The Sound of Star Trek Part 22: The Final Frontier


This week, we’re focusing on Jerry Goldsmith’s return to the franchise, scoring William Shatner’s fandom-splitting Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.

There are two camps among Star Trek fans: those who love the movie (that’s where I’m giving a cheery wave from) and those who feel, erm, otherwise. But no matter what anyone thinks about it, one thing we do all agree on is that Shatner made a damn fine decision in getting Goldsmith back onboard.

Epic released the stripped back soundtrack simultaneously on CD, LP and tape cassette in 1989, to tie-in with the movie’s cinematic debut that June. I recall on purchasing the CD at the time how disappointed I was that much of the more ethereal aspects of Goldmith’s score was missing, so it was with relief in 2010 that I bought La-La Land’s fully expanded edition (again on CD)- and all the music I missed from the original was present and correct (including alternate cues). At 5,000 units, it sold out surprisingly quickly, spurring Intrada to re-release it in 2012 with no limited pressing.

It’s a very busy and quite frenetic score, but one that holds together incredibly well. Where there are moments of clarity, it is stunning and where Goldsmith reverts to type with his action cues, its satisfying. Even at 73 minutes, it still rushes by and one is left wanting more, or more correctly, wanting to hear it again. Its complexity means that repeat listening rewards the audiophile with elements not necessarily picked up before. In fact, it only occurred to me on playing it again this week in preparation to write this article that Goldsmith utilizes a sound effect not unlike a bird of prey to signify the arrival of the beefed-up ‘Klingon Battle’ from TMP in the end credits mix. Of course, I’ve heard it every time I’ve played the score, but to my shame this is the first time I’ve heard it.

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Mention of ‘Klingon Battle’ brings me nicely to the reworking here of some of the TMP score, most notably its main theme and one that has since become more associated with TNG both in the intervening and subsequent years (interestingly, the first trailer for Star Trek: Picard ends with a beautifully melancholic rendition of the seven-note motif from 1979). It’s laced throughout The Final Frontier‘s score and gives it something arguably more familiar as Star Trek than any other score before or since. As a result, you simply know where you are with it! We Red Shirts had a discussion this week about the identifying musical motifs in the Star Trek franchise, mentioning Vader’s theme, the imperious ‘Imperial March’ first heard in The Empire Strikes Back, as an example. There are no purely recognizable hero themes that span the entire Trek universe simply because of the number of different composers hired over the years. Alexander Courage’s fanfare does fill that gap to some extent, though, and is used to link the entire franchise together as a whole (but we can find common threads within specific composers’ work that jump from film to film).

Here we have the return of Jerry Goldsmith and bringing back with him are a series of melodies that really can be considered as Star Trek‘s themes.

After the mysterious, synth-based ‘Nimbus III’ and ‘The Mind-Meld’, which find an almost euphoric coda with the reveal of the hooded man being a Vulcan, and a laughing Vulcan at that, we’re immediately on familiar territory with Courage’s fanfare blended skillfully in with the TMP main theme. Then Goldsmith presents us with the first of his main titles that would share common ground with  those he wrote for First Contact and Insurrection some years later: a romantic, almost thoughtful composition that gives us a feeling of comfort and satisfaction as we see properly and for the first time in the entire franchise, Kirk off-duty and relaxing, albeit a few hundred feet up on El Capitan.

There are plenty of cues here representing Sybok and Kirk’s actions on Nimbus III, namely ‘Raid On Paradise’ and  ‘Open the Gates’ and Goldsmith weaves percussion and bass drums to reflect the chaotic nature of Sybok’s incursion, interspersed with with strings to signify his holistic approach.

Moreover, it’s this very approach, the holistic nature of this story itself, that gives the score the ability to begin and end satisfactorily as one symphonic work. The TMP theme is used throughout, with the variation first heard in TMP‘s ‘The Enterprise’ given a more soulful style here for ‘Tall Ship’. This is truly the first time that the TMP has found more life beyond its original placements in 1979.

As Kirk and co find Sybok’s mission to be far more spiritual than any they have been on before, they are presented with the notion of ‘Free Minds’, tapping into the motifs first introduced in ‘The Mind-Meld’ and taken further in ‘The Barrier’. ‘A Busy Man’ is Kirk’s dry response laced with foreboding than ensues for ‘An Angry God’.

There is a slow four-note melody that finds its way throughout, too, once that signifies adversity and Goldsmith incorporates it later for his score for First Contact, Insurrection and Nemesis. I was initially uncomfortable when hearing it in the later score, but came to understand that it very much had a place in all four. It bridges the movie series. So if Star Trek, then, ever was to be defined by its music, it could do no wrong by having Jerry Goldsmith at its core.

This whole soundtrack, as already alluded to, brings together much of the franchise and familiarity is its key. So if you ever struggle to accept Star Trek V – The Final Frontier, listen to the expanded soundtrack instead. It’s powerful, moving, exciting and fun –  just as Star Trek itself should be.

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Next time: The Path to Picard – Music for a Starfleet Captain