PARAMOUNT PICTURES/INDUSTRIAL LIGHT & MAGIC
The martial rhythm, the close-stepping intervals, the triumphalist orchestration: Jerry Goldsmith’s theme for Star Trek, introduced thirty years ago in the first of the motion pictures, may be catchy enough in a “Hail the leader!” way, but it just didn’t match the spirit of the television score. Of course, that earlier theme by Alexander Courage had sounded its own heroic notes, in an opening fanfare (or rather a quasi-Wagnerian motif) of the upward-striving sort. But then the piece swung inexplicably into a kind of bolero rhythm, with the melody first swooping high in a glissando leap and then swooning back down on an Orientalist scale. In Courage’s Star Trek, Siegfried gave way to Scheherazade, conventional swagger to an exotic fabulousness.
No composition could have better suited the weekly action of the television show; and the most fitting trait of all, as it turned out, was that nobody back then–nobody–was listening to anything like this lush bit of weirdness, which seemed to have emanated from MGM’s old Freed unit (where Courage in fact had gotten his start). Like the TV series itself, that found object taken up by fans only after it was cancelled–or like this review, which is appearing weeks after all other Star Trek articles–the theme was, from the beginning, a relic of another time.
That’s why the full-scale revival of Courage’s music after all these years is one more reason for the faithful to have received the new J.J. Abrams movie as authentic: true Trek of true Trek, begotten not made. No matter that everyone in this picture is younger, shinier and better outfitted than on syndicated TV; and no matter that the commercial motive behind the film could have been expected to yield only a synthetic product. Abrams and his writers, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, have brought forth a living descendant, drawn solely from material that was immanent in the original. Case in point: the ever-serviceable plot device of a trip back in time, which now explains, in inherently Star Trek fashion, why Kirk, Spock and the rest are being played by new actors.
It seems that tattooed hotheads from the future have come back and tampered with the early twenty-third century, causing a different reality to branch off from the one we knew. In its own terms, then, the new Star Trek is not a prequel to the television show but a parallel development to it (well, all right, oblique), in which various people still grow up to become the crew of the Enterprise–character being destiny–but do so with slightly altered appearances and curricula vitae.
If you’re inclined to disparage this conceit as a mere excuse for relaunching the franchise, then I bet you’d also belittle the kid who stays up all night growing a dog in a test tube just to show what ate the homework. The premise for the new Star Trek is far more clever than any production company could have demanded. More important, it adds meaning to the Star Trek of old.