The score to Star Trek: Nemesis represents a significant milestone in the career of composer Jerry Goldsmith. As the tenth addition to the long-running Star Trek movie franchise, Nemesis is the composer’s fifth return to Gene Roddenberry’s fantastical universe. Teamed with director Stuart Baird, with whom he has more recently collaborated for Executive Decision (1996) and U.S. Marshals (1998), Goldsmith provides a versatile score that contrasts the unsettling machinations of the villainous Shinzon with the heroic pursuits of a defiant Federation, incorporating musical glimpses that invoke the memory of the Starship Enterprise’s finest moments over it’s 23 year voyage of cinematic discovery.
The album begins with an exploration of "Remus", the Romulan sister planet. Unearthly synthetic textures and a subdued trumpet solo provide an air of wonder as a condensed statement of Alexander Courage’s theme for the original television series firmly establishes the audience in familiar territory. The music unremittingly drives forward with a strident, manipulative motif for celli and French horns, underpinned with timp ostinato and syncopated electronic percussion. Wonderment, though, is soon replaced by overtones of menace as "The Box", a horrific device that Shinzon uses to seize political control of Romulus, is introduced. For this, Goldsmith juxtaposes the slow decay of low-pitched electronic pads with a suffusing dissonant crescendo, finally converging the dying ferocity into a hideous triumphal march.
With a change of dramatic scenery comes a transformation of instrumental texture in "My Right Arm". Quiet contemplation, particularly exemplified by a poignant oboe solo, signifies the betrothal of two long-standing members of the Enterprise’s crew. However, this fanciful mood is quickly shattered by the re-adjustment of Enterprise’s course in "Odds and Ends". Chilling drones and the recurrent chromatic descent of further inhuman sounds precede one of the film’s set-pieces, a drive across harsh desert terrain to recover the scattered remains of a synthetic life form. For this sequence, the composer provides yet more harmonically-rich thematic material as well as a subversive motivic correlation with the ominous "Remus".
Goldsmith cements the key thematic fabric that binds the rest of the presented score together as Lt. Commander Data "Repairs" the newly-recovered android. Here he introduces two connected motifs, the first a moving tutti passage for unison celli, for Data. The second a highly-contrapuntal motif for cello, with malevolent portamenti markings, and accompanying electronic ostinato. As these ideas concede to further atmospheric underscore, Goldsmith then transforms this secondary idea into a disturbing motif for brass before the cue’s diminutive resolve. Following this, the album continues with "The Knife", a cue that incorporates restrained underscore and symbolic bell chimes, synonymous with the enigmatic Shinzon and first heard at the opening of "The Box", whose presence further infuses "Ideals".
The final portion of the score features some of the most engaging action music that the composer has ever written. Goldsmith’s discordant brass motif from "Repairs" now re-appears, resolving the pensive nature of the cue’s uplifting opening and satisfying a tense plot point of great significance that is reflected in the all-out action of "The Mirror". In a worthy homage to the success of Star Trek space battles of old, Goldsmith revisits compositional ideas from Star Trek: The Motion Picture as can be heard in "The Scorpion". A highlight of the album, this cue is propelled by its compound meter, angular string arpeggiations, and threatening low brass, before its familiar, optimistic conclusion. However, this optimism soon gives way to doubt as "Lateral Run" commands apprehensive electronics and a full-bodied compliment of brass to pave the way for a re-statement of pivotal thematic material. Only the deceivingly passive orchestrations of "Engage", which climax in a militaristic frenzy, remain before the composer delivers one of his most outstanding cues, "Final Flight". Whilst Picard and Shinzon vie for the fate of mankind, brass flourishes and a return of the strident motif from "Remus", here scored solely for cello, break way to a final statement of the Reman’s motif, a masterful interplay between the coupling of lower brass and percussion against the rousing imitative discourse of French horn and first violins. Like Jean-Luc, Goldsmith plays his trump card decisively, scoring Picard’s final move as an exceptional act of valour in a mass of primeval tone-clusters, striking percussive triplets, and melodic heroism. As "A New Friend" casts a hopeful eye over the proceedings with the return of the poignant oboe solo first heard in "My Right Arm", "A New Ending" closes the album in reflection. Contrasting the events of the film’s finale with the endearing legacy of the Starship Enterprise, the album concludes in a blaze of glory led by Goldsmith’s own Star Trek fanfare.
The score to Star Trek: Nemesis is, without a shadow of doubt, one of Jerry Goldsmith’s finest and most intricate contributions to his body of work. It rightfully deserves much acclaim and stands as a testament to his ability to read film in a way that few contemporary film composers can. Nemesis is a score filled with many great qualities and, given Goldsmith’s ability to compose idiomatic melodic material which is dexterously-phrased, it challenges the talented studio musicians to deliver a great performance, which engineer Bruce Botnick captures perfectly (and here an acknowledgement of the Paramount Scoring Stage’s marvellous acoustics is due). I should add also that the composer’s use of electronic instrumentation in this score shows a great maturity, as opposed to incongruity. Such timbres are well-suited to providing both an accurate depiction of the film’s soundscape as well as resounding dramatic impact that, whilst cannot always be reproduced outside of a film, do not make for anything less than an enjoyable listening experience.
I realise that my comments regarding this score are not shared, and most probably will never be, by the vast majority of Goldsmith’s critics, many of whom have already had much to say about this score despite the film not yet being on general release at the time of writing. Indeed, it is very likely that the many supporters of the composer who read my comments will duly welcome them in a vein that is more reverential of the individual than of this achievement. However, I wholly stand by them as I for one was not expecting the bold assertions made in announcing this soundtrack album’s release, by Varèse Sarabande, to ring true. Thankfully, I was wrong.