
Do you have a favorite cue/moment from the film that I didn’t touch on? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.