The Sound of Star Trek Part 16: Star Trek Generations


In this continuing series, we take a look at Dennis McCarthy’s only foray into music for the movie series, 1994’s Star Trek Generations.

Now this film isn’t to everyone’s tastes. In places it feels like a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode with the classic crew roughly bolted on. There are some challenging dialogue choices and some protracted scenes but at its heart it has some wonderful moments and some stunning photography (the Enterprise-D against the backdrop of Amargosa for a start). It’s a film in my collection that I have a great soft spot for and one that I return to very very often.

But I’m not here to chit-chat about the movie per se. I’m here to tell you all about its surprisingly stunning score and one that I feel is shamefully underrated.

To start with, it’s composed by Dennis McCarthy, a stalwart of TV Trek and was bound to emulate much of the wallpaper music style that the TNG producers insisted on.  However, while it is clear that in sections it reverts a little to type, overall it elevates itself way beyond anything composed for TV and should and must be allowed to stand shoulder to shoulder with the movie score range.

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GNP Crescendo released the score on CD in 1994 with a suite of sound effects from the movie to take the album to 63 minutes. In 2012 they re-released it, this time as a double CD. Disc 1 contains the expanded score (and absolutely well worth the expansion to over 75 minutes because nothing here outstays its welcome) while Disc 2 repeated the 1994 edition as was but with three additional tracks.

The tracks on both the expanded and original releases follow the movie order of the events but the original does rename the end titles as ‘STAR TREK: GENERATIONS Overture’, and places it at the beginning of the album. Thankfully, this is readdressed in the expanded edition and sits in its rightful place to end Disc 1. But bizarrely they still call it ‘STAR TREK: GENERATIONS Overture’!

So, properly, we begin with ‘Main Title’ which is a gentle and ethereal opening culminating in a glorious arrangement of Alexander Courage’s fanfare from TOS. From there we head into a TNG-style underscore for the Enterprise-B’s maiden voyage. There are marvellous outbursts of percussion here, though, a driving motif that symbolizes Kirk’s attempts to save the day. And then here’s the comedown: ‘Deck 15’, utilizing a solitary, mournful trumpet that emulates ‘Main Title’. It’s a haunting melody that is littered throughout the score that McCarthy adopts and adapts to great success. As a call to arms and a signal of defeat in equal measure, it’s a lovely, lovely motif.

Then we’re back to music that fills its purpose as mood triggers, in essence following Soran’s fanatical goal. Remember, here’s a man who is desperate, not intrinsically evil. He has an appointment with eternity and he doesn’t want to be late and so a large potion of the score here emulates that.

There’s a nice depth to the sound as well which is a rewarding experience – it is arranged and produced with incredible care. ‘Prisoner Exchange’ adopts a subtle synthesizer to push its way out and adds scope to an already musically complex score. It’s all guns blazing as the orchestra accompanies the beautiful Enterprise-D on her final flight (I always thought it a missed opportunity that Kirk never got the chance to stand on her bridge or that she survived. Can you imagine how more devastating it would have been had she succumbed completely to Borg technology in First Contact?) and ‘Coming to Rest’ is the breather we need before we get to the highlight of the entire album…

…and to possibly one of the greatest single pieces of music ever composed for a Star Trek movie…

That’ll be ‘The Nexus/A Christmas Hug’… Strings, synths and a full choir bring such emotion to the music palette that anything on this album before and after seems a little duller as a result. If the fictional Nexus itself was described as living inside joy, then dammit Jim, McCarthy has created the next best thing in this spectral extravaganza. It simply worms its way into your ear, making any number of emotions course through your head. His choral direction is utterly sublime and every note is pitch perfect (I might, when I come to the end of this lengthy series of articles, write an article about my own personal ‘best of’ Trek compositions, so you won’t be surprised to know that this one would be at the top). It’s one of the most perfect marriages of scenes and music in all of Trek history.

Once we’ve crossed the threshold into the Nexus, the music takes an upward turn again, recalling the opening scenes on the Enterprise-B. Kirk’s solitary trumpet motif returns, reworked into ‘Jumping the Ravine’ and ‘Two Captains’. The motif is maintained of course for ‘The Captain of the Enterprise (Kirk’s Death)’ as the mood drops again. McCarthy has a knack for this, toying with us at every opportunity and he’s not composed anything as stunning before or since.

We finish with ‘STAR TREK: GENERATIONS Overture’ which, as noted above, is the end titles mix, that brings together Kirk’s melodies and that for the Nexus into an exciting, bombastic and uplifting finale.

The sound effects suite is the same as the original 1994 release and they’re a fun listen (and I’m proud to say I use ‘Communicator Chirp’ as a text message alert on my cellphone!). The bonus tracks cover an alternate version of ‘Prisoner Exchange’ and Brent Spiner’s off-script ‘Lifeforms’ ditty but it’s the isolated choir version of ‘A Christmas Hug’ that is a worthy addition.

It’s a shame that McCarthy wasn’t invited back to score another Trek movie, but in other ways that’s probably a good thing. This 25-year old score is just wonderful and I think any subsequent composition would have dampened its uniqueness.

Yes, that’s the word. It’s unique. It uses Courage’s motif as highlights but it needs no other external influences to make it successful. It’s a logical musical bridge between television-TNG and movie-TNG and succeeds in every way.

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I can’t enthuse about it enough. It’s melancholic, powerful, sensitive, emotive and epic. It’s my very own personal Nexus.

Next time: James Horner’s Star Trek III – The Search for Spock