By Karol Krok
In what ended up being the final entry in the long-running series of motion pictures, captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) found himself captured in an intense psychological chess game with a young clone of himself (played by Tom Hardy). The producers were obviously trying to recapture the cinematic magic of The Wrath of Khan from two decades before. Indeed, both stories share almost identical plots (to the point of ridicule) and that very aspect didn’t remain unnoticed. Panned by critics and ignored by cinema-goers during the busy holiday season, Star Trek: Nemesis turned out to be a swan song for the franchise, as well as a farewell to the legendary composer Jerry Goldsmith. And while it is true that before his passing in mid-2004 he worked on two more projects, one of them got rejected (Timeline), and the final portions of the other (Looney Tunes: Back In Action) were finished by John Debney. Hence, this particular score represents his final completed work.
Upon its release, this music was greeted with a very cold reception. Part of that had to do with the state of the slowly dying franchise, to which the underperforming NEMESIS delivered a fatal blow. It didn’t also help that this very introverted score came out at the time as some hugely anticipated titles. After all, it was the same year that Attack of the Clones, The Two Towers, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets graced the big screen. In this crowded company, Goldsmith’s very bleak work hardly stood a chance. The original album released by Varese Sarabande was a curious programme as well, with a lot of it devoted to quiet and dark underscore. Suffice to say, it was never destined to get a lot of praise. Quite undeservedly so.
Goldsmith has crafted five quite distinct Star Trek film works in his career. The first one was a science fiction music in the truest sense, addressing not only soap opera elements, but the whole intellectual concept of V’Ger as well. For some people it probably proved to be even too cerebral and the subsequent The Wrath of Khan (composed by James Horner) became an easy remedy for that. Released a whole ten years later, The Final Frontier showed us a completely different side of composer – filled with adventurous action, heartfelt thematic material. If not for its much-hated film, the score would have been a quintessential classic in Goldsmith’s repertoire. First Contact marked Jerry’s return to the franchise after another lengthy break and that turned out to be his weakest entry. Save for the amazing central theme, serving as an almost B section to the Enterprise march, the music was for the most part very watered-down. Sharing a composing credit with Joel Goldsmith created a stylistic identity crisis that proved to be hard to amend. Star Trek: Insurrection was a return to form – light and relaxing. Very far removed from the epicness of the series and, as such, really refreshing.
And that’s how we arrived at Star Trek: Nemesis – a thing much edgier and darker than anything else Goldsmith has previously penned for the franchise. At its very heart is Shinzon’s theme. Quite unlike other ones, this film’s central musical idea is character-specific and that means it won’t take flight the same way First Contact theme would. Quite the contrary – it paints a dark soundscape, bitter and full of anger, with only occasional suggestions of longing. It might be the most malleable and complex thematic ideas from the series. Not so much in its musical construct, but rather the contradictory aspects it attempts to address – Goldsmith makes Shinzon so much more interesting through his musical narrative alone and the character’s obsession is penetrating every corner of the score – from a harsh growling low brass (‘The Box’), through a lonely woodwind-led passages lost among bleak suspense (‘Repairs’), the eerie synthetic statements (‘The Knife’), the action-packed martial declamations (‘Full Reverse’), and finally ending with the bitter full string coda expansion (‘A New Ending’).
The original march is not very frequently used throughout Nemesis, to the initial disappointment of many. But when it does appear, these moments are always earned. Most of the music is very low key and this theme serves as a beam of light that breaks the despair and adds some much needed excitement, especially in the latter action-packed final sequences. Unlike a more stock copy and paste usages from two previous scores, here Goldsmith employs his legendary tune with a bit more variety (as heard in ‘Star Field’ and ‘Battle Stations’), sometimes using only bits and pieces of it. The discovery motif from The Final Frontier, in that film associated with more spiritual concepts, is used here as well. The heartfelt and gentle statements in ‘A New Friend’ are particularly lovely.
Given its nature, a lot the score is filled with angry and percussive action music (often punctuated by harsh synth). From ‘The Scorpion’ up until the very end, Jerry gradually turns up the temperature with one action track after the other, all of which culminate with the splendid ‘Final Flight’. It is easy to think of him as the only composer of old generation who would still feel comfortable in today’s blockbusters, without having to sacrifice his own voice. Indeed, few people could say as much with as little as he did. He’s still unmatched in this department And while some of Goldsmith’s writing became more and more bare-boned over the years, Nemesis offers considerably more personality and variety in this respect.
In a perfect to bookend the series, Jerry alludes to his now famous The Enterprise piece from Star Trek: The Motion Picture (‘That Song/An Honor’). He’s gone a full circle and came back to where this film series started out – a truly poignant and effective touch. Also worth mentioning is (previously discussed) end credits piece (on the new set presented in the alternates section) that showcases the new Shinzon theme in its full glory. Sandwiched between statements of the title march, this piece presents a truly heartbreaking and gentle take on the material and very unlike anything else that came before it. Along with a more sombre performance of the Enterprise theme, it creates a surprisingly bitter coda to the film – almost as if Jerry meant is as a goodbye to Star Trek and his fans.
Twelve years after the original film came out, Varese Sarabande released the two-disc expansion containing the complete work (with a particularly sweet behind-the-scenes Easter Egg in the final track). Right from the outset it becomes quite obvious the original album didn’t do this score justice. While hours of moody and Shinzon-fixated Goldsmith might be a tad too much for casual listeners, they are nevertheless necessary to understand what he was trying to achieve. The music certainly makes a much stronger impression when experienced in its entirety, even if it requires a tad more patience. A no match for the first two Goldsmith entries, of course, but it will probably end up being the most rewarding of his Next Generation projects (in the long run). The greatly improved mastering (courtesy of ever reliable Mike Matessino) definitely is a huge plus as well. An essential purchase for Goldsmith and Star Trek fans.
Star Trek: Nemesis (The Deluxe Edition) is out now from Varese Sarabande