I remember, many years ago, back when I was at school, I had an art project that involved drawing/painting my street after dark. It was chiefly concerned with capturing the streetlights. So I dutifully waited until after dusk, preparing my artboard and materials, sitting at my bedroom window. To help capture an ambient mood I played The Cloud from Jerry Goldsmith’s Star Trek:The Motion Picture score. It’s funny how you never forget moments like that; I can recall as clearly as if it were yesterday, sitting there in the dark of a desk-lamp away off behind me, before the window, drawing the street below lit by streetlamps, listening to that strange, alien, moody soundtrack.
I wouldn’t have thought it even possible when this year started, but here we are in June with possibly the most wished-for/dreamt-of/frankly impossible soundtrack release of the past ten or twenty years- Jerry Goldsmith’s complete score for Star Trek: The Motion Picture, complete with 2 discs of early aborted music and alternates/obscurities, as well as the original soundtrack album for completists. At 3 discs and nearly four hours, its really the definitive soundtrack release, far superior to Varese Sarabande’s flawed Spartacus, another grail which was ultimately handicapped, in my eyes, by becoming, frankly, a crazy vanity project (there’s no discs of modern interpretations here, or dvd of gushing interviews or accompanying hefty book to lift the project out of the realm of ordinary buyers of soundtrack music). No, La La Land’s incredible new 3-disc edition of Star Trek: The Motion Picture is just about the actual music, the original score, with enough extras to satisfy hardcore listeners but not so much to frustrate fans who just want the score.
Flawed as the film may be, you can forgive it all its faults because of its remarkable score. The music score is a huge, varied, breathtaking opus; massively symphonic, stirring, emotional, at times eerie and alien. It responds to the epic scope of the production, an attempt to create an adult, serious sci-fi film more akin to 2001 than Star Wars. That it did this on the back of a popular, albeit long-canceled tv show was perhaps the only flaw in the grand plan, as such an overly-serious, ambitious approach was clearly at odds with the rather pulpish, fun and action-orientated show that the fans remembered and endlessly watched in re-runs. Star Trek: The Motion Picture isn’t really Star Trek (that would come with Wrath of Khan and it’s increasingly less interesting successors); but that’s not just a flaw, it’s perhaps it greatest strength. It’s slow pace and approach to the alien and unknown, while pompous and self-important, is also endearing today compared to our dumbed-down soap-opera sci-fi blockbusters.
It’s also pure cinema. Stuck in the fx-dominated period of the immediate post-Star Wars era, and fatally wounded by being a rushed production with an unmanageable deadline, the film was pretty much still unfinished when released in cinemas. Major fx sequences were not edited properly and were without sound effects- instead Jerry Goldsmith’s score had to try to complete the piece, carrying long sequences that were without dialogue or sound effects. It gave Goldsmith a unique opportunity to compose long (perhaps even self-indulgent) pieces of thematic material, to compose music not dictated by quick cuts or action beats. It allowed the music score to truly shine. Even in 1979 many people balked at the seemingly endless voyage into the heart of the Cloud and the V’ger flyby… long fx shots that seemed to go on forever. But it’s pure cinema, almost experimental arthouse stuff, as if the grand fx are there only to serve the remarkable and elegant music, instead of the other way around. Images of space wonders to accompany the shifting gossamer melodies conjured by Goldsmith.
As someone who had the original album on vinyl back in 1979/early 1980, I have always loved the score- in my mind likely Goldsmith’s crowning achievement (and that’s saying a great deal when you consider some of the other masterpieces Goldsmith created in his career). I remember Matt Irvine, more famously remembered for his work as a modelmaker and fx guy on BBC shows such as Blakes 7, writing a soundtrack-review column in Starburst magazine. His review for Goldsmith’s Star Trek:TMP hit the nail on the head- he stated the music could easily be adapted into a proper symphony, so powerful and varied were it’s themes, the way the music builds and develops.
I wonder what Matt has to say about this new release. Now that I think about it, this is the fourth time I’ve bought this soundtrack; first the vinyl, then the same album on CD, then the slightly expanded release in 1999. It perhaps indicates my affection for the score, and how important it is. Now with this definitive 3-disc set we have the perfect edition, the one we fans wanted and hoped for, for all so many years. It’s really a little unreal, frankly. Available in a limited edition of 10,000 copies from internet dealer sites or from the label La La Land direct, this one hits the spot. Soundtrack release of the year, no question; possibly even the decade.