30 May 2012

"Star Trek VI" & "First Contact" Soundtracks

The first album I ever owned that was mine outright was The Transformers: The Movie soundtrack on cassette. I was seven years old. Soundtracks have interested me ever since. It's almost impossible to be a Trekkie and not have an interest in the rich musical canon of that franchise. My love for Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country is well documented, so it should be no surprise that its score is among my all-time favorites. I can still remember buying it at a Camelot Music store. I can't be certain, but I think it was in Bashford Manor Mall. What I recall was balking at the mall store price, but knowing that it was really my only chance to own it so I ponied up two weeks' allowance.

I couldn't get over Cliff Eidelman's haunting score. The moody overture, the militant Klingon motif, the somber theme for Spock...and, of course, the rousing "Sign Off" and "Star Trek VI Suite" at the end were instant favorites. It stands out even now for how dissimilar it is from all other Star Trek scores. It's the least reliant on cheery sounding marches and I think that's why I love it so much. Maybe it's just because of years of listening to it as an album, outside the context of the film, but I find it stands as a very solid body of music. Director Nicholas Meyer famously wanted to license Holst's symphony, The Planets, but his music budget wouldn't allow for it. I'm well out of my depth discussing things like symphonies, but as best I understand them, Eidelman's score functions as one.

I decided earlier this year that for managing my depression in the face of divorce, I deserved to treat myself to La-La Land Records's 2-disc Batman score by Danny Elfman (another favorite movie and score). Shortly after I bought that, I learned that Intrada was going to issue a 2-disc, complete Star Trek VI. I had to have that, but it had to wait because I was broke when it went on sale.

Cut to March, when GNP Crescendo released with little advance warning that they were issuing the complete Star Trek: First Contact. It's hard to rank the Jerry Goldsmith Star Trek scores, but I feel confident saying that this one is up there with The Motion Picture and The Final Frontier. It's easily my favorite of his Next Generation movie scores, and I also wanted this. They're really the only two Trek scores I want badly enough that I would spring for the complete package (though I could be tempted into the two others I just mentioned).
The main title from First Contact stands as one of the most beautiful compositions in the canon. It's full of wonder and sophisticated in its way, too. "How Many Ships" is a brief cue I've wanted since 1996; it's the brief quote from Goldsmith's Star Trek: The Motion Picture theme that plays in the first appearance of the Enterprise-E. Most of the Borg music was farmed out to Joel Goldsmith, the composer's son. It's solid stuff, but it clearly bears his signature and not his father's. Both are now deceased, so I feel kind of bad saying so but Joel's music was always more of a low-budget TV aesthetic, inferior to the full orchestra sensibilities of Jerry.

Between the two, I preferred The Undiscovered Country, but GNP's First Contact score was limited to 10,000 units. That seemed high at first, but then I remembered that La-La Land's Star Trek V had a print run of 5,000 units and it sold out. I was afraid the higher popularity of First Contact would translate into me having to act quickly. That meant Star Trek VI would have to wait a while longer. At least, that's what I thought until I discovered I could order both through Amazon. I've accrued a modest amount of credit, partly through Swagbucks and partly through an act of generosity I have yet to discuss in this blog. Amazon had a sale price on First Contact ($15 instead of $20), plus by ordering from them I could avoid shipping costs (saving me another combined $8). I didn't want to dip into my Amazon credit for $40, but it was a nice way to snag both these scores without paying a penny out of pocket!

I've played both several times apiece since receiving them (VI had a head start because GNP refused to ship Amazon orders until Amazon stopped under-selling the CD). I'm quite happy to have both in my library, but I have to say I think Intrada did a better job with their release.

For starters, Intrada's Star Trek VI is a two-disc set. Disc 1 features every note of music from the film, along with some bonus tracks (including two takes of the music Eidelman composed for the theatrical trailer!). Disc 2 presents the original soundtrack album in its entirety, as released in 1991. The music was edited in several cases for the album release, to present a more cohesive listening experience. Inside the jewel case is a thick booklet with comprehensive liner notes about the film, its score and a track-by-track commentary. It's so thorough that the name of every musician is printed on the insert under the disc tray! GNP elected to feature only a still image of the Enterprise under the disc tray, with the musician roster published across two pages of their booklet (more on that in a moment).

Meanwhile, GNP's single-disc First Contact release isn't as "complete" as advertised. The original soundtrack album included Roy Orbison's "Ooby Dooby" and Steppenwolf's "Magic Carpet Ride." Sure, they're not part of the score, so I can begrudgingly give them a pass on their absences. Still, I would point out that La-La Land's complete Star Trek V includes its original soundtrack album on Disc 2, complete with Hiroshima's "The Moon's a Window to Heaven." There is precedent for including that kind of song on a complete Star Trek score release. Also omitted from both the original album and this complete version is "Moonlight Becomes You," performed by Julie Morgan in the Dixon Hill holodeck scene. It would have been nice to finally get that. Again, though, not part of the score so...whatever.

The booklet is a bit of a letdown, too. While there is admittedly a fine essay by Jeff Bond and John Takis, GNP elected to make their track-by-track commentary a PDF supplement on the web, which you can download here. When I buy the definitive, comprehensive soundtrack, I don't want to have to retrieve part of it from the web. Intrada devoted 28 pages to their booklet for VI versus just 16 pages from GNP. Their booklet includes a thorough essay also by Bond, track-by-track commentary and even the original album liner notes by Nicholas Meyer!

Intrada also bested GNP for album art. Their booklet for Star Trek VI includes an alternate cover printed on the back page, so you can reverse the booklet if you want. The alternate design features the original teaser poster artwork that I love so dearly. Conversely, GNP saw fit to bathe the First Contact album art with a green hue that became part of the Borg color scheme after this film, in Star Trek: Voyager. It's an unnecessary bit of tinkering. Intrada's text is also more elegant in its simplicity, whereas GNP's First Contact album is pretty cluttered.
Alternate cover
I don't mean to bash GNP's First Contact. It's a favorite score of mine, which I love enough that I ordered this edition of it. I don't know what difference it would have made to cost had GNP included all their liner notes in the booklet, or thrown in a second disc with the additional pop songs, but I can't imagine it would have bloated the cost beyond the $24.95 that other boutique labels have charged for their complete Star Trek soundtrack releases. They could have included the original album version on a second disc, and added "Moonlight Becomes You" to that. For that matter, I'd have been content with a bonus disc just containing the three non-score tracks! Alas, GNP elected to keep their costs down and their corner-cutting resulted in a few blemishes on what should have been an amazing CD.

Hats off to Intrada, though, for showing how it's done. Their release of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country is the CD soundtrack I didn't realize I wanted in 1991. My 13 year old self couldn't be happier.

1 comment:

  1. Found it: Transformers. Mine was a Monkee tape if I remember correctly.