The Sound of Star Trek Part 8: Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home


In this series looking at the music of Star Trek, we reach Leonard Rosenman’s only entry into the franchise,1986’s Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

The film itself is great: a fabulous diversion into comedy after the tragic feel to the last two movies. It’s also something of a loose trilogy that began with The Wrath of Khan so it’s a shame that composer James Horner never returned to finish the job.

I own just a handful of scores by Leonard Rosenman, namely Beneath the Planet of the Apes, Battle for the Planet of the Apes and the original animated version of The Lord of the Rings (as well as The Voyage Home, of course) and sadly none of them are soundtracks I return to often, if ever.

A long-time friend of Leonard Nimoy, he was the director’s original choice to score Star Trek III: The Search For Spock but was persuaded by producer Harve Bennett that Horner would bring musical continuity to the movie series.

When Horner declined to return for the fourth instalment (titled The Voyage Home: Star Trek IV for those of us who were watching it outside of the US – so named to avoid any direct implications it was actually a Star Trek movie – apparently a marketing move made because of the disappointing box office of the previous installment), Nimoy naturally turned to Rosenman and so the composer brought his own flourishes and signature sounds to proceedings.

It was released on CD, vinyl and tape cassette by MCA to tie-in with the release of the movie and found an outlet again in 2011 with the expanded version, on CD only, from Intrada.

Rosenman originally presented a new arrangement of Alexander Courage’s famous theme to be used over the opening credits but was ultimately rejected by the production team in favour of an original composition by him. It has since appeared as a bonus tracks to the Intrada release and one can hear why it perhaps wasn’t used: it is an acceptable arrangement but feels very flat in its execution.

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The composer, like many before and after him, often chose familiar arrangement styles and instruments and Rosenman’s choices have never sat comfortably for me. I listened to the score again to prepare for this article (it was the first time I’d played it in years) and I still had that animosity towards the arrangements. It’s a tricky one to pinpoint in words as to why I don’t find satisfaction in his work, but it’s the tone, possibly, the pitching levels of the brass he uses. Trumpets can work for my ears and can be made to sound crisp and strong and unique to the arranger  (Herb Alpert sits as one of my favorite artists and you simply know when he’s playing, just as the legendary Count Basie played the piano unlike anyone else, or Buddy Rich hit those drums in such a way that you couldn’t confuse him for anyone else) and Rosenman is no different.

Listen to any modern score and they can feel timeless. But for me, listening to any of Rosenman’s work and they are immediately dated: yes, his output for the Apes movies fits nicely because they were from the early 70s, but jump forward to the mid-80s and there is no development, no progress in nearly 20 years: his music for The Voyage Home sounds the same, sounds like it was composed for a 70s sci-fi production, like it’s a continuation of his Lord of the Rings work. You may have guessed by now, I’m not a Rosenman fan.

Darn, this sure is a tricky article to write!

But there is some recourse here to back-track a little: the notion that his scores sound remarkably and frustratingly similar (and I don’t just mean his arrangements, I mean melodically) is more apparent when we are suddenly presented with rather lovely ambient orchestral cues such as ‘Time Travel’. The sequences itself in the movie are quite surreal (with early CGI and a white-painted set) and Rosenman’s piece works very well. On the album, it’s topped and tailed with the delightful ‘Chekov’s Run’ and equally bright ‘Hospital Chase’, both quick, snappy waltzes that highlight the comedic nature of both the film and these two particular scenes.

Of Rosenman’s score, these three brief pieces are stand-out. The main theme, however, while it’s not wholly unremarkable, the use of bells and glissando strings make it sound like a piece of music that wouldn’t be out of place in a Christmas movie.

The highlight of the soundtrack album are the two entries composed and performed by Yellowjackets (a jazz-fusion band harking back to the lates 1970s and, as far as I understand it, a particular favorite of Nimoy’s). ‘Market Street’ and ‘Ballad of the Whale’ are pure synth-jazz and just about keep the album out of the genre of 80s movie soundtrack cliche (Top Gun, please stand up). Here’s an interesting thought: I wonder what a Star Trek score by Harold Faltermeyer (or early Hans Zimmer) would have sounded like?

The Intrada re-release expands the original 36-minute album to just shy of 73 minutes – and includes alternative takes and rejected pieces (including the aforementioned version of Courage’s theme) as well as ‘I Hate You’, performed by Kirk Thatcher and Mark Mangini as punk bank Edge of Etiquette and as heard in-universe through the boom-box owned by the punk on the bus
(also played by Kirk Thatcher, who served as one of the film’s producers, too).

Related Story. The Sound of Star Trek Part 7: Star Trek [2009]. light

Overall, it’s not one the strongest of the franchise’s score, either melodically or dramatically, and is probably for completists only.

Next time: Star Trek – Voyager ‘Caretaker’ by Jay Chattaway.