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Leonard Rosenman and the music of STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME

This post continues my look at the music of the Star Trek film franchise. For previous posts:

STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE | STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN
STAR TREK III: THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK

STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME completes a trilogy of films that began with STAR TREK II. Yet in many ways, it also feels completely different from the first two parts in that trilogy and perhaps in the Star Trek franchise as a whole. The tone is noticeably and purposefully lighter, and the extensive location shooting makes the entire film feel much more airy and wide open than the others, which were almost exclusively confined to soundstages.

STAR TREK IV also brought with it a change of composer. James Horner, who had scored the previous two films, departed in favor of Leonard Rosenman, who was a personal friend of director and star Leonard Nimoy. Reportedly, Nimoy had wanted Rosenman to score STAR TREK III, but didn’t have the clout at the time to make it happen. While I would have a hard time imagining anyone other than Horner score SEARCH FOR SPOCK, I don’t think I can hear Horner’s themes working well in STAR TREK IV either.

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Rosenman was certainly not a stranger to science fiction, having scored FANTASTIC VOYAGE (1966) and BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES (1970) among other films over his long career. He composed music in a variety of styles over his career, including jazz particularly early on, but many of his more famous efforts are notable for being somewhat more avant-garde and atonal than contemporaries in film composition. For STAR TREK IV, he would apply both jazz and more modern techniques to his writing, with varying success. This score has always been considered the red-headed stepchild of Star Trek scores (being sandwiched between the two Horner efforts and the return of Jerry Goldsmith for STAR TREK V doesn’t help). But is it really as bad as its reputation?

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Leonard Rosenman

Rosenman’s take on Star Trek is certainly a departure from past films. The movie also includes a mere 30 or so minutes of scoring, which is dramatically less than previously. Nimoy’s direction was to minimize any underscore over dialogue scenes, thus the cues tend to favor either set pieces or take the form of short sequences to connect scenes. During the sequences that take place in 1986 San Francisco, Rosenman emphasizes the comedic aspects of what’s happening on screen (the two chases involving Chekov, for example). His decision to partner with the jazz fusion group The Yellowjackets also dates aspects of the score in ways that are not an issue for any of the other Star Trek scores before or since. This is most apparent in the scene where Kirk and company find themselves walking the streets of San Francisco (the “double dumbass on you!” scene). It’s almost fun in moderation when taken in the context of watching the film, and it solidly places the viewer in the mid 1980s.

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Also unusual for a Star Trek film, there is relatively little music. Nimoy wanted the dialogue to be easily heard, and wanted to minimize the amount of underscore for any dialogue-driven scenes. As a result, there is only about 30 minutes of music, and large sections of the film go unscored.

Main Title

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The difference in composer is noticeable right off the bat with Rosenman’s title theme. After a brassy arrangement of the Alexander Courage fanfare (one of my favorite renditions, if I’m being honest), the music launches into a jaunty, upbeat theme that immediately signals a change in tone for the film. The opening bars feature two thematic ideas: a fanfare in the trumpets that is supplemented by chimes, and a counterpoint melody in the horns. The horn melody is really what becomes the main musical idea for the film, and I quite like it. The trumpets, however, seem rather out of place. Especially with the chimes, they call to mind a holiday sale commercial or the intro to a local newscast. It’s not BAD music, per se, but it doesn’t feel like Star Trek to me (granted this is a subjective thing; your mileage may vary).

The middle of the cue introduces a decending B-theme that also is much lighter in tone than in the past. All in all, it’s a solid title cue, and one that immediately makes you realize you’re in for a different film than the previous outings.

“Logo/Main Title” (as heard in the final film)

Yet this wasn’t the original cue written for the film. Rosenman’s original main title was a full-on adaptation of the original Alexander Courage theme for the Star Trek television show. However, Nimoy requested an original theme be used in its place. In the end, I think this was the right call: the Courage theme was already dated by 1986, and since it’s not long enough to fill the entire running time of the credits, it’s padded out by a modern composition more typical of Rosenman (but which clashes severely with the material that comes before).

“Logo/Main Title” (unused version)

Silliness with Chekov

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As I mentioned above, a good chunk of the music in this film involves two chase sequences centered around Chekov. The first, where he is attempting to escape capture by the FBI and the military, is underscored by some rather silly music with a Russian bent. While it may work all right in the film, I really don’t think it makes for a wonderful listening experience. To be fair, Rosenman does manage to create a theme for the Chekov character here, which is something that I don’t think can be said for any other movie before or since.

“Chekov’s Run”

This theme carries over to the second chase scene, where Kirk, McCoy, and Gillian Taylor rescue Chekov from the hospital, where he is being guarded after being injured during his attempted escape from the FBI. It’s another very silly cue, but I feel like this one is much more entertaining as a stand-alone listen.

“Hospital Chase”

The Rosenman Style

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Like pretty much every (film) composer, if you listen to multiple Rosenman scores, you’ll begin to notice common scoring techniques, including ostinato (repetetive notes, usually at the same pitch) during suspense and action sequences, complex harmonic textures, and the use of a “tone pyramid” in which individual notes are performed in sequence to form a chord. While this last technique appears throughout the score, mostly over sequences involving the mysterious probe that threatens Earth, the “Rosenman Style” is most evident at the end of the film, particularly in the cue “Crash/Whale Fugue.” Played over the climax of the film, in which Kirk must work to free the trapped whales and then during the whales’ conversation with the probe.

This is one my favorite cues of the film, because it features a variety of techniques in the scoring, and it includes some of the most interesting music heard in any film in the Star Trek series. Unfortunately, the sound mix dials out a lot of the music, but the original cue has been restored in the expanded album. The conversation between the probe and the whales is colored by unusual atonal passages and flutters of woodwinds and brass that resolve into a triumphant blast of melody as the probe leaves Earth orbit. This is followed by a joyous passage as the whales, Kirk, and company celebrate.

“Crash/Whale Fugue”

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Another section of the film that is a standout in terms of music is the very end, where Kirk is demoted back to captain and given a command of his own once again, while Spock is able to finally reconcile his differences with his father, Sarek. Spock’s motif begins the cue that then shifts to a fantastic rendition of the Alexander Courage theme from the original series.

The inclusion of the Courage theme (aside from the fanfare) is something that doesn’t happen often in the Star Trek films. While this is not my favorite reuse of that theme in the Trek movies, it’s certainly fitting, as our crew is reunited with the U.S.S. Enterprise (NCC-1701-A).

“Home Again”

To be clear, I really like the concluding music to the film. I think it’s some of the best writing that Rosenman did in the score. However…it bears a strong resemblance to the finale to another science fiction film that I like a lot: FANTASTIC VOYAGE (1966). That score is largely atonal, with the exception of a longing melody for the Proteus submarine that carries the main cast throughout the human body. At the end of the film, the crew slowly reverts back to their normal size, and the accompanying music also reverts back to a more melodic form as well…a melodic form that strongly resembles what Rosenman does at the end of STAR TREK IV. Is it a mere coincidence of 20 years separation between the two scores, or is Rosenman copying himself? I leave you to decide:

Excerpt from “Optic Nerve/End Cast” (FANTASTIC VOYAGE)

Final Thoughts

For a variety of reasons, Leonard Rosenman’s score is probably the most polarizing for Star Trek fans. It is certainly a departure from the scores that came before and after, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily bad. Yes, there are a few unfortunate moments, largely around the sillier cues and the choice to include some (now) very dated jazz fusion music, but there is also a lot to like in the soundtrack.

With the success of STAR TREK IV, Paramount Pictures approved yet another Star Trek film, this time to be directed by William Shatner. While the merits of that particular film can be debated, one of Shatner’s best decisions was to bring back the man who, in my personal opinion, defines what Star Trek movie music is: Jerry Goldsmith. Coming up next in this series looking at the music of the Star Trek films will be a discussion of the music of STAR TREK V: THE FINAL FRONTIER.

What are YOUR thoughts about Leonard Rosenman’s music for THE VOYAGE HOME? Please let me know in the comments below!

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