The Sound of Star Trek Part 14: Star Trek – The Motion Picture


This week we take a look at the untouchable first score for the franchise from Jerry Goldsmith…Star Trek – The Motion Picture.

Before I start, I apologize for any gushing sentiment over this 40 year old soundtrack. Don’t get me wrong: I’m well aware that the movie has its faults (I don’t agree with any of them but that’s a whole other article for a whole other time) but one thing that I think we are all agreed on is how utterly amazing Jerry Goldsmith’s score is.

The music first burst onto the scene in 1979 and ‘burst’ is probably the right verb to use as the soundtrack opens with the bombastic theme that became synonymous with Star Trek for many years to come. In fact, I’m sure I read somewhere years ago that when the piece was used for The Final Frontier in 1989, fans who had only known The Next Generation accused the movie’s producers for stealing it from the TV show! It probably has equal rights to claim itself as the recognizable theme for the franchise as much as Alexander Courage’s famous original does.

Since the score’s original release on vinyl and cassette, it has had a further four separate releases: the vanilla album remastered onto CD, then an expanded single disc from Sony for the movie’s 20th Anniversary, next a triple-disc unexpurgated and limited-to-10,000-units set from La La Land in 2012 and finally a 180 gram double-LP expanded and limited-to-1,500-units vinyl again from La La Land in 2016. Phew. That’s some exposure for a film that nobody seems to like.

The later expanded editions reinstated the overture, a practice that was less-common in 1979 but was certainly often found in big Hollywood biblical epics of the 50s. It’s ‘Ilia’s Theme’ and is the romantic signature piece for the entire score and is a gentle introduction into a thematically rich and complex score.

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There are multiple stories of obsession in this movie, Decker and Ilia, Kirk and the Enterprise (for which Goldsmith created a slower and more majestic version of his main theme), V’ger (Vejur?) and its Creator (symbolized by the ‘blaster beam’) and Spock and logic (via some alienesque styles) and Goldsmith taps into all of that, referring back, adapting, expanding and re-pitching many of the motifs throughout the entire score.

I have  hefty selection of Goldsmith scores in my personal collection and I’m hard pressed to find any other that is as vibrant as what he composed for The Motion Picture. It’s a testament to Goldmith’s abilities that these melodies immediately followed his work for Alien which really isn’t a score to thrill you in the same way that TMP does. Yet he does employ some of the techniques to add an otherworldly sound. A new approach was the aforementioned ‘blaster beam’, an instrument design and created by actor Craig Huxley, made from adapted artillery shells.

From the impressive main theme we segue into the uncomfortable ‘Klingon Battle’ – remember, in 1979 we hadn’t seen these Klingons before and casual moviegoers probably didn’t realize that they were a race lifted from the original 60s show (and I’d wager too that the fans didn’t pick up on that straight away either, even though the clue was in the battle cruisers they were piloting) and the melody that accompanies theme is the ultimate Klingon theme. Goldsmith resurrected it for his subsequent Trek scores but this is the true and perfect representation here).

The alien sounds continue for a scene set on Vulcan, where strings are slightly off-key.

Goldsmith’s control of an aural landscape is so on show here that anything I write just simply doesn’t do it justice.

This article took me longer than usual to write simply because I had to keep amending what I wanted to say and couldn’t find the words.

The fact that the score for Star Trek – The Motion Picture was nominated for an Academy Award following the film’s release is proof that certainly the industry as well as Jerry Goldsmith’s peers, his fans and the general public heard something magical up there on the screen in 1979. Hell, I was 8 when I first heard it and even then I knew something incredible had just burnt itself into my ears.

V’ger features prominently in the story and so it’s, ahem, logical that it would find itself dominating much of the overall sound of the film (‘Meet V’ger’, ‘The Cloud’, ‘Inner Workings’ ‘V’ger Flyover’ and the like) but there is one piece that represents the hopeful future of Starfleet and its position in the entertainment industry…and that’s ‘The Enterprise’. It’s a phenomenal piece of work and matches the on-screen visuals and William Shatner’s underrated, silent performance as Kirk. I’m listening to that track now as I type this and I’m smiling. It twists, turns, builds and becomes fully bloomed after a skin-tingling 3.5 minutes. Then as it comes to a triumphant close at 6 minutes, being left breathless is an understatement.

Alexander Courage was on hand to support his old friend Jerry with the orchestrations and what I was so pleased to hear on the triple-CD edition was his TV theme in slow symphonic glory. I loved those pieces in the movie as Kirk completed his captain’s logs and to hear them clean was (and still is) a delight.

The score weaves and ducks and constantly surprises us. It’s beautiful. It’s stunning. And I love it very, very much. Even the minor pieces such as ‘No Goodbyes’ ‘Spock’s Arrival’ and ‘Games’ all have their place. Nothing is unwelcome, every note has its time and its moment to shine.

In addition to the complete score, the triple release also included a hefty 1 hour and 40 minutes of additional alternate cues, rejected takes and isolated ‘blaster beam’ pieces. I can’t explain how wonderful that set is and it would be my single Desert Island choice.

The entire score is so familiar to me, just as James Horner’s Star Trek II – The Wrath of Khan is, that no other soundtrack for the series even comes close as these two –  as this one. Its superiority is without question and its construct is perfect.

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And the franchise’s cinematic musical adventure was only just beginning.

Next time: The Sounds of Star Trek Beyond