The Sound of Star Trek Part 20: Star Trek: First Contact


Our regular series continues this week with Jerry Goldsmith’s return to the franchise after a seven-year gap with Star Trek: First Contact.

Towards the end of an age when diminishing box office returns didn’t always mean a film series would be put out to pasture, Star Trek was a staple of a cinematic diet every two or so years since 1979. There was still life in the old dog and with David Carson’s Star Trek: Generations cementing TV’s The Next Generation as the franchise placeholder for the big screen, it was a given that the adventures of Picard and co. would continue.

And so it did. In 1996, Jonathan Frakes was given the megaphone and the script for a story involving time travel and plot threads from both The Original Series and The Next Generation. Star Trek: First Contact served as a sequel to the wildly popular two-parter ‘The Best of Both Worlds’ and was itself phenomenally successful at the box office. Picard became an action hero and the Borg were given a figurehead in the form of the nameless Queen.

As was the norm, GNP Crescendo had the license to Jerry Goldsmith‘s score, releasing it on one CD in 1996 to tie-in with the movie’s debut. They remastered it in 2012 as an expanded (one disc) edition. (There’s also a 3-disc version floating around but I have a nasty suspicion that it’s a bootleg so I won’t focus on that here.)

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Goldsmith had created a musical legacy that naturally found its into all of his compositions for Star Trek (apart from the standalone theme for Voyager) and First Contact is no different.

We start with the traditional Alexander Courage fanfare and seque into a slow melody for the ‘Main Title’ that absolutely gives no indication of the galactic horrors to come. It’s interesting that of his five scores, four of them highlight a gentle and romantic approach in their opening themes. They are thoughtful and almost melancholic and his choice here is very similar in construct to his opening piece for the following year’s Air Force One, the First Contact stance clearly being an inspiration for the Harrison Ford vehicle (aeroplane?).

It’s occasional that composers in the later years of their careers lift and re-use passages from earlier works. The great James Horner was notorious for this (he even used classical composers’ work!) and I recall sensing deja vu when listening to his score for 2009’s Avatar, then realizing the clear four-bar motif he used to identify the Na’vi world was taken directly from his (far, far superior) soundtrack to Willow (1988). Anyway, Goldsmith was more subtle and the canonical nature of Star Trek meant that he could get away with it!

So we have a score here that acknowledges prior adventures and adapts them to fit the tone of a relatively dark story.

But Goldsmith’s identity isn’t alone here and in a aural fashion that echoes the split nature of the movie plot, Joel Goldsmith, Jerry’s son, supplies a good percentage of music, namely the Borg-centric pieces that complement the senior’s work perfectly.

I first became aware of Goldsmith Jr through his TV work, namely for the short-lived Paramount 1993 The Untouchables (a spin-off from the Brian De Palma film from 1987 and based on the book by Eliot Ness and Oscar Fraley and the classic TV series starring Robert Stack). Stargate and Kull (again both for TV) are amongst his relatively small discography but his work for Roland Emmerich’s Moon 44 is worth tracking down. Sadly he died of cancer in 2012, only 8 years after his father.

His input into First Contact emulates the synthesizer method of Goldsmith Sr so it’s hard to write this review without one referencing the other. Suffice to say that ‘Locutus’ (forming part of ‘Main Title’), ‘39.1 Degrees Celsius’ and ‘Borg Montage’ are amongst a collection of sounds encapsulating the necessary chills and thrills we should expect from big-screen Borg.

Conversely, Goldsmith Sr relies on some of the themes composed for The Motion Picture and The Final Frontier, most prominently the ‘Klingon Battle’ composition that was reworked for Klaa in the fifth installment. A similar arrangement is used here to represent Worf, and ones he uses again in both Insurrection and Nemesis. While I see the relevance, a ready-made Klingon theme for a ready-made Klingon, I do feel that Goldsmith Sr cheated here: with the clattering synths and percussion at his disposal, Worf could have easily had his own identifier. That said, Ron Jones uses a snatch of Goldsmith Sr’s iconic tune for the early TNG episode ‘Heart of Glory’, so it’s pleasing to know that there is a continuity at play here for Klingon-based scenes across the franchise. There are also elements of ‘Life Is A Dream’ from The Final Frontier, again an inclusion that smacks of lazy writing but at the same time is a nice link to the generations.

But it’s Jerry Goldsmith’s new pieces for First Contact that really are something quite special.

The previously mentioned ‘Main Title’ is the theme for the movie and finds its own place when reprised and extended for ‘First Contact’. It is this identity that allows the supporting motifs to do just that: add context and balance, giving the chance for this melody to soar. We hear portions throughout the soundtrack but it is in ‘First Contact’ that we find it elevated to the same emotional heights as ‘The Enterprise’ from The Motion Picture and ‘New Sight’ from the follow-up, Insurrection. It accompanies a pivotal and important moment in Star Trek lore, so it’s fitting that Goldsmith Sr brought quality and care to its execution.

There’s some great action pieces, too, something Goldsmith Sr does very well: ‘Red Alert’, ‘Temporal Wake’ and ‘Evacuate’ being good examples and they are lovely juxtapositions when we hear the themes for Picard and Lily, namely the gentle ‘Welcome Aboard’. For ‘The Dish’, Goldsmith Sr reverts to type with low snyths and erratic strings.

In a first for Star Trek, the soundtrack featured established music by pop/rock artists. Director Frakes’ artistic approach to use ‘Ooby-Dooby’ and ‘Magic Carpet Ride’ would be repeated by J.J. Abrams for his own take on Star Trek by dropping the Beastie Boys’ ‘Sabotage’ into the mix. It was natural then for Neil Norman, GNP’s president, to secure the rights to Roy Orbison’s and Steppenwolf’s original versions and so they are included on the 1996 released (but omitted from the 2012 re-issue).

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As an action score, Jerry Goldsmith’s Star Trek: First Contact succeeds, enhanced by his son Joel’s input and with the classic theme from The Motion Picture in its rightful place. As a thoughtful piece on the nature of humanity, it works just as well. While it doesn’t reach the epic heights of The Motion Picture and misses the emotional core so prevalent in Insurrection, it’s a satisfying composition all the same and is wholly enjoyable as a result.

Next time: Star Trek [the 2013 video game] by Chad Seiter.