Sunday, December 08, 2002

With December being a prime release month for movies, it's also a prime release time for film score CDs. I'm eagerly awaiting this coming Tuesday, when Howard Shore's score to Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers is released. Another big upcoming release is the John Williams score to the new Spielberg film, Catch Me If You Can, which is reported to be a more jazzy-sounding effort than Williams's usual symphonic-style work. While I think that Williams's output in recent years has made clear that he is no longer at the height of his powers (as far as film music is concerned), I'm looking forward to this one because it (reportedly) presents Williams working in an idiom that he hasn't done much with since his early days as a jazz pianist in Hollywood.

The big new release that's out now -- it came out last week -- is Jerry Goldsmith's score to Star Trek: Nemesis. The reviews I've read of this one are almost unanimously positive, and some are amazingly so, stating that Goldsmith has turned in a classic. I bought the CD yesterday, and while I like a lot of it, I can't say that I consider it a classic -- in fact, it's not even as good as Goldsmith's scores to Star Trek: The Motion Picture (an undisputed classic, one of the finest SF film scores ever composed) and Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, a great score that was the best thing about the film most commonly named as the worst of the Trek films. I'd say it's roughly as good as Star Trek: First Contact and better than Star Trek: Insurrection, based on the CD alone.

As is the case with many of Goldsmith's score CDs, this release is fairly short, although it's more generous than usual at forty-nine minutes or so. The result is that a good deal of music in the film did not make the CD, and according to reports an entire heroic aspect of the score has been left off the CD. What is on the CD is mostly comprised of quiet, suspense-type music and, toward the CD's end, rattling action cues. It's all pretty good stuff, displaying Goldsmith's amazing ability to weave a single theme through an entire score in a kind-of inversion of traditional leitmotif-based scoring techniques, but the sequencing of the album makes, unfortunately, for a fairly "monochromatic" listening experience. Basically we get the same emotional texture for roughly half an hour, and then the action stuff kicks in, and we switch to full-bore exciting music and get that for fifteen minutes or so. Notable features of the score are its surprising use of electronics -- Goldsmith is very good at incorporating electronic sounds into his orchestral textures -- and his reuse of motifs from his previous Trek scores.

Then we get Goldsmith's end-credits suite, which is identical to the last four he has done for Trek films: the Alexander Courage "Enterprise Fanfare" leading into Goldsmith's classic ST:TMP/ST:TNG theme, and then a beautiful, lyric theme that is followed by the same coda. It's a formula, and I find it more disappointing each time I hear a new iteration of it: Goldsmith does not even compose a transition into the "lyric" theme; instead, his Trek march simply stops and after a second of silence the lyric theme starts. I really wish Goldsmith would stop using this exact same arrangement each time out. Now, the lyric theme here is utterly gorgeous, so I'm forgiving to that extent, but the whole manner of execution still smacks of a bit of laziness. Goldsmith is a great composer; surely he could do more than simply slap a new middle section into the same End Credits music with each Trek film to come down the pike.

And I question the album's sequencing and music choices. Goldsmith, more than any other composer for films, seems to fall victim to the devilish "re-use fees" that result in short CDs that leave a great deal of music off the disc. That said, Goldsmith is apparently responsible for choosing which music makes the CD and which does not. In this case, he has apparently not done a very good job, as he has left off a good deal of the score's actual character, resulting in a CD that seems to get stuck on one mood for a long time, then another mood for a similarly long time, and then the End Credits.

Jerry Goldsmith's work on Star Trek: Nemesis may prove to be his finest work for a Trek film, but how many of the reviewers out there can pronounce it so on the basis of this CD is a mystery to me. Of course, it's a Goldsmith CD, so it's good by definition. But I'm still disappointed.

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