1979. The troubled journey of Star Trek – The Motion Picture, Paramount’s big-screen adaptation of the iconic science fiction television show, is deep in its post-production phase. Effects are being rushed and editing is ongoing, with a state of panic approaching seasoned genre director Robert Wise. But the film is about to be in the hands of Jerry Goldsmith, the storied composer who combined animalistic horns with mixing bowls in Planet of the Apes and who has not long won an Oscar for the horror picture The Omen. This is where the film finally finds it’s feet, surely?
“It didn’t seem quite right to me. I got visions of sailing ships somehow.” -Robert Wise
Jerry Goldsmith’s initial recording sessions were a success, or so he thought. “The scene of flying up to the Enterprise was a big bombastic piece,” he later said, “and we all thought it was so wonderful and finished the sessions. I’m patting myself on the back, it’s great and all that.”
But Wise and editor Todd Ramsay, after listening to the cues, had a different opinion. “He couldn’t really articulate what was bothering him,” Goldsmith said of Wise, “but he said we gotta do it all over again, and I was crushed.”
Nearly twenty minutes of score had been recorded, all which had to be rewritten and re-recorded. “If there was a moment when you were going to have a breakdown,” opined Ramsay, “it was this moment.” But before doing it all again, Goldsmith was determined to get to the bottom of what Wise really wanted. “Well what’s bothering you?” he said to the director, who replied “There’s no theme.” “Theme? Oh.”
Goldsmith went away while Wise further tinkered with the film, and eventually came up with a tune that is still iconic today. “He’d come over to the house,” Goldsmith said, “and he’d had a bad day with the special effects, he said ‘I’ve had a really bad day today, nothing’s working right, I hope you’ve got good news for me’. The head of the music department at Paramount was there too, and we played it for him on two pianos.”
“He said ‘That’s it! Why didn’t you come up with that in the first place?!'”
Goldsmith’s score for Star Trek – The Motion Picture was nominated for an Oscar (losing to Georges Delerue’s A Little Romance), but his theme went on to dominate Roddenberry’s universe, used not only in four further films but also as the theme for Star Trek: The Next Generation. Some of the unused material was also recycled, with the original ‘Spock’s Arrival’ re-orchestrated for 1989’s Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.
The full unused score can be heard on the 3-disc limited edition soundtrack CD, from La-La Land Records.