This week, we head deep into the Klingon Empire for Cliff Eidelman’s dark score for Star Trek VI – The Undiscovered Country.
After the lukewarm global reception of William Shatner’s Star Trek V – The Final Frontier in 1989, there was much deliberation as to what to do next with the franchise on the big screen. The original crew, now respectively circling 60 years in age, were perhaps outstaying their welcome, especially with a younger cast currently topping the ratings on TV .1991 would see Star Trek‘s 25th Anniversary so it was a challenge to get something made that would pay homage to the past but look to the future. A screenplay focusing on Starfleet Academy and the exploits of a young Kirk, Spock and McCoy was considered at one point but was rejected in favor of an idea by Leonard Nimoy that reflected the end of the Cold War and the (then recent) fall of the Berlin Wall. It also made sense that the original crew would bow out in this tale, especially as the notion of a young Kirk and co. was negatively received by fans and the original cast alike (the idea would of course never fade away and nearly 20 years later, the original series characters would be recast for a radical new version of our beloved show).
So with Nimoy’s idea accepted, it was further developed by Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal and given life as a script by Nicholas Meyer and Denny Martin Flinn. This was of course Meyer’s third input into a Star Trek script (he was uncredited for The Wrath of Khan) and the second time he took the helm as director. Because of its anniversary overtones, story threads from The Search for Spock appeared and the final movie showed the Klingons in ways that we had only seen them on The Next Generation. With Colonel Worf’s appearance, the celebrations and the handover to the then-current TV cast had begun. Not only that, elements of The Undiscovered Country were mentioned in The Next Generation with Spock’s much-lauded appearance in Unification I & II.
To score the movie, Meyer turned to Cliff Eidelman, a young conductor/composer from LA. He had just a handful of scores to his name at that time, mainly low-budget flicks, but nothing that had truly brought his talents to mainstream ears. It is a woeful shame that not much of his work is commercially available but in 1992 Varese Saranbande did release his music for the Marlon Brando/Tom Selleck vehicle Christopher Columbus: The Discovery. That movie was less embarrassing than the Gerald Thomas’ Carry On Columbus and more swashbuckling than Ridley Scott’s 1492: The Conquest of Paradise – but Eidelman’s composition is stunning.
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Creating a darker, more sombre film than the five that had gone before, Meyer was eager to have this reflected in the score. Interestingly, he had originally wanted to adapt Gustav Holst’s suite work ‘The Planets’ but this route had proved beyond the budget Paramount has set aside for the film’s music. Eidelman latched onto his director’s referencing of Stravinsky’s ‘Firebird’ and created something different and fresh.
Gone are the light, positive notes of Goldsmith and Horner. Instead we have a selection of cues that could almost be a tone poem. Lots of low notes introduce us to the movie, gradually building to make way for the stunning sound effects of the destruction of Praxis. It’s this continuous use of brooding motifs, flashes of inspired choral work and slightly off-key percussion (if percussion can actually be off-key) that bring an uncertainty to the events that Kirk and McCoy are thrust into.
Star Trek The Undiscovered Country
Referencing the choral work again, it’s the first Trek score to have such vocals (something that would only be heard again when Michael Giacchino joined the ranks) and the first (and only) Trek score to have Klingon vocals. Repetition of taH pagh taHbe is intertwined in the music for the dilithium mine planet Rura Penthe and is wonderfully threatening in its presence. Of course, it’s Shakespeare in the original Klingon and ‘to be or not to be’ is drawn from Hamlet, as is the movie’s title The Undiscovered Country, signifying death in the play but the future in Star Trek lore. Interestingly. Meyer originally wanted Star Trek II: The Undiscovered Country to reference death and rebirth, but clearly he loved the title so much he found a use for it after all.
The main melody that we hear over the end credits forms the hero theme throughout the score, mainly when the crew is together or the Enterprise is in shot and its a lovely 9-note refrain that sends signals of hope through a sombre orchestration. Other than that, very few tuneful pieces are present and that makes it all the more compelling. When they do appear, we’re grafetul and when the Klingon-centric scenes are scored, we know we’re in for a rough ride.
Star Trek The Undiscovered Country Kirk and McCoy
Paradoxically, it’s an uncomfortable score laced with beautiful moments of clarity.
MCA released the soundtrack as a 45-minute edit in 1991 and was long in-need of an extended edition. Intrada saw to that in 2012 and is still available to buy. However, I have found with many of the expanded Trek scores, that I’ve become so familiar with the original editions, these new versions really enhance the audio experience: I know the notes, the cues, the edits so well that when a piece is reinstalled or re-edited from the first release, it always surprises me sometimes and keeps the enjoyment fresh. Intrada added a worthy 30 minutes to the release, adding intriguing underscores to much of the Rura Penthe sequences, including a percussive sequence for Kirk’s fight with the alien whose knees weren’t his knees and some subtle glissando of low strings that are very John Williams-esque. Eidelman enjoys using his brass section, too, with horns bringing completion to many of his brief action motifs.
As an incredibly dark and serious musical coda to the adventures of Kirk and his crew, it’s powerful, meaningful and utterly apt. It is right and proper that none of its melodies were reused in any future Star Trek motion picture. It remains unique and perfectly encapsulating for this superior and standalone entry into the canon.
Next time: Varese Sarabande’s Star Trek conducted by Fred Steiner