Friday, September 8, 2017

Movie Music Musing: The Next Generation of Opening Titles

The first CD release of TNG
score including the opening titles.
So this blog was inspired by the podcast The Art of the Score. They talked in depth about all the opening title pieces used in the Star Trek television series, and a bit about some selected score pieces used in specific episodes. It was an entertaining and fascinating look at the ways the show’s music evolved over the decades.

One thing they brought up was how the opening titles for Star Trek: The Next Generation acted as bridge for fans of the 1960s series and the film series that had being going strong since 1979. I had never really considered it before, since I just grew up with the opening titles of The Next Generation being the opening titles to Star Trek: The Motion Picture. But the thing is… they aren’t the same.

Obviously the orchestra used by Jerry Goldsmith for Star Trek: The Motion Picture was a huge full blown studio orchestra (with the BLASTER BEAM on hand to add those extra special moments). For the television version of the main titles, the orchestra is much smaller and you can really hear the difference. There is less power behind the music, and it is arranged slightly differently, abbreviating it in places for the shorter time the main titles spend on screen.

Alexander Courage conducts.
But the key difference is that Alexander Courage’s main theme for the 1960s version of the television series actually starts off the main titles. It is arranged in a quiet way that slowly builds into Jerry Goldsmith’s main theme for The Motion Picture. Composer Dennis McCarthy arranged this version of the theme, and went on to be one of the most prolific composers for the Star Trek television franchise. He even composed the score to Star Trek: Generations, which uses Courage's main theme quite a few times.

Now Gene Roddenberry was the one who fell in love with Goldsmith’s theme for the 1979 film, and he felt it captured the optimistic and adventurous spirit of the new version of the series. Gotta say I agree (as biased as I am).

By fusing the older television series opening titles with The Motion Picture’s titles, you are telling the audience a couple of things. First off, they know that this is Star Trek because you are using the 60’s theme. Even though Goldsmith didn’t use the theme in his film, Horner and Rosenthal did feature the television theme heavily in their film scores. So even audiences who only knew the film version of the characters (and there were more of those than you’d think) had familiarity with that theme.

By using the Goldsmith theme, you will also reassure that fans who only knew the film version of franchise that this was also for them. It provides double reassurance. Goldsmtih would return to score four more Star Trek films and he would use a combination of the television theme leading into his theme for The Motion Picture in all of them. This makes perfect sense for his scores to the final three TNG focused films.

Don't worry there is a little bit of Courage's main
theme worked into the score too.
What is interesting is that Goldsmith score was for one of the least popular Star Trek films at that point. When The Next Generation came out in 1987, it was The Wrath of Khan and The Voyage Home that were the most popular. Horner’s score for the second and third films is really great, and he crafted a wonderful main theme. That said, Goldsmith’s theme is a bit more propulsive and adventurous sounding to me. It feels like it is boldly going forward. Horner’s theme is a bit more nautical and majestic. Still excellent, but maybe not the best way to inspire that feeling of adventure they were hoping for in The Next Generation.

I have to say arranging both themes together was really an inspired idea, and it got folks engaged right from the start when that music, familiar no matter what kind of Trek fan you were. 

And if you need a reminder about the two tracks, here is the original main title from Star Trek: The Motion Picture composed by Jerry Goldsmith. Notice, no sign of the 1960s theme in here and we get these great drum hits to start off the track in an exciting way.

Here is the main title track from Star Trek: The Next Generation starting with Courage's main theme from the 60s and moving into Goldsmith's theme from the motion picture. Notice the sound of the smaller orchestra and the way composer Dennis McCarthy arranged it to fit the tighter time limit.

Shout out to Art of the Score podcast! Give the full Star Trek episode a listen. It has lots of interesting insights into the main themes for all the television series, and the hosts are engaging and know their stuff.

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  1. I was watching some Voyager yesterday. I haven't seen many of them or the later Next Gens. The BBC network shows them and I catch them when in the mood. Some are good, while others get too melodrama for me. But I'm glad to catch them when available. I'm wondering how the new series will be. Goldsmith is good though.

    1. I've never actually seen more than a couple of episodes of "Voyager". It just never caught my attention. When it was officially on the air, I was in my full on "Star Wars" only phase. I did start watching "Deep Space Nine" a couple years back and was enjoying that one. It really started to go into some interesting directions. Need to pick up on that one again. And yeah, Goldsmith was one of the greats when it came to film music.

  2. Great review, Roman! I don't know how you get into the composers' souls the way you do but really appreciated it. Star Trek fan from the beginning here. I'll listen to that podcast in between late homework assignments. :-)

    1. Thanks for the compliment Shirley! I was listening to quite a bit of Trek scores lately, and really getting into how the composers approached the storytelling from the musical point of view. Goldsmith was a master for sure, but some of the television scores by Ron Jones for The Next Generation and Alexander Courage for The Original Series are really interesting and engaging. Hope you enjoy the podcast, I feel they did a really great job with the topic, and they covered some other film scores as well including "Vertigo", "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and "Star Wars".

  3. Not every franchise has a defining sound. I don’t think continuity matters in the slightest in Hulk or Batman movies, as examples. For the ones that do, however, audiences notice its absence if it is left out. A Bond movie without that lick, for instance, is just missing something, though if it’s there somewhere the music can go almost anywhere else without complaint. Star Trek cries out for some kind of homage to the original. So far the composers have managed to f do that while still being creative.

    1. Yeah musical continuity is something film score fans lament about all the time, but most audience members don't really notice it unless the themes are really memorable. There was a great YouTube video about how not memorable any of the themes for the Marvel movies are. I think that speaks more to the approach of those scores and the composers working on them, than it does the need for those themes.

      Bond and Trek have identities and fans that span decades. Even Star Wars falls into that boat. Without some of those memorable themes sprinkled in I can imagine (and have heard) people complain. But you are right, it is a tricky balancing act. I know some composers actually turned down sequels because they didn't like the limitations to the music. Luckily Goldsmith never had that issue. He was so good at crafting variations to existing themes that I think it kept him engaged (as well as creating specific themes for certain characters or situations).