It’s hard not to miss Jerry Goldsmith. Never the household name he should have been, Jerry didn’t get all of the choice assignments, but boy did he do well with what he got. However, out of the big works he was associated with (CHINATOWN, THE WALTONS, ALIEN, PLANET OF THE APES), the biggest was undoubtedly Star Trek, and certainly that which he is most associated with.
Jerry wrote the music for five of the ten pre-reboot movies, and also composed the theme for STAR TREK: VOYAGER, winning an Emmy award in the process. But the score for the sophomore Next Generation effort – STAR TREK: FIRST CONTACT – was a unique affair, in fact it was a family affair. Having run into delays while working on another Paramount production, the Michael Douglas/Val Kilmer killer lion picture THE GHOST AND THE DARKNESS, Jerry needed to enlist help in order to complete the score on time. His assistant: his son, Joel, who was already an accomplished composer in his own right.
So how did the team effort pan out? Like an absolute dream. FIRST CONTACT is certainly the kind of score you’d expect from a masterful composer working in his element, but one of the great things about it is that it is so seamless. The majority was scored by Jerry, including most of the symphonic material, while Joel was given the Borg portions to work on. It works perfectly because of the mirroring of the actual story; the humanity of Captain Picard and his crew versus the cold and synthetic menace of the Borg.
As a recap for those who haven’t seen the film for a while (or at all): It pits the Next Generation crew of the Enterprise against the deadly Borg, who go back in time to assimilate Earth by stopping the iconic flight of the Phoenix – the first ever spaceship to ever go to warp speed, which meant that the humans were able to be put in contact with alien races. Picard et al follow the Borg back, and help out inventor Zefram Cochrane and his friend Lily in order to try and make sure the flight happens and the sexy Borg queen doesn’t get her hands on android Data.
While FIRST CONTACT features at least three of Goldsmith’s themes from previous Trek movies, the centrepiece of the score is absolutely the main theme. Introduced as the opening credits play, preceded by a stately rendition of Alexander Courage’s iconic fanfare, the theme is a grand and noble piece played primarily on french horn. It’s just a beautiful theme, not only as a musical piece, but also as a representation of the idealistic notions of Star Trek as a concept. It’s been noted in the past that FIRST CONTACT works so well as a film because what’s at stake is not a spaceship or even a planet, it’s Star Trek itself.
And it’s those humanistic ideals that the the aim of the film ties into – first contact with an alien species in peace, to help evolve the human race further beyond the petty squabbles that have dominated our history for so long. In line with this, the theme is used as a signifier for the human side of things, a polar opposite for the intimidating Borg theme, which we’ll get to shortly. Goldsmith uses its major mode in moments where its warmth and nobility makes a difference, like in ‘Welcome Aboard’ where Picard forges his relationship with Lily, or ‘Red Alert’ and the crew’s insistence on following Picard in disobeying orders.
The most obvious example is the emotional climax of the film, ‘First Contact’, where the landing of the Vulcan ship and subsequent meeting between its crew and Cochrane is scored with a wonderfully massive rendition of the theme, full of grandeur. But the most telling part again is the part where the theme really kicks in and soars – where Lily and Cochrane clasp hands. They touch only slightly, only for a second, but it’s endemic of the idealisation created by the pair’s work, personified in the Phoenix rocket.
But where there is light, there is also dark, as evidenced by the theme for the Borg. A sinister four-note line, it has a cold and mechanical feel that instantly conjures up the calculated menace of the villains. Amazingly versatile, it’s enhanced with synthesisers to create some of the creepiest alien music since, well, Jerry’s music for ALIEN. But for the main baddie – the Borg queen – Goldsmith uses a more seductive and sensual texture, still sounding synthetic, but also with hints of sexuality, a bit like his music for BASIC INSTINCT might have been had it starred Sharon Stone-bot.
One of the coolest things about FIRST CONTACT is that it also repurposes previous Trek music, using them in a new light. A great example of this is Jerry’s brutal and bellicose theme for the Klingons, introduced so memorably in the opening scene of STAR TREK – THE MOTION PICTURE. A brilliantly gutteral theme so different from anything else in the score – truly alien – it was also used frequently in STAR TREK V: THE FINAL FRONTIER, where it represented the vicious renegade Klingons out to get Captain Kirk.
But what Jerry does here is bring back that theme in a heroic light as a battle motif for Worf. It’s used a few times in the score, notably in a kick-ass fast rendition in ‘Red Alert’ as the Defiant (from DEEP SPACE NINE) attacks the Borg ship, but comes into its own in ‘The Dish’ in a wonderfully warm and triumphant rendition as Worf saves Picard. It’s only short, but it’s a great moment. ‘The Dish’ also features a great reading of another piece that returns from STAR TREK V: the theme from ‘A Busy Man’ as Kirk and co go to visit “God”, repurposed in the TNG scores as a questing theme (and in later films as a theme for Picard and Data).
Picard himself has a darker personality in the film, dwelling on his assimilation in the television series, and this leads to the best scene in the film and the best music cue. ‘Not Again’ follows Picard’s refusal to self-destruct the Enterprise and his dressing-down of Worf, where Lily storms into his room to confront him and his decisions. Picard goes a bit mental after Lily accuses him of going a bit Ahab and smashes a display case of spaceship models before admitting to her that he is going to ‘make them pay for what they’ve done!’
The cue begins just after the glass is smashed, where the normally noble main theme plays in a darker colour as Picard speechifies about the Borg forcing the Federation back, strings building until Picard’s ‘make them pay line’ stops the whole thing in almost shock, meandering almost akwardly as Lily prepares to make her exit. She’s stopped by Picard reciting from Moby-Dick, which is beautifully underscored by a short tragic motif that segues into the main theme, now warm and noble again as Picard realises where his obsession for vengeance was leading him, and how close he was to stepping over that line.
The last theme to return is perhaps the one that has come to represent Star Trek just as much as the original Courage theme, the ‘Theme from Star Trek – The Motion Picture’ (as it appears in the credits), the rousing march that not only kicked off the film series in the first place but also launched the Next Generation show. The theme cameos in a few places; underscoring Picard’s Captain’s log in ‘How Many Ships’, providing not one but two heroic moments in ‘Red Alert’, and as a thundering interlude in ‘Flight of the Phoenix’.
But where it really shines is its appearance over the end credits, preceded by the original series fanfare. It was a bit strange to some people that the theme didn’t appear in previous film STAR TREK: GENERATIONS, especially given its stature at that time as the TV show’s theme and it also being used in the film’s trailers (not that Dennis McCarthy’s fine score suffered for not including it), but having it back here really provides a fitting end, especially in its rousing full form.
It’s worth noting that the original FIRST CONTACT album ran around forty-five minutes, along with some songs used in the film (thankfully not included here). This album is almost eighty minutes long, featuring the complete score from the film and three bonus cues, presenting alternate versions of ‘The Phoenix’, ‘Borg Montage’ and ‘Main Title’. The score has been mastered by longtime Goldsmith collaborator Bruce Botnick, and sounds unbelievable.
I have to be honest, I was never completely happy with the score previously. I knew there were bits from the film that had cues I really liked that didn’t appear on the album, but I have a complicated love-hate relationship with the film that meant I never really explored that further. But screw that, this is an amazing score, and the complete edition means it has room to breathe, to develop, and to wow you the whole way.
Having passed in 2004, Jerry Goldsmith’s music is his legacy and how we remember him. Scores like FIRST CONTACT remind us not only how much of a talent was lost, but also what still remains archived on disc and on tape and in ones and zeroes to display what great talent he had. A man whose ability to capture the spirit and ideals of Star Trek was second to none. A man who, for all his claims that he didn’t understand it, was perhaps the true voice of Star Trek.
STAR TREK: FIRST CONTACT – Limited Edition is out now from GNP Crescendo Records
Words: Charlie Brigden