Film Score “Friday” Top 5: On Second Thought, Ranking the ‘Star Trek’ Scores

So after the bevy of new Star Trek releases in the past months (reviewed here), I’ve decided to go back and reevaluate my Trek score rankings from last summer (here).  Of course, having thousands of miles of driving in which to listen to 11 Trek scores, three of which are two disc sets, helps in the decision-making process.  But a simple top five list doesn’t seem right, especially since my top choices are substantially unchanged.  No folks, here at The Temp Track, we strive to give you, our readers, only the best.  So today, and sorry for it being a bit late this week, Film Score Friday Top 5 goes to 11.  It’s 6 louder.

Before I get to the list, let me preface these proceedings with this thought.  On the whole, each and every one of these scores is good, obviously some are better than others, but on the whole, the Star Trek scores are remarkable in that they all have some good qualities that help them rise above most film music.  Not even the Trek films can make this claim (I’m looking at you Final Frontier…oy what a crap fest).  So it was actually kind of difficult once I left the top five to rank the remaining six scores, there is wiggle room and the scores could easily be ranked higher or lower depending on which way the wind blows. 

And one final caveat, since there have been so many releases of the scores, not to mention bootlegs floating around, here is a list of the scores I used in my listening evaluations:

The Motion Picture – 20th Anniversary (Sony)
Wrath of Khan – Expanded Edition (Film Score Monthly)
Search for Spock – Expanded Edition (Film Score Monthly)
Voyage Home – Original Release (MCA)
Final Frontier – Expanded Score (Bootleg)
Undiscovered Country – Original Release (MCA)
Generations – Original Release (Crescendo)
First Contact – Expanded Score (2 Disc Bootleg)
Insurrection – Expanded Score (Bootleg)
Nemesis – Expanded Score (2 Disc Bootleg)
Star Trek – Deluxe Edition (2 Disc Varese Sarabande)

So, with all of that said, let’s go the tape:

#11: Star Trek Generations – Dennis McCarthy:  McCarthy was one of the most frequently used composers on the many Star Trek TV series from Next Generation all the way up through Enterprise.  And since he had worked so much on the adventures of the crew of the Enterprise-D it seemed natural that he would score their first big screen adventure.  The result was a mixed bag to say the least.  There are a few good moments in the score, and some good themes, but on the whole…well it seems like McCarthy wasn’t really sure what to do now that he had such a big canvas to work with.  The opening track on the album, “Star Trek Generations Overture,” is a great fanfare and deserves to be on any Trek film score retrospective album, but after that…*shrug.*  The Overture contains the two good themes, the fanfare and the contrasting theme featured  in the next best track, “The Nexus/A Christmas Hug,” but two good themes and a few good tracks aren’t enough to lift this score from the No. 11 position on our countdown.  The biggest problem it seems is that McCarthy wasn’t sure how to develope the themes once he wrote them.

#10: Star Trek First Contact – Jerry Goldsmith: Though really it’s Jerry and his son Joel Goldsmith, which does make it feel slightly uneven at times.  And while I do enjoy much of Joel’s TV work, he’s not his father.  The score has many good moments, but it also relies heavily on a four note motive that Goldsmith recycled from his Final Frontier score, of which I don’t begrudge him, it is his theme after all, and given the shortened post-production schedule that necessitated his bringing his son into the mix, I wouldn’t be surprised if that is partially why the motive got reused.  But despite this, there are things to like in the score, the cue “The Dish” is vintage Goldsmith, deftly mixing electronic instruments and sounds with orchestral instruments, and his music for the titular first contact of humans with aliens is a beautiful moment, albeit it is a moment that features the recycled theme from Final Frontier.  Some days, I guess you can have your cake and eat it too.

#9: Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home – Leonard Rosenman: There are many moments to like in this score.  Rosenman’s main title theme is a great addition to the Trek pantheon, and the “Whale Fugue” is a nice musical moment, but this score has always been dragged down for me by the inclusion of the 80s-tastic tracks contributed by the Yellowjackets.  They kind of work in the film, but I didn’t think they were really necessary, and I always skip them when I’m listening to the album.  They just clash with everything else, and I guess the producers deemed it necessary to help establish the time period, but considering that it was contemporary to when the film was released, did we really have to?  Maybe a proper score release might change my feelings, but for now, it’s No. 9.

#8: Star Trek III: The Search for Spock – James Horner: Most of the thematic material for this film is recycled from Horner vastly superior score for Wrath of Khan, which is okay since the film is largely an extension of that film, but the one new theme he does bring in, his Klingon theme, is not very good and is but a shadow of Goldsmith’s Klingon theme from The Motion Picture. But there is one thing that does help this score, and that is the cue “Stealing the Enterprise.”  It’s a great cue for what might be the best scene in the entire movie.  I won’t say that it alone validates a purchase of the new release, but it is a good excuse none the less.  I actually had a good moment during my drive home with this score  As I’m listening to “Stealing the Enterprise,” the rest of my family, whom I had passed some miles back coming out of a rest area while we were on our way to visit family elsewhere, finally caught up to me.  I happened to glance in the rear view mirror to see the mini-van coming up behind me right as the cue was building up.  It was a wonderful geek moment.

#7: Star Trek V: The Final Frontier – Jerry Goldsmith: Terrible movie, good score.  A familiar formula, though still not Jerry’s best on the Trek franchise, but still a worthy entry.  As mentioned, one of the primary themes of the film makes many appearances in First Contact, and to a lesser extent Insurrection and Nemesis, but this is where it began.  There is so much wrong with this film, that I had forgotten most of it until I went back and watched it for the first time in years a few weeks ago.  But Jerry wrote some great themes for this score that still hold up, and the cue “A Busy Man” utilizes them to great effect.  One of the best parts about this score is that Jerry brought back his Klingon theme and his version of the main title (which had since become the Next Generation main title), and we missed them both greatly.  As Jeff Bond argues in his book on Trek music, hiring Goldsmith was one of two good ideas that Shatner made when making Final Frontier.

#6: Star Trek Nemesis – Jerry Goldsmith: I sometimes go back and forth and to what is my favorite score of the NextGen movies.  Some days it’s Nemesis, others its Insurrection, but for today, Nemesis is in the sixth position.  There isn’t a whole lot to say about this score.  Once again, Jerry comes up with great new material, his Reman theme is especially a delight and takes full advantage electronic sounds.  One could say that Goldsmith was cribbing from Howard Shore’s Isengard theme in his over the top trombones in this score, especially during some of battle scenes with the Reman battle cruiser Scimitar.  It is notable that Nemesis was one of Goldsmith’s last scores.  Only his rejected Timeline score and Looney Tunes: Back in Action came after it.

#5: Star Trek Insurrection – Jerry Goldsmith: So why is Insurrection currently my favorite over Nemesis?  Because I find Jerry Ba’ku theme so charming and lovely.  Okay, that’s not the only reason, but it is the primary reason.  The version of it found in the Main Title cue as the camera is panning over the idyllic Ba’ku village and then following the people through it is a great sequence and Goldsmith scored it so perfectly.  It is essentially one theme repeated several times, but his shifting orchestration keeps it fresh and interesting.  It is a good score and is tonally consistent with the other NextGen films, which thanks to the changing composers of the Original Series films, could never find a steady sound, with the exception of the two that Horner scored.  If there is one flaw with so much of the Trek music, it is that so many different composers worked on them.  Thanks to that, you had many different themes floating around and a new main title for almost every film.  Well, that was until Jerry took the reins again.

#4: Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country – Cliff Eidelman:  Following the script that worked so well for Wrath of Khan, the director and producers of VI went out and found a young, unknown composer for Undiscovered Country and it worked out quite well.  Eidelman, was told to model parts of the score on Gustav Holst’s The Planets, which is very evident in the open title sequence, but Eidelman really does make the material his own.  What is also so remarkable is just how dark this score is.  With the exception of moments in the main titles and the sequence in which the Enterprise leaves spacedock, the score is pretty uniformly dark until the very end.  Eidleman also borrows from some of Horner’s sound in his music for the two vulcans in the film, Spock and Valeris, played by future Sex and the City star Kim Cattrall (and yes, hopefully that is the first and last time that show will ever be mentioned in this blog space).  If there is a score I would love to be the next official expanded release, it is this one.

#3: Star Trek – Michael Giacchino: I keep talking about this score, so I won’t belabor the point.  I know some people don’t like how campy and kitschy it is at times, tounge-in-cheek reference to older scores, but I find it works and fits the tone of the film well.  In that respect, I guess part of how you feel about the score also comes down to how you feel about the film itself.  And while I do have some minor quibbles with the film, I was largely pleased with the effort and am looking forward to the next one. I’m hopeful that Giacchino will stay aboard the franchise as long as Abrams and Co. is on board so that he developes the musical themes begun in this film.  If you haven’t picked up the Deluxe Edition, you better hurry up because it’s a limited run and has already sold at the Varese Sarabande website (You might still be able to pick one up from Screen Archives Entertainment, though).

#2: Star Trek: The Motion Picture – Jerry Goldsmith: So far, the only Trek score to ever be nominated for an Academy Award, and numero dos on our countdown.  I know, last summer I put it number one, but after much reflection and wrestling with my feelings, I finally decided that as good as it was, it couldn’t beat number one (of which the identity of is pretty obvious at this point).  The score has much the same flaw as the film itself, a lack of action.  And while I don’t find it to be the fatal flaw that other perceive, it does keep it from rising any further on my new list.  I still love almost every moment of the score, from the opening titles, Ilia’s theme, the Cloud sequence, and, of course, the five-minute love affair with the Enterprise itself.  It’s a great score and very much deserved its shout out from the Academy, but it’s no…

#1: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan – James Horner:  KHAN!!!!!!  KHAN!!!!!!  A single fifty-nine second cue on the expanded release is what put me over the top with deciding to place Horner’s effort number one.  “Buried Alive” is just as iconic in my book as Kirk’s shout to the heavens and one cannot exist without the other.  Of course, I also love Horner’s sweeping main title theme.  I find it amusing that so many people call it “nautical” when that is exactly what Goldsmith was told to avoid in The Motion Picture.  Well, different director, different tastes, right?  There is really so much to love in this score that it is one of my go to albums on my iPod, and that is high praise indeed.

Well, that’s it.  A long list, but a necessary one.  I will be entering semester hibernation soon, so this well likely be my final Film Score Friday Top 5 for a while, but I still have some reviews to put up, especially of Varese Sarabande’s epic new Spartacus set, which might just be the single most over-the-top score release of all time.  Along with that, there are new editions of Danny Elfman’s Batman, Independence Day by David Arnold, and Outland by Jerry Goldsmith to talk about.  So there is still content to be had, but you might have to wait awhile for it.

3 thoughts on “Film Score “Friday” Top 5: On Second Thought, Ranking the ‘Star Trek’ Scores

  1. For the most part, I take little issue with your list. I would probably swap First Contact and The Voyage Home. Actually, I’d probably bump it up in front of The Search for Spock. I do enjoy the lovingly tongue-in-cheek character of the score and how it kind of feels like a natural extension of Horner’s scores. That being said, I’m not so sure that Giacchino’s Star Trek score deserves to be so high on the list. Personally, I think it should be down one or two places. For me, the only redeeming quality of Leonard Rosenman’s score is the overture.

  2. A propos of nothing, an interesting tidbit you’ll hear as you discover more early Horner scores; the Klingon motif was reused several times throughout the ’80s by Horner. The earliest example I have on record is his Wolfen score but it gets its most elaborate use – on disc anyway – in Aliens. Curiously, it’s one of the few motives from his early career which – to my knowledge – he has basically stopped using entirely. Also, Wolfen can basically be considered a dry run for Aliens.

  3. I just ran across your Film Score Friday “On second Thought” list. I appreciate what you’ve written, and largely agree. As much as I like Goldsmith’s STV OST, it never seemed “Star Trek” to me. Save for the Klingon bits, parts almost seemed they belonged to a film like Masada than anything in space. Not direct theme, but feel. Anyhow, your list and analysis really helped me decide what to check out and what not. Having all the non-Next Gen soundtracks except for ST IVnot a fan of what I heard while watching the film. While it worked for the film, I think you know what I mean when I say that I was hoping for something that would give me that feeling I got when I first heard the cue for “Surprise Attack” on the STII LP all by itself in 1982. …And in Krull, Cocoon, and so on… But I jest (sort of), — and digress (completely). I really liked the analysis. I will now give the new Giacchino Star Trek soundtrack a shot (I wasn’t going to before). I honestly couldn’t recall what I had heard while watching the film (so many darned lens flares, I guess they were a bit distracting).
    And I totally got the “Geek moment.” some years ago, I chauffeured a friend around town to a mix of tracks from Gorky Park, Clear & Present Danger, Terminator 2, etc. as we hid items and tracked those looking for said items (it was a Wedding Present thing). He is a huge film fan, but not a collector of Soundtracks, but he kept going on about how movie-like it seemed. And it heightened the experience of sneaking and driving and trying not to be seen. It was loads of fun.
    Thanks again for the list.
    Tom Kelly
    Albuquerque, NM

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