Jerry Goldsmith was a genius.

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Jerry Goldsmith was a genius.

Postby Jeff » 2008.03.13 1:46 am

I'm often surrounded by Star Trek. As I write this, I'm wearing a Starfleet Academy hoodie, there's a photo on my desk of me in a Borg regeneration chamber, and my desk lamp is adorned with the small communicator pin that I wore on my tie at my wedding. Also, one of my Next Gen DVDs is playing on my laptop. I've got it bad, you could say.

Anyway, I'm sitting here editing an episode of what's essentially a cable-access show, and amidst the flood of now six-year-old feelings (PTV is dead; long live PTV) my mind has wandered into the territory of film and TV scores. I hearby declare that Jerry Goldsmith could beat both John Williams and Danny Elfman in a fist fight.

Don't get me wrong, the Raiders' March is timeless. And some would argue that Star Wars has one of the greatest orchestral soundtracks of all time. Not me. It's not great, it's just familiar. John Williams doesn't know how to calm the fuck down. It's like he's conducting from an open-topped jeep, slamming it into gear and yelling "Yee-haw!" before putting the pedal to the floor and driving it into the wall. He's also got the annoying habit of returning to his main theme too much in the supporting pieces. They don't breathe on their own. However, I can't deny that the Imperial March is one of the ultimate bad-ass evil themes. You'd think this guy at least knew his marches, but no... Listen to "The Gungans March" from Phantom Menace. I dare you. Williams loses for lack of ability to tone down his pieces in any way that sounds natural.

Danny Elfman... Now I love this guy. "Breakfast Machine" from Pee-Wee's big adventure? The best Batman theme... ever? Beetlejuice, Nightmare Before Christmas (words and music? you clever bastard...), Edward Scissorhands... Wait--can he do anything without Tim Burton? Oh yeah, Mission Impossible (the 1996 one), Men In Black... So he brings a lot more to the table than One Trick Williams. Still, he's really recognizable, and that's kind of his major flaw. He fits in so well with Burton because his scores are as identifiable as Burton's signature style. Elfman hunting is like shooting fish in a barrel. You can tell any movie he scores. This can actually take away from the movie--you know you're hearing an Elfman score, so you assume certain things about the flick as a whole. In short, he doesn't tailor scores to films, its vice-versa. So, while some damn fine work comes from this guy, he's cursed to have too distinctive of a sound.

Goldsmith is best known for his work in Trek, but he's not the only fellow to lead an orchestra in Roddenberry's name. Let's look at some of his peers:

James Horner. Fuck this guy. He did Wrath of Khan, and that movie's score seems to go through seizures. Like Williams, he also suffers from playing the "variations on a theme" card way too much. He did Search for Spock, and the Klingon theme is deplorable. You can borrow the end credits from Goldsmith, but not the Klingon theme? What the fuck?

Know what else Horner did, outside of Trek? Titanic. That's right. Most expensive movie ever, and their composer is using fucking synths left and right, even sampling choir choruses! Puke. He also spun the whole theme around a Celine Dion song, which should be a capitol crime. Seriously, watch the movie again, and listen to how many times that fucking song gets alluded to in the score. It's disgusting. You'll want to punch the next flutist you see.

Leonard Rosenman. Who? Heh, this guy contributed to Trek by giving us the score to movie IV. It sounds nothing at all like Star Trek for the most part, and I guess that was the point, seeing as the majority of the film was set in 20th century Earth. So for that reason, it works, but the guy couldn't write an all-encompassing classic theme if his life depended on it. Even his few future themes relied too heavily on his main, upbeat fanfare, and it came out muddled. A for effort though, fella. A standard Trek score doesn't work in 1980s San Fransisco, so you made some good choices.

Dennis McCarthy is responsible for the DS9 theme and some pretty choice passages from that show, Voyager and TNG. However, he, like Jay Chattaway, doesn't really break out of the episodic scoring method. Generations should have felt much larger than it did, and the music is mostly to blame.

Let's get on to the man himself. Goldsmith is untouchable. So much of the first feature film was garbage, but the score was fantastic. He built on the Alexander Courage theme in such a way that he didn't really steal it, but it's certainly not subtle, and then blew it out of the water with a score that's now as, if not more, closely associated with Trek as Courage's work. He made the Klingon war rally and kept it going so that it became the "I'm about to tear some shit up" cue for Worf in later works. His theme is used everywhere in Trek. It became adapted to be TNG's opening credits music, and followed that crew to the big screen, growing up with them. I still think he was at his best with First Contact, finally giving the Borg some ballsy theme music. Pay attention, Horner. That's how you play with synthesizers.

He tried, oh, how he tried, to save Nemesis. Apparently, some Paramount executive kept bitching "Louder! Darker! Bigger!" but he still had his moments. Hell, he even brought in the First Contact suite to try to fix things. Listen to "Repairs" if you get the chance. It's like his way of saying, "When Frakes was at the helm, things didn't suck like this." Poor guy. He scored another stinker in ST:V, but that was like putting a pretty pink bow on a bag full of garbage. Nice score, shit movie.

Insurrection is an example of what Williams simply can't do. Goldsmith goes from a blaring rendition of his familiar opener to the demure (wait, is that a fucking harp? Jesus!) Ba'ku theme and it seems perfectly natural. Not Luke-looking-at-the-twin-sunset-while-a-blaring- orchestra-tries-to-sound-moving, but an actual successful transition. He does it again when he switches to the Federation outpost. Perfect organic flow.

He's probably more well known for his stuff outside of Trek. Ever pop in a DVD from Universal? Know that theme that plays when the words come in over the planet? All Jerry, baby.

And check out this list:
Movies: Our Man Flint, Planet of the Apes (Heston version), Tora Tora Tora, Patton. Papillon, Logan's Run, The Omen ('76 verson), The Boys From Brazil, Alien, Poltergeist, Secret of Nimh, First Blood (you're shittin' me...), Gremlins, Explorers (I would single this one out were I in the mood. It's an excellent, excellent score.), Basic Instinct, IQ, Congo, First Knight, Air Force One, US Marshals, Mulan (he broke into Disney?!), The Mummy, TV: Perry Mason, Thriller, Dr. Kildare, Man From U.N.C.L.E. (give it a listen, it sounds like the inspiration for his Trek theme), Room 222, The Waltons (hahahaha! The fucking Waltons?! He's everywhere!), and Star Trek: Voyager (only because I forgot to mention it earlier).

You did good work, sir. Damn fine work.

This leaves me wondering about Trek XI. Goldsmith obviously can't score it, but will they keep his theme? Michael Giacchino is running this ship, and what do we know about him? Oh yeah, he's from Abrams' personal camp. He's done Alias and Lost, and they sound oddly Goldsmithesque, don't they? Listen to the brass in Lost, you hear Goldsmith's Klingons? The weird mix of classical instruments and industrial noises in the Alias theme sounds a lot like Jerry's Borg. He also did Incredibles, which sounds like one of Goldsmith's 60s TV show themes. You could have told me Jerry Goldsmith did that movie, and I would've readily belived you. I really like this guy. I think Trek is in good hands.

Fast forward about halfway through that video. Giacchino turned Three Dog Night's Shambala into something orchestral, and it's awesome.

I'm tired now. End of rant.
I do what I can.



Postby Guest » 2008.03.15 4:30 am

Only a fool would argue that Jerry Goldsmith was anything but a genius, and he certainly did a wider range of movies than Williams (Jerry scored two animated movies - three if you count Looney Tunes: Back In Action - whereas J.T. has yet to do even one), but there's really no need to knock Williams.

He has more to his bow than George Lucas movies - Schindler's List, Stanley & Iris, The River, Presumed Innocent, A.I.: Artificial Intelligence and even Stepmom are not the work of a man who "doesn't know how to calm the fuck down." And even Goldsmith agreed that Williams deserved to beat him for the Oscar with Jaws (against Goldsmith's The Wind and the Lion). They're both among the all-time greats. (And fair play to Williams - he set the template for comic book scoring before Elfman, even though he only did ONE movie like that... unlike Elfman. Which isn't an insult - he's another of my favourites.)

Now James Horner... now there's a guy who copies himself waaaaaaaay too much, which is the reason I can't get behind his Titanic score - too much like other stuff he's done. And he fancies himself to boot. That said, James Cameron movies aren't usually known for their great music (apart from The Abyss) and Horner's Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan work is one of his best scores. Unlike the one he did for the next movie.

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