Wednesday, March 28, 2012

March Madness March of the Day: "Main Title" from Star Trek: The Motion Picture by Jerry Goldsmith

George Takei is thinking, 'I want to slap the costumer who stuck me in this hideous pastel bathrobe.'
(Photo source: They Boldly Went)

Jay-Z is so enthused about the sample of the horns from The Menahan Street Band's "Make the Road by Walking" during his own track "Roc Boys (And the Winner Is)..." that towards the end of the jubilant "Roc Boys," H.O.V.A. says, "This is black superhero music right here, baby!" Jerry Goldsmith's equally jubilant march at the start of Star Trek: The Motion Picture is intergalactic superhero music, baby.

Too bad the film it originated from is more Green Lantern than The Iron Giant (or Iron Giant director Brad Bird's other great superhero movie, the completely earthbound Incredibles). Like the live-action Green Lantern, it's overly solemn, the main adversary is a ginormous yet somehow unintimidating (and amorphous) cloud from outer space and the hero comes off as an unlikable and arrogant jerk.

Having Admiral Kirk aggressively swipe the command of the refurbished Enterprise from a younger officer he actually recommended for the job wasn't exactly a great way to introduce the Kirk character to moviegoers who had never seen Star Trek on TV before. "He's supplanting someone else (someone who may actually be better equipped for the job), and he's bizarrely pissy about it too, like he lost his sense of humor between now and the end of the third season," wrote Zack Handlen about Kirk in his piece on ST:TMP for The A.V. Club. "We're supposed to like Kirk, not vaguely tolerate him."

The tension between Kirk and his ill-defined protégé Will Decker (future 7th Heaven dad Stephen Collins) is supposed to feel dramatic, like we're watching All About Eve in space (and with dudes in ugly pastel space pajamas and unitards instead of divas in evening gowns from the 20th Century Fox wardrobe department), but their conflict is dealt with in such an un-dramatic fashion. It's quickly brushed aside to focus on the money shots of the Enterprise's encounter with The Cloud, a.k.a. V'Ger or the lesser-used Vejur, an alternate spelling that makes it look like the Enterprise is battling an Indian tennis player (speaking of which, Vijay Amritraj has a cameo in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home as an exhausted Starfleet officer who reports back to the fleet about his downed ship). Kirk's motivation for getting the captain's chair back (other than, of course, the V'Ger crisis, is it due to a midlife crisis or resentment from being a Starfleet paper-pusher for so long or both?) is so underdeveloped in TMP that Nicholas Meyer took notice of its underwritten-ness, expanded upon this older Kirk's insecurity about being an out-of-touch and irrelevant relic and made it such an effective element in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (and again in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country).

They still have traffic cops in the 23rd century? You would think that in the future, people would be better drivers by then. I always liked how the Enterprise had an Asian helmsman because you can shut down racist dipshits who joke about Asian drivers by saying, 'Sulu is proof that Asians can drive, motherfucker.'
I always dug how the Starfleet traffic cop does a backflip, like he's some Pinoy traffic cop entertaining motorists with Michael Jackson dance moves. (Photo source: TrekCore)

During their attempt to relaunch Star Trek on the big screen, the TMP crew--led by series creator and TMP producer Gene Roddenberry and director Robert Wise, who was no slouch at intelligent sci-fi (his 1971 procedural The Andromeda Strain is a much more entertaining and witty '70s sci-fi film than TMP)--focused too much on spectacle, which isn't one of the reasons why the old show is, to borrow one of Spock's favorite words, fascinating.

We want to see Kirk, Spock and McCoy wittily snipe at each other and debate over ethics and fight their way out of trouble like they often did on the old show, not gawk silently for 10 minutes at visual effects (which vary from stunning and on a par with TMP effects whiz Douglas Trumbull's 2001 and Close Encounters work to "passable for their time but haven't aged well") as the Enterprise penetrates V'Ger's V'Jayjay. That character interplay is why I prefer J.J. Abrams' first Star Trek installment, a film that irritates hardcore Treksters, over TMP (I wish Right Stuff director Philip Kaufman made TMP instead of Wise because he would have gotten Toshiro Mifune to play the Enterprise's Klingon nemesis, and that would have ruled).

However, DeForest Kelley delivers a few good quips that keep TMP, which is paced less like the nimble and youthful-feeling original series and more like some square and annoyingly conservative Biblical epic from the '50s or '60s, from being a complete slog (too bad Kelley's the only cast member in TMP who's behaving more like his old self from the show than like a pod person). Goldsmith's score, which restates the main title march a few times in the film's first act and then takes a turn from mostly upbeat to eerie and atonal, also keeps TMP from being a total slog, and it helps elevate the one sequence where shit gets exciting and gripping--the thruster-suited Spock's spacewalk inside V'Ger.

Going back to that march, I feel like it's too good for TMP. It's a theme for the movie Roddenberry and Wise thought they were making, not the underwhelming one that ended up on screen (the DVD-only Director's Edition that Paramount released 12 years ago doesn't quite rectify the screenplay's weaknesses--no updated effects footage ever could--but fortunately, it's faster-paced and snappier than previous cuts of the movie). But without that march, TMP would have been more of a chore to watch than it already is.

An extra on the Director's Edition DVD shows what TMP would have been like without the march. It contains a snippet of a rejected Blue Max-esque take on "The Enterprise," the cue from the lengthy travel pod sequence, or as I like to call that sequence, the "Shatner wants to hug the Enterprise... envelop that Enterprise... make love to the Enterprise" sequence. Wise asked Goldsmith to rework "The Enterprise" and give it more oomph. "There's no theme!," said Wise.

The final result led to this beloved--if kind of overplayed--march that would go on to reappear in a subsequent TV spinoff (although Star Trek: The Next Generation composer Dennis McCarthy came up with a nice arrangement that combined Alexander Courage's '60s Star Trek fanfare with Goldsmith's TMP march, the march sounded much less impressive coming from an orchestra that was smaller than TMP's 90-piece orchestra) and four more feature films. Intergalactic superhero music right here, baby.


  1. Overall I agree with your assessments . . . however, I think for long-term fans, the behavior of Kirk and Spock in this film make them much more interesting. Real people go through phases that perhaps aren't endearing, and this makes for great characterization. But, as you point out, someone coming into this from the outside is just going to think, "Man, these guys are dicks."

    Arguably the most profound moment of Spock's life up to that point happens in this film, but it gets lost in the dullness of its surroundings. "This simple feeling," Spock says as he grasps Kirk's hand, "is beyond V'Ger's comprehension." Well, holy shite! Spock has just had an epiphany about his whole life and the struggle of his dual heritage, the pay off to dozens of scenes throughout the original series. Unfortunately, most people have already fallen asleep by then.

    It's too bad that Wise just made the thing so ponderous. Even the uniforms and sets have had all the color drained out of them, just a sea of beige and gray. What were they all thinking? Still, the music kicks ass.


  2. In the theatrical cut, Spock's moment of clarity is just this odd sickbay scene where he's laughing and acting like his spores-infected self from "This Side of Paradise" and homoerotically touching Kirk's hand.

    That's why I'm glad the 1983 and 2001 cuts of the film restored the later scene where Spock's tearing up on the bridge and admitting that "Logic and knowledge are not enough" because--besides the fact that it adds more depth to the film and brings closure to his struggles with being biracial--his admission of weeping for V'Ger is when you realize, "Whoa, Spock means business. That strange moment in sickbay was not Spock acting all weird from neurological trauma and cordrazine. Or maybe weed because McCoy's an old country doctor, so I wouldn't be surprised if he still prescribes medical marijuana in the 23rd century."