This week, we’re doing our best to enjoy Jerry Goldsmith’s fifth and final full-length Star Trek movie score, 2002’s Nemesis.
It’s come to this, has it? The soundtrack to the very last ‘old school’ StarTrek film, scored by a long-term collaborator and wildly prolific composer who sadly died just 18 months after the movie was released.
In many ways, this film was the end of an era, or at least the beginning of the end. It brought to a close the saga of Picard’s Enterprise crew and would signal the final movie spun from a television parent. All that was left after it finished its cinematic run was a dry taste in the mouth and Captain Archer to hold the torch aloft as best he could on the small screen for the next three-ish years. And there would be no more new Jerry Goldsmith music.
We would soon be entering a lean period in Star Trek history, something Doctor Who fans would have melodramatically labelled ‘The Wilderness Years’. But we’re not so lacklustre, are we? No, we’re not. But, my goodness, we moan about our beloved franchise as much as the next fan base. And we also disagree amongst ourselves, too. Sometimes. Mostly. It’s what we all do. It’s in our blood. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.
So, Star Trek Nemesis.
What a movie. What? A movie? Yes. It’s a movie, even though it feels like a mish-mash of great ideas (finally, a proper Romulan-centric big screen plotline) and revisiting of old ones (another previously unknown Soong android) put together as an extended TNG episode. Star Trek has told some amazing stories over time and, to be honest, it’s been a while since I’ve watched Nemesis and I think I liked bits of it and I think I didn’t like other bits of it. But I’m not here to wax lyrical about the fors and againsts – I’m here to reminisce about the music that accompanied it.
So, Jerry Goldsmith.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the legend’s output. My personal library of film scores features his work quite prominently. Like all great artists, he has his peaks. And like all great artists he couldn’t possibly have produced astonishingly wonderful music across an entire timeline. And this soundtrack was very much in the later years of his life, let alone his career. The shadow of Nemesis casts long over the franchise and, for me, that follows with his score. It’s a film that is always under fire and, without malice, is not one of my favorites. There is a link, of course, to Goldsmith’s prior Trek output and so I suppose the challenge was to not revert back over old ground but to find a new sound while referencing the past. It’s perhaps an omen that this score isn’t as lush and diverse as his previous ones, because it isn’t one that you can sit down to and enjoy as easily. Yet it does the job, albeit it feels like we’re asking for seconds from a composer who seemed to have lost heart in the franchise: it’s just not as impactful. The Goldsmith magic doesn’t feel like it’s present here, the edge he had to create unusual and memorable scores has painfully gone on the last run of his creativity.
Varese Sarabande issued the score on a single CD in 2002 to tie-in with the film’s release. 2014 saw them re-release it on a double disc set.
While it’s great to have nearly every note he composed for Nemesis, it just drags out the inevitable: that one is more likely to not get to disc 2 because disc 1 has blended into the background.
Let’s talk about the opening music, one that accompanies our first ever view of ‘Remus.’ It’s functional and features Alexander Courage’s fanfare (admittedly a very abrupt iteration) and heads to a plodding , percussive piece that seems to be desperate to go somewhere but can’t – and it’s this frustration that echoes across the score itself. It wants to get going, it wants to grab you by the collar and scream that it’s a Romulan finding its identity…but doesn’t have the will power to see it through. It’s almost as if it’s a chain reaction, that music for a set of bold explorers suffers from the outset, and the rest if the score follows suit.
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Deep rising chords spotted with synthesized twists and stabs certainly give the score a flavor that is fresh to Star Trek. Goldsmith uses themes from The Motion Picture and The Final Frontier but here they are incorporated so sparingly and so fleetingly that they give the sense of letting go, of twilight’s last gleaming, that there is something breaking up here.
Y’know, perhaps I’m being unfair to this score. Perhaps that is what Goldsmith wanted to imbue here: finality, ending, loss. That nothing lasts forever. It is likely that Nemesis wasn’t expected to be the last movie (at least for the TNG cast and what would become known as the Prime universe) but perhaps Goldsmith intended this to be his last score for the franchise and would have possibly declined to come back for a follow-up had one been green-lit. We will, of course, never know.
You’ll note that I’ve not really referenced any of the score’s individual pieces (except ‘Remus’) like I normally do in these articles – and that’s telling. It’s not a stand-out, it’s not glorious, it just…is. The orchestral use of Irving Berlin’s ‘Blue Skies’ to punctuate Data’s demise and B4’s awakening does add some true melancholy to the coda of the film, though, and as a result it feels like an ending for sure.
Blue days, all of them gone. Nothing but blue skies from now on. With Star Trek – Picard on the horizon, I really hope so.
By the way, this article is littered with some titles of other (non-Trek) movies that Goldsmith scored throughout his illustrious career. Let us know in the comments below how many you’ve spotted…
Next time: Star Trek – A Journey Through the Galaxies