Goldsmith Deconstructed


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 |

Because STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME was such a spectacular success, attention quickly turned to another sequel. Due to contractual obligations, the job of directing STAR TREK V was handed over to William Shatner, who also wrote the initial concept for the film. Drawing inspiration from the televangelist phenomenon, Shatners initial outline, subtitled “An Act of Love,” dealt with a holy man on a quest to find God.

To further this goal, he steals the Enterprise and eventually finds a being who, despite initially appearing to be God, turns out to be the devil. The studio and producer Harve Bennett, understandably, had issues with this concept. In addition to the story itself, there were objections to the tone of the material, which was originally rather dark. Owing to the success of STAR TREK IV and its lighter tone, the decision was made that STAR TREK V would also contain more comedic elements.


In the end the filmmakers hired David Loughery (who was mostly known for writing DREAMSCAPE (1984)) to write the final script, and a writers strike, an inexperienced director, and postproduction snafus conspired to produce perhaps the most divisive Star Trek film to date. While there are things to recommend about the story–in particular, the Kirk/Spock/McCoy dynamic is the best its been since the original series (or perhaps the Genesis debate scene in STAR TREK II)–there are also a lot of missteps that conspired to make this the least successful film in the series. While I tend to look upon it more like a slightly embarrassing family member who happens to also entertain you at gatherings vs. something worthy of derision, I can understand why there are those who have little positive to say about it.


One non-controversial aspect of STAR TREK V, and perhaps the best decision director William Shatner made, was bringing back Jerry Goldsmith into the fold. While I have a lot of respect for the work that James Horner did for STAR TREK II and STAR TREK III, and I have many positive things to say about Leonard Rosenmans score for STAR TREK IV, Goldsmiths music has always been how I define the sound of Star Trek films.

But a funny thing had happened since Goldsmith scored STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE…a new Star Trek television series.

I was born in 1979, and while I probably saw STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE at some point prior to 1987, I had grown to identify Goldsmith’s theme with Star Trek: The Next Generation. So when I first sat down to watch STAR TREK V, I was a little confused as to why they would use the “Next Generation theme.”

Variations on a Theme

The arrangement of the opening theme that Goldsmith uses for STAR TREK V would become his standard for his subsequent scores in the franchise: replacing the original opening to THE MOTION PICTURE are two variations of the Alexander Courage fanfare separated by two orchestral blasts somewhat reminiscent of the original opening (for the Next Generation films, these blasts would be replaced by thematic material related to that film’s score in the opening titles, while the end titles would retain the blasts). Unique to STAR TREK V is Goldsmith’s use of synth to produce a spiraling sound as the credits zoom onto the screen. Personally, I’ve always felt this was a somewhat unfortunate decision that was thankfully removed in later films.


I go back and forth on the use of material that is both so indelibly linked to Star Trek but had since become associated with a completely different Enterprise crew (in the end, I’m happy with the decision simply because the theme is simply that good). However, the remainder of the opening credits are scored in some of Goldsmith’s most beautiful writing for the franchise. As a lone figure (revealed to be Captain Kirk) scales El Capitan, the orchestra plays an absolutely gorgeous pastoral theme that evokes the works of composers like Aaron Copland in its sense of Americana. This theme would later appear throughout the film to anchor the sense of friendship between Kirk, Spock, and Dr. McCoy.

Excerpt from “The Mountain (Main Title)”

One of the things that is striking about the score to STAR TREK V vs. THE MOTION PICTURE is the way Goldsmith juggles his thematic material from that first film. While themes like his Klingon theme and the main Star Trek Theme appear throughout the score, they are treated more like leitmotifs this time around. In THE MOTION PICTURE, the themes often existed more broadly — rarely do you hear the main theme except as a full statement. In STAR TREK V, however, fragments of themes are often played off of one another.

The cue “Approaching Nimbus III” is a terrific example of this new technique. A rogue Klingon ship is on its way to Nimbus III as a shuttlecraft from the Enterprise approaches the planet surface. A solo baritone performs the Klingon theme before the orchestra suddenly shifts to the opening bars of the main theme. When shots cut back to the exterior of the shuttle, different varients of part of the main theme appear and disappear in various forms.

“Approaching Nimbus III”

Another highlight for followers of Goldsmith’s Star Trek scores comes at the end of the cue “Raid on Paradise.” After a solid action cue for the takeover of Paradise City by Sybok and his group, the film shifts to the Enterprise 1701-A in Spacedock. As Scotty records a log, in which he laments the deficiencies of the new ship, Goldsmith dusts off his original theme from STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICUTRE. While similar to the main theme we all recognize, this version is less developed, and though it makes occasional appearances in the first Star Trek film, its most prominent use comes from the original, rejected cue for “The Enterprise”

Excerpt from “Raid on Paradise”

Excerpt from “The Enterprise (original version)” from STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE


Music for Action, Vulcans, and God

Another difference between this and Jerry Goldsmith’s first Star Trek score is the number of action cues, which were largely absent in THE MOTION PICTURE. The late 80s/early 90s were a superb era for Goldsmith in terms of action music, and STAR TREK V offers an early glimpse into the style that would carry over into films like TOTAL RECALL (1990). Here, cues like “Open the Gates,” which plays over Kirk and co. storming Paradise City, feature driving, syncopated rhythms that would make up much of TOTAL RECALL’s score just one year later.

“Open the Gates”

Excerpt from “Clever Girl” – TOTAL RECALL (1990)

The earlier part of the aforementioned “Raid on Paradise” also picks up the syncopated action beats, which this time are played over an eight-note motif for Sybok, the main antagonist of the film.

Excerpt from “Raid on Paradise”

The leitmotif approach taken by Goldsmith for this film really comes together in the cue “Without Help.” With Kirk and company having been taken captive by Sybok and his gang, the cue opens with a celebratory statement of Sybok’s theme, followed by statements of the main and Klingon themes. As the action moves to a shuttlecraft racing to dock with the Enterprise before the Klingons can strike (culminating in the famous “Emergency Landing Plan ‘B’” scene), Goldsmith plays the themes off of each other as the action dictates. He also sneakily introduces a new theme at the 1:16 mark of the cue: a four-note motif that represents Sybok’s quest to find the mystical planet Sha-Ka-Ree. This theme would appear throughout the rest of the score, and would find its way into Goldsmith’s subsequent scores for the Star Trek: The Next Generation crew, representing a bond of friendship and camaraderie between Captain Picard and the rest of his crew.

“Without Help”


While appearing throughout the second half of the film, this new motif really shines in “A Busy Man” where it is developed into a full-fledged theme as Sybok, Kirk, Spock, and McCoy travel to Sha-Ka-Ree in search of God. Partway through the track, the music shifts to a new theme to represent the God creature living on the planet. Again, Goldsmith juggles his leitmotifs well here, as he sneaks in a quick statement of rising fifths from his Klingon theme as the Bird of Prey cloaks, unbeknownst to the mesmerized Enterprise crew.

“A Busy Man”

Final Thoughts

The merits (or deficiencies, depending on your viewpoint) of STAR TREK V have been debated among fans for nearly 30 years. Personally, I feel that, while not one of the stronger films by any means, it is not the worst in the series by any means.

Another key aspect working in its favor is the excellent score from Jerry Goldsmith. Building off of the incredible foundation built for the first Star Trek film, Goldsmith here employs a more modern (for the era) style of leitmotifs and action writing to produce music that significantly elevates the film as a whole.

After STAR TREK V, Goldsmith would take a seven-year break from the Star Trek universe, only to return for one of the strongest films in the series—STAR TREK: FIRST CONTACT.

What are your thoughts on the score for STAR TREK V? Does it elevate the film for you, or do the other aspects of the film outweigh the quality of the music? Were there any musical moments that stick out for you but that I failed to mention? Let me know in the comments!

Other Star Trek Reviews

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The Undiscovered Composer

Trek Charts a New Path Home

Trek Charts a New Path Home

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The Music of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock …

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One response to “Goldsmith Deconstructed”

  1. […] put it mildly, STAR TREK V did not resonate with fans as hoped. In its aftermath, Paramount Pictures initially considered […]

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