The response to our Star Trek II CD has been overwhelming—and we are grateful for the publicity we got from many Star Trek sites (especially trekmovie.com) and movie sites (particularly aintitcool.com). John Tenuto at trekmovie.com has been a super help through not only the publicity but the making of the CD itself (with regards to the Nicholas Meyer photo archives). John asked to do an email interview with me and used the information in a review of the CD/article combo you should check out (along with the reader comments).
Given that I wildly overwrote, I asked John if I could publish the raw Q&A here, and he said sure. So hopefully I didn't say anything dumb, and this will be of interest to our listeners. (Do keep in mind I wrote the responses for a general Trek audience, not a film score audience.)
When did you first have the idea for the CD?
Some time in the 1980s! I am kidding—sort of. While I have wanted a complete-score CD of Star Trek II for, it seems, my entire life, I only looked into it last year. The LP presentation had been on CD for many years from GNP/Crescendo (I wasn’t sure if or when it went out of print) and, more importantly, Paramount Pictures had never been open to specialty labels doing CDs of their film library. But last year a new administration at Paramount “opened up” for these sorts of projects and this was at the top of my wish list.
Could you provide some technical information for the more audiophile fans? In other words, are these from the original masters? Were there any challenges in bringing the recordings to modern audio requirements? Which mixes were used and how were they transfered? (Any cool audiophile trivia would be great here)
[I did provide two graphs here of audiophile trivia that you should go to trekmovie.com to read! Continuing with my unused interview material...]
The restoration—which is to say the remix of the three channels (left/center/right) to two (left/right) and editing, cleanup, etc.—was handled by Mike Matessino, assisted by Neil Bulk. Fans will recognize Mike’s name from dozens of soundtrack CDs, including the Star Wars Trilogy CDs and our Superman box set, as well as the Robert Wise Director’s Cut DVD of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. His ears are incredible and I trust him completely. The last step was for the digital mastering (the final rendering of the equalization, spaces between tracks, etc. for manufacturing) which was by Doug Schwartz at Mulholland Music.
Which of the newly restored tracks were you most excited about including on the CD? Why?
I love all of it—but “Enterprise Attacks Reliant” (the final space battle where the Reliant’s nacelle is blown off) was something I have wanted to hear apart from the picture since I was a kid. I remember getting the LP and being crushed when the program went from the end of the “Battle in the Mutara Nebula” to “Genesis Countdown” without the battle music in-between. I even bought a cassette of Star Trek II from a soundtrack dealer in the 1980s when he purported to have a “bonus track” on it (that turned out to be from Jerry Goldsmith’s The Cassandra Crossing)…I wanted that music so bad, I remember asking guys at the supermarket where I had a summer job if it was possible to record a movie soundtrack and erase the dialogue somehow. (I think one of them did A/V work on the side.) It’s weird when you start to dream about listening to a piece of music…I remember wishing I was James Horner just so I could play the music from the scoring session tapes.
Beyond that, it’s all marvelous stuff and a thrill to hear apart from picture…for example, when the Enterprise goes to warp speed in “Kirk Takes Command” there’s a part of the score that has always been obscured by the warp FX in the finished film—it’s fun, decades later, to realize oh, that’s what the trumpets are playing!
One tiny passage I was dying to hear in the hopes it would clear up a long-standing mystery—this gets very arcane. There was an article in Starlog in 1982 in which James Horner playfully claimed he used a “perverted” version of what he called “the Star Trek love theme” from the TV series for the moment after Chekov and Terrell get the eels put in them (“now, why are you here…?”). I had strained to hear this forever in the finished film but could not tell what theme he might have been referencing. I had hoped that hearing the cue on CD I might finally be able to make the connection—but alas, it’s still unclear. Maybe “Vina’s Theme” from “The Cage”?
Was there anything not included on the soundtrack that you wished you could have? If so, why wasn’t it included?
We got everything we wanted: the complete score, in excellent sound, and even added as a bonus the original epilogue music. Don’t get too excited—it’s nothing you haven’t heard before. Fans are likely aware that the footage at the end of Star Trek II of Spock’s casket on the Genesis Planet was a last-minute reshoot designed to add a bit of ambiguity to Spock’s fate and soften the blow of his death. What we did not realize was that James Horner also scored the original, shorter ending to the film, in which the last scene on the bridge (“I feel young”) segues directly to the starfield and Spock’s “Space, the final frontier” voiceover. It’s the exact same music, just omitting the 70 seconds for the Genesis Planet which Horner wrote and recorded later (he redid the entire “Epilogue” at the last recording session which is what is heard in the film and original album). So we have both versions on the CD; it was a very exciting discovery. (This also allowed us to present a version of the “Epilogue” without Spock’s narration.)
One thing we left off the CD—on purpose—was an “alternate” of the “Amazing Grace” funeral music…but it’s not really an alternate. Remember that 1982 Starlog article? Horner groused about having to use “Amazing Grace” and the bagpipes for Spock’s funeral. I remember thinking, “What’s the big deal? You did a fantastic job with it!” One of the things that likely frustrated Horner was that bagpipes are not naturally in-tune with a symphony orchestra—they will always sound “off” (one of the reasons people grimace at the sound of bagpipes) because they are literally in a different tuning. Horner recorded his orchestral funeral music twice—the same music in two different keys, trying to get close to the bagpipes (from “sharp” and “flat” directions) and find something tonally compatible. We used the version in D (per the film) and also had an E-flat version but there was no real reason to put it on the CD. We could have digitally retuned the bagpipes to match the orchestra but Paramount asked us not to apply such a revisionist approach. There is more documentation about this in the CD booklet.
We also have the electronic “Genesis Project” music by Craig Huxley. In fact, Craig got us a first-generation master from his vaults, and gave us a few words for the booklet.
What are the substantive differences between the previously available CD/tape and the newly restored CD both technically and with what is included music wise?
The previous CD, LP and cassette release was a 45-minute program while we have the complete score. Also, the previous issues used a two-track album master made in 1982 that was probably a few generations away from the original recording, whereas we have newly restored everything from Dan Wallin’s three-track film mixes. I wouldn’t say the sound is night and day compared to the previous issue, but it is much cleaner and better defined, without all that washy, brittle reverb that plagued the previous CD. (Incidentally, if you want to hear the original LP program, you can easily sequence it in itunes or on your CD player.) Finally, we have all-new program notes and a colorful 28-page booklet with many stills and even some concept art that was provided to us by Matthew Peak, son of the great Bob Peak who did the movie poster.
Considering the soundtrack was recorded nearly 28 years ago, what were some of the challenges in assembling the information for the extensive booklet notes?
We were very lucky: compared to most scores that we release on our FSM label, there were many interviews and articles about this one—in addition to the Starlog piece on Horner, there was a section in Cinefantastique’s coverage of the movie, plus a lot on the score in a pair of books by Allan Asherman (The Star Trek Interview Book and The Making of Star Trek II). Plus we had direct access to Nick Meyer. We’ve been at this a while so we know how to interpret studio recording logs and also get a hold of the musicians’ union scoring session data (did you know Meyer’s sister Constance was in the violin section? Now you do!)…we were able to research the score quite thoroughly.
There was one publicity photo that we desperately wanted to find an original copy of but all we could locate was this scan in an old issue of Billboard—see it here. Isn’t that cool?
For many fans, Star Trek II was their introduction to Star Trek itself and the film made them fans. What are your thoughts on the film itself and its place in Star Trek history? What are some of your thoughts about the soundtrack’s place in film music and Trek history?
I love this film and despite its great reputation I actually think it is underrated by the fans. Let me digress a bit and explain the primary difference between a movie and a TV show—and this is why most movies made from TV shows are lame: episodic TV is about the incremental changes (if that) of the characters, whereas a movie is the wholesale transformation of (usually) the main character. James T. Kirk on TV is basically the same character every week; he might be affected by the loss of Edith Keeler but next week he doesn’t say, “You know Spock, I’m still bummed out over Edith”—it’s over. And Data might be a little looser by the last episode of TNG, but he is basically still the Data we met seven years prior. Now, in a feature film, that won’t cut it—look at the journey of Luke Skywalker (over the course of three films), he goes from farm-boy to Jedi Knight and galactic savior. Movies made from TV shows are always doomed because you have to give people the “static” world they expect from the series—but how can you make that exciting for a motion picture, when by definition you need it to change to be interesting? So you either have to do an origin story (gee, what successful “reboot” just did that?) or completely reorganize the universe (cf. Mission: Impossible, the first film; this would be forbidden in Star Trek).
In Star Trek II, they did a new paradigm almost out of necessity—the actors were getting too old to put on their uniforms without addressing it, so instead of ignoring it (as in ST: TMP), they hit it head-on. So they lucked into (I say luck, but it was really Nick Meyer’s great skill as a storyteller—he wrote, uncredited, the shooting script) one of the great paradigms that DOES work as a feature film: the old guy, over the hill, finding meaning in his life. Not a true redemption story, but an existential tale of what is the purpose of my life? Why am I doing this? People think of Star Trek II as a Spock story because Spock dies, but it’s not—it’s a Kirk story. Kirk is a miserable figure at the beginning of the story, then he goes on a whirlwind adventure. And he is self-effacing the whole time, like the line, “We’re only alive because I knew something about these ships that he didn’t.” Well yes, you’re the leader—that’s your job. Throughout it all, he has his best friend who is serenely at peace; there is great subtext, even more than people realize, in the exchange about the needs of the many vs. the few (or the one). Spock is basically saying, you and I both have our different paths in the universe—mine is, at some unknown time, to take a bullet for you. Why? Because I have the self-composure to step in front of the bullet, and you have the skills necessary to lead everyone else to safety after I do. That’s why Kirk says “I feel young” at the end—he has rediscovered that there is value in his essential nature, he is a leader of men and if he does his job it will keep everyone else alive…so he has to do it, he can’t quit or mope or—this is very important—feel like he is indulging himself. Because that was really the trap he was in: “Galloping around the cosmos is a game for the young.” He was feeling guilty over the collateral damage of his essential nature—the madman villain, the illegitimate son. But Spock’s sacrifice completely justifies the fact that he likes his job—and himself—whereas he had been feeling guilty and borderline embarrassed before. Isn’t this amazing? It’s such a good film and has all these cosmic aspects to it—warp speed and nebulas and Genesis devices—but it really comes down to the fact that the main character at the end of the film discovers that he likes himself. It’s a great performance by Shatner, one that Meyer got out of him through a lot of diligent takes.
None of this is new, of course; people know this, intrinsically, just from watching the movie. But I don’t think you ever get this kind of honesty and focused storytelling about the series’ lead character (the Horatio Hornblower archetype) elsewhere in the franchise. They dance around it but never do it head-on. So it’s no surprise that Star Trek II continues to be homaged and ripped-off in subsequent stories (most egregiously in the Next Generation films but also in the new film). To me it often sounds like people singing a song phonetically without knowing the language; you can’t just kill a character, blow up a ship, quote literature or have the tone be “dark” in order to achieve the same results. Could Generations or Nemesis be any more lame in comparison? Nick Meyer says something interesting about Star Trek II which is that it almost could be any movie about a space captain and his friend, the fact that it is Star Trek is almost incidental—and I completely agree. And I think this is 100% the opposite of the new film, enjoyable as it is, which seems entirely dependent on the fact it is Star Trek.
Oh yeah—about the score. I love it and I remember the first time I ever heard it (as a kid) being swept up in the lushness and melody of it…all the violin “spaghetti” and chattering trumpets. When you’re a kid you don’t know about the orchestral antecedents, so for me it was like James Horner invented symphonic orchestration. And his approach is quite a bit different from other space scores like the Star Wars scores or Goldsmith’s ST:TMP…it is more flowing and textural. It is funny, as Horner’s career evolved, we learned that the “space symphony” really wasn’t what he was all about…he’s more about ethnic approaches and understatement and little, delicate wispy things. But when he was young and knew he needed to make a big splash, and the project called for it, he did this mammoth orchestration and did it better than just about anyone else in the world. He is a gigantic and prodigal talent—just listen to the subtleties of the scoring in Star Trek II, the French horn as Spock dies…I don’t know how anyone teaches this kind of ability. He just has it.
One piece of advice for aspiring film composers: listen to Horner’s interviews and they may be a little maddening because he doesn’t always answer the question, but the gist is this—he is a filmmaker, first and foremost. It’s not an act: he is there to be part of the team and make a great movie. The musical notes are almost beside the point. I am sure he has an ego as great artists tend to have but when it comes to the movie he is completely self-effacing and invisible.
Is there possibly going to be other Star Trek soundtracks getting this kind of treatment?
There are always…possibilities. Let me explain the problem. Paramount Pictures actually does not own the soundtrack album rights to at least the first six Star Trek movies (the ones with the original cast). Every two or three years, when Paramount did a new movie, they licensed the soundtrack album to whichever record company they were working with at the time, or wanted it the most. Those contracts are still active today—Star Trek I and V are with Sony Music (due to Columbia and Epic Records), II is with Rhino/Warner Bros. Records (due to Atlantic Records), III is with EMI (due to Capitol Records), and IV and VI are with Universal Music Group (due to MCA Records). In order for us to do Star Trek II, we had to license the soundtrack album from Rhino, and then negotiate with Paramount in order to add all the previously unreleased music and get the liner notes, photos and packaging approved. It amounts to licensing the score twice—once from the record company, once from the film company. We are used to doing this from many of our projects (as with Superman: The Music, our 8CD box set of scores for the Christopher Reeve films—owned jointly by Warner Bros. the film company and Warner Bros. the record company) but it’s a lot of legwork.
My hope is that over time either we or some of the other soundtrack specialty labels—although we are ostensibly competitors, we all know each other and are fans of one another’s work—might be able to tackle the other scores. But I would be surprised if anything happened soon, and I would rule out categorically any kind of box set due to the split ownership.
Could you tell fans a little about your own relationship with Star Trek? Are you a fan? When did you become a fan?
I am not wearing my Starfleet uniform right now but I do have it in the closet. Seriously: I bought a TOS Kirk shirt for Halloween parties. Afterwards I take it to the drycleaners: “Gotta clean the ol’ uniform.” One time I cut the pointy Star Trek sideburns. But you don’t want to hear this. Yes, I am a lifelong fan; I think I discovered it in syndication on TV in-between Star Wars movies coming out.
I want to thank all our collaborators; all of the folks at Rhino and Paramount who made this CD happen for us; trekmovie.com for this helpful publicity; and all of the fans especially. I hope you bask in the wonderfulness of this soundtrack as much as I do. For me, doing this CD is a dream project. Remember in American Beauty when the wife gets home and asks what’s with the hot rod in the driveway? I feel like Kevin Spacey: “It is the car I always wanted and now it is mine.”