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Josh Reviews the Newly-Released Complete Soundtrack for Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country is one of my very favorite of the Star Trek films.  (Possibly my very favorite — depending on my mood, sometimes I consider it better than The Wrath of Khan, other times a close second.  Click here to witness my waxing poetic about the greatness of Star Trek VI!) One of my favorite aspects of the film — and a subtle but critically important key to its greatness — is the marvelous score by Cliff Eidelman.  I was thrilled that Intrada recently released the complete score on CD.

Director Nick Meyer is responsible, pretty much single-handedly, for a huge percentage of the greatness of the Star Trek film series.  He wrote and directed Star Trek II, co-wrote Star Trek IV, and co-wrote and directed Star Trek VI. Time and again, Mr. Meyer demonstrated an unswerving ability to make just the right decisions where the Star Trek films were concerned.  His choice of Cliff Eidelman as the composer for Star Trek VI is just one example.

Poor Mr. Meyer had quite a few difficulties pulling off Star Trek VI for the minuscule budget offered by the studio (thirty million dollars, an astoundingly low sum for a sci-fi epic and the exact same amount that the ugly, small-scale Star Trek V had been made for two years previously).  In his memoir, The View From the Bridge (click here for my review of that wonderful book), Mr. Meyer recounted his difficulty in finding a composer who could work for the small amount of money he had available to pay.  “I continued to exhaust myself trying to find ways to skin the cat.  I could not afford Jerry Goldsmith to write our score; I couldn’t even afford James Horner, who had risen in prominence (and price) in the years since The Wrath of Khan.” (Mr. Meyer had hired a young James Horner to compose the score for Star Trek II, because the budget had been slashed on that sequel and he couldn’t afford to bring back Jerry Goldsmith, who had scored Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Deja vu all over again.)

Luckily, Mr. Meyer was able to connect with another talented young composer, Cliff Eidelman (who was 28 years old at the time).  The two agreed on a key creative choice — that it would be fruitless to try to equal the dramatic bombast of the previous Star Trek films’ scores, and that, furthermore, such an approach wouldn’t suit the dark, somber story being told in Star Trek VI. In his fantastic (as usual) liner notes for the complete score CD, Jeff Bond notes: “From its opening bars, Eidelman’s music for Star Trek VI exhibits marked differences from previous scores, which had emphasized the romantic voyage of the Enterprise and heroism of its crew — with darker music used more sparingly for the film’s antagonists.  Star Trek VI inverts this relationship.  ‘My Klingon theme is very different,’ Eidelman told [journalist Mark A.] Altman.  ‘In fact, it’s the main title.  I brought the Klingons right into the main title.'”

I adore the dark, brooding sound of Star Trek VI’s score.  It’s a wonderfully clever, unexpected choice, and it brings a wonderful sense of sophistication and of melancholy to the film, the final adventure of the original Star Trek cast.

Some of my favorite tracks from the new, complete soundtrack CD include:

Track 1: “Overture” — First of all, I love that this track is referred to as an “overture” rather than “main titles.”  Mr. Eidelman’s opening music sets the tone perfectly for the film to come, as the movie begins not with bombast but with quiet, menacing sounds.  Mr. Eidelman comments in the liner notes that he wanted the theme to be something that “captured not just the mysteriousness of the story and the cloaked ship but also the danger of the Klingons.”

Track 3: “Spacedock/Clear All Moorings” — The very short cue (about 10 seconds) that opens this track encapsulates everything I love about Mr. Eidelman’s choices with the score.  Let me refer again to the liner notes: “This brief cue for an establishing shot of a shuttle heading towards the Starfleet Spacedock in Earth orbit provides an excellent example of Eidelman’s — and Nicholas Meyer’s — unusual approach to music in Star Trek VI. Normally, such a moment would receive a bright musical accompaniment, but Meyer requested that the music reflect the dark music of the previous scene, in which Kirk and Spock argue after a Starfleet staff briefing.”  The dark, brooding music that Mr. Eidelman wrote to play over that brief visual effects shot is ominous and filled with dread for the oncoming mission.  It’s a perfect choice.  The rest of the track (“Clear All Moorings”) is one of the most upbeat moments in the score, and as such it stands out wonderfully.  We hear a hint of Alexander Courage’s famous fanfare from the Original Series, and then a triumphant expression of Mr. Eidelman’s theme for Kirk and the Enterprise as the Big E departs Spacedock.

Track 4: “Spock’s Wisdom” — For the scene in which Spock speaks with Valeris in his quarters, we here Mr. Eidelman’s soft, mysterious theme for Spock.  It’s hard to top James Horner’s Spock theme (that was used so prominently in his scores for Star Trek II and Star Trek III), but I love Mr. Eidelman’s take on a wistful, alien theme for Spock.

Track 14: “Escape from Rura Penthe” — This track contains one of my favorite moments of music from the entire film.  As the camera pulls back and we see Kirk, McCoy, and Marta walking across the gorgeous but haunting ice sheets of Rura Penthe, we hear a lonely, mournful playing of Spock’s theme followed by soaring and majestic music that captures the majesty and the danger of the environment in which our heroes are stranded.

Track 18: “Dining on Ashes” — My favorite scene in Star Trek VI is Kirk and Spock’s quiet reconciliation in Spock’s quarters, and Mr. Eidelman’s music for that moment is just perfect.  From the liner notes: “Eidelman’s noble theme for the Enterprise plays first in a subdued, defeted guise for solo horn, clarinet and strings, then in a more optimistic mode for solo trumpet.”

Track 19: “The Battle for Peace”/”The Final Chance for Peace”/”The Final Count” — This lengthy assemblage of music plays over the extended action climax of the film, as the Enterprise and Chang’s Bird of Prey battle in Khitomer orbit, while down at the peace conference an assassin makes ready to strike.  What Mr. Eidelman describes as his “nail biter” theme alternates with his other major musical motifs for the film (the Klingon music from “Overture,” as well as Kirk and Spock’s themes) to provide a pulsing accompaniment to the action on screen.  It works perfectly with the fast-edited sequence in the film and is also great fun to listen to on its own.

Track 21: “Sign Off” — Star Trek VI blesses Trek fans with a magnificent final scene that brings 25 years of adventure to a close, and Mr. Eidelman’s music is perfection.  We hear a pensive version of his Enterprise theme as the crew’s happiness at their victory is tinged with melancholy (one shared by the audience) as the end to their journey grows near.  But Spock’s final declaration is accompanied by a triumphant, joyous blast of Alexander Courage’s fanfare, and then Mr. Eidelman’s Enterprise theme returns, subdued but happy, which builds joyously into a thrilling finish as, one by one, the signatures of all the main actors appear on screen.  It’s a note-perfect finish.

Track 23: “Trailer” — I still remember the excellent trailer for Star Trek VI. One of the reasons it was so effective is that Trek VI was the ONLY Star Trek film that had music specifically composed for the trailer by the film’s composer.  Mr. Eidelman crafted a medley of his themes from the film for the trailer, and I was delighted that his music for the trailer was included on the CD.  This is my favorite bonus track from all of the Star Trek CDs so far.

In The View From the Bridge, Mr. Meyer remembers: “We recorded the music with Eidelman conducting a large ensemble and chorus… on a scoring stage at 20th Century Fox, where it quickly became apparent that something remarkable was taking place.  Visitors to the session as well as those connected with the film came into the booth and listened with mounting excitement to what everyone recognized was a great score and one that would define and elevate the film”

I couldn’t say it any better myself.

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