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L.I. Underhill is a media critic and historian specializing in pop culture, with a focus on science fiction (especially Star Trek) and video games. Their projects include a critical history of Star Trek told through the narrative of a war in time, a “heretical” history of The Legend of Zelda series and a literary postmodern reading of Jim Davis' Garfield.

8 Comments

  1. them0vieblog.com
    September 11, 2014 @ 10:12 pm

    I think that McCarthy is vastly underrated. I'll concede that he's not even the composer I think of when I think of Star Trek.

    Obviously there's the Original Series guys, but when I think of the soundscape of The Next Generation, I think of Ron Jones. Yes, it was over-the-top, but when it worked it worked beautifully. In particular, I love Jones' underused Romulan fanfare (if I am being scathing, I could suggest that it is perhaps the most interesting thing about the Berman-era Romulans) and the "aw, heck, let's just commit to it" cheese of The Royale. And, of course, his score to The Best of Both Worlds. I think that The Next Generation lost a lot when Jones was let go at the start of year four.

    When it comes to DS9, I actually think of David Bell's scores as the ones that gave the show its unique flavour. I suspect I'm fonder of the last four seasons than you are, but Bell seemed to enjoy a great deal more freedom with his orchestra than McCarthy did – perhaps because Bell really came into his own on DS9 after Behr had taken over, where things were a bit more fluid, while McCarthy had already been receiving notes from Berman for seven years before Behr loosened things up on DS9.

    So McCarthy is most associated with Voyager and Enterprise in my mind. I think he did a lot of very good stuff on Enterprise, even if he is ultimately overshadowed by the theme tune. (Of course, this being Enterprise, the good stuff is often overshadowed in discussions of the show by the truly undeniably terrible stuff.) Nevertheless, I have a massive fondness for his "Archer" theme, which is really the soundtrack for what Enterprise kinda felt like it wanted be, rather than that show that it was.

    Great article. I really think that Star Trek soundtracks get glossed over in discussions of the show.

    Cheers,
    Darren

    Reply

  2. Ross
    September 12, 2014 @ 12:37 am

    I found myself tiring of the TNG theme by the time it was reused in Star Trek V. It seemed sort of unfair that they'd recycle the theme from the first film in both TNG and the fifth film, when it was so patently obvious to young-me that the theme from Star Trek IV was the best piece of music in the franchise and should be used for everthing from now on. (These days I think I have a bit of a preference for the Star Trek II theme).

    One thing I've always regretted was that we never got a modern reinterpretation of Alexander Courage's original theme music. I hear they actually did one for the 2009 movie, but decided not to use it.

    Reply

  3. Glenn
    September 12, 2014 @ 4:22 am

    Leonard Rosenman was instructed to write an interpretation of Courage's TOS theme for the main title of Star Trek IV–it's one of the samples available for the expanded edition of the score. It's…not great, sadly. After it was recorded, Nimoy and the producers decided to have Rosenman write a new main title piece with his own theme, though he did drop the TOS theme into the score toward the end of the movie, just like James Horner did at the end of Star Trek III.

    Personally, I love the version Michael Giacchino did for the end credits of the 2009 film, using every part of Courage's original piece and placing the melody in counterpoint to his new theme in interesting ways.

    Reply

  4. Glenn
    September 12, 2014 @ 4:49 am

    McCarthy's alternate main title was written first and was actually supposed to be the main theme for the show. When it was decided to use Goldsmith's theme, McCarthy arranged & conducted the opening and closing cues, and the Goldsmith section of the opening credits was edited into the original recording. (You can actually hear part of the first note of McCarthy's theme in the opening as used in the first season, before it was re-recorded as one piece for season…two or three, I think.) Even after his theme was replaced in the opening, McCarthy kept it around for a short time as Picard's theme, until it was dropped as part of the increasing Bermanization of the show's music.

    I always figured that the use of Goldsmith's theme was one of Roddenberry's decisions, and may have had something to do with the fact that The Motion Picture was the last time Roddenberry was really in control of Star Trek before the development of TNG. (Not that that has anything to do with the theme coming back for The Final Frontier; that's just due to hiring the same composer.)

    Just about every Star Trek soundtrack there's ever been has had an expanded reissue come out within the last five years (you can now buy every note Ron Jones ever recorded for TNG, for instance), and Farpoint is the most recent of them. The Farpoint score is now complete, but for me, the real gem there is the addition of McCarthy's score for The Arsenal of Freedom.

    It's hard to say who the quintessential Trek composer is for me. A lot of the great music for TOS' first two seasons seared itself into my memory through repetition, as did the scores for the first seven films. (Star Trek and Star Wars are, together, responsible for my lifelong love of film music.) McCarthy was a little too Bermanized to fill that role for me; my favorite McCarthy score is definitely Generations, with a nod to his DS9 scores for the same general time period–listening to the McCarthy disc of the 2013 DS9 set, it seemed like he was writing Generations for three or four years, and I ate it all up.

    Reply

  5. Josh Marsfelder
    September 12, 2014 @ 9:08 am

    Thanks for the kind words!

    Ron Jones seems to be the fan favouirte of the TNG composers. I do like and appreciate his work, but I have to say I'm less fond of his mini feature film approach than some others. That's not to say I don't think it's good, but I personally like a different style of Star Trek music than that. Next time we look at McCarthy, I'll talk about how, in spite of the limitations he sometimes faced, he still came up with a sound I think is very distinctive and appropriate.

    Definitely second your comments about Enterprise and "Archer's Theme". That was going to be the theme song for the show itself, and, like much about this show, it should have been. And of course his Voyager theme was a smash hit.

    Reply

    • Geoffrey Aldrich
      February 12, 2018 @ 10:29 pm

      Jerry Goldsmith composed the theme for Voyager, not McCarthy.

      Reply

  6. Josh Marsfelder
    September 12, 2014 @ 9:11 am

    You know I feel bad that you left this really lengthy, thoughtful comment and all I can think about right now is how bemused and pleasantly surprised I am that GNP/Crescendo is selling the soundtracks to Godzilla 2000 and Godzilla vs. Megaguirus alongside their Star Trek reissues. I've actually been thinking about Godzilla movies a lot recently, in particular those two, so I was admittedly taken aback to see them. Great stuff!

    Reply

  7. them0vieblog.com
    September 12, 2014 @ 9:42 am

    Well, to be fair, the mini-feature approach was mandated. The composers feature on the blu ray has the various composers discussing how Berman thought it made the show sound "cheap" – that it would look to casual viewers like they were recycling musical cues to save money.

    (And, for all the stock complaints about Berman, he never made a decision without a clear logic behind it. I can respect that concern about a syndicated science-fiction drama series in 1987 being perceived as "cheap" in any way. It may not be a creative decision with which I would agree, but it makes sense from Berman's perspective – Berman deserves the vast majority of credit for that beautiful polished look and feel of The Next Generation's production.)

    On that feature, McCarthy talks about the pain he had trying to sneak in Picard's theme during the first two years, with Berman frequently catching him out.

    (Although, in Jones' defence, I think that he did it just as much. The seeding of the Romulan motif in The Neutral Zone and The Defector, the faint traces of that iconic cue from The Motion Picture echoing in some of his Klingon scores or the way that the faintest of traces of Q Who? can be heard on The Best of Both Worlds.)

    Cheers,
    Darren

    Reply

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