Home > Reviews > STAR TREK VI: THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY – Cliff Eidelman



Original Review by Craig Lysy

Star Trek VI was envisioned by Paramount executive Frank Mancuso as a rebound from the disaster that was the Star Trek V film, and a hand off the franchise to the Next Generation crew. As such he again hired Leonard Nimoy to write a script that would bring a memorable final adventure for our legendary crew. Drawing upon Gorbachev’s Glasnost initiative that catalyzed the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Nimoy fashioned a classic morality play, which dealt with the issues of racial prejudice, revenge, mistrust and humanity’s eternal search for “The Undiscovered County” – a lasting peace. The film begins dramatically with a cataclysmic explosion on the Klingon moon Praxis. The moon’s destruction fatally cripples energy production and the Klingons face the inevitable depletion of their ozone layer in 50 years, which will bring an irradiating end to their civilization. Chancellor Gorkon resolves to forge peace with the Federation and so bring to an end 70 years of unremitting hostilities, which he understands they can no longer sustain. Captain James Kirk and his crew are called upon by the Federation Council to escort the Chancellor to Earth, however reactionary elements on both sides jointly conspire to covertly sabotage the peace mission by attacking Gorkon’s vessel and assassinating him. Since the Enterprise appears to be responsible, Kirk and McCoy are remanded to Klingon authorities where they are tried, convicted and sent to certain death at the penal colony on Rura Penthe. A daring escape allows Kirk to regain the Enterprise and again save the day. He defeats the traitorous General Chang in battle and foils a second assassination of Klingon emissaries by Federation officers. The movie restored the franchise’s vitality, received critical acclaim and was a huge commercial success.

Director Nicholas Meyer relates that composer Cliff Eidelman’s tape caught his ear from the dozens he had screened and so brought him in for an interview. He advised that he did not want to reprise the usual main title approach of employing bombastic anthems for his film given its much darker narrative. Meyer recalls instructing Eidelman “the opening of Stravinsky’s Firebird as the sort of foreboding sounds I had in mind.” Two days later Eidelman returned with a tape bearing a synth version of a truly dark and foreboding main title, which exceeded Meyer’s expectations and so he was hired. He was provided a massive 86-piece orchestra with all sections significantly enlarged, a men’s chorus as well as an expansive array of exotic instruments. For his score, Eidelman provided several extraordinary themes. For our aging heroes we have four. First there is the Enterprise Theme, a bright and noble major modal statement carried by horns eroica. The theme is emblematic of both Captain Kirk and the Enterprise. Second there is the Battle For Peace Theme, a four-note statement on heraldic horns that is propelled by militaristic snare drums. Its restatement by strings with horn counters and sparkling percussion inspires and speaks to the film’s primary narrative – the battle for peace. Third, there is Spock’s Theme, a mystical and ethereal statement carried by a JD-800 synthesizer augmented with low register strings and a suspended cymbal. Lastly, Eidelman infuses Alexander Courage’s iconic Star Trek Theme, thus ensuring thematic continuity with the franchise. For the Klingons we have only two themes, but what a tandem! First we have the mysterioso “Firebird” inspired Enemies of Peace Theme, an ominous minor modal six-note repeating statement carried by celli and bass, which rises and falls like dark waves as militaristic snare drums and wordless male chorus amplify its menacing narrative. The theme speaks to nemesis General Chang and his Bird Of Prey’s lethal predator power that allows it to fire while cloaked. Arising from this theme is the Klingon Attack Theme, a fierce aggressive power anthem that draws inspiration from Holst’s Mars. Carried by horns barbaro and propelled by militaristic snare drums, this ferocious statement speaks to the hunter-warrior archetype of the Klingon species. Lastly, we also have the Conflict Theme, an aggressive presto paced piece driven by syncopated horns bellicose, which speaks to the critical urgency of the Enterprise’s pursuit and battle with the renegade Bird of Prey.

“Overture” is a score highlight and one of the most powerful and dramatic opening statements of the franchise. It is a ternary cue, which features interplay between three of the primary themes. We open darkly with the menacing and ominous power of the Enemies Of Peace Theme. At 0:58 ferocious horns barbaro declare the Klingon Attack Theme, which aggressively amplifies the foreboding opening narrative. We hear at 1:05 the four-note Battle For Peace Theme ascents on horns and propel the music with dramatic urgency. Militaristic snare drums amplify the melodic line and create a rising tension. A diminuendo ushers in the concluding Conflict Theme, whose fierce blaring horn line swells to a shattering crescendo that culminates on screen with the cataclysmic explosion of Praxis.

The following eight very short cues all provide brief thematic or underscore ambiance for their attending scenes. With “The Incident” Eidelman provides a dark and ominous narrative as Captain Sulu and the Excelsior crew attempt to absorb the aftermath of Praxis cataclysm. For “Spacedock” two dark repeating chords underscore the tension between Kirk and Spock as they shuttle to the Enterprise. With “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” harsh dark dramatic horns and militaristic percussion emote the Enterprise crew’s trepidation and revulsion as the Klingon Chancellor and his entourage board the Enterprise. In “The Trial/Morally Unjust Evidence” the ominous Enemies of Peace Theme ushers in a dark and uncertain fate for Kirk and McCoy who stand trial. In “Sentencing” ominous dark tonal bass and muted horns illustrate the certain death that awaits our heroes at Rura Penthe. With “Alien Fight” we experience driving primal percussion as Kirks fights for his life against a massive alien assassin. In “The Mirror” we hear percussive driven fight music as Kirk exposes Martia’s treachery and fights her. Lastly, in “The Undiscovered Country” the Khitomer conference attendees applaud Kirk and the crew for their heroism in saving Chancellor Azetbur from assassination. Kindred lyrical string lines join in a beautiful synergy from which rise the opening bars of the Enterprise Theme. We conclude with a fragment of Spock’s Theme as the Enterprise is seen in orbit with the Excelsior.

“Clear All Moorings” introduces the Enterprise Theme as the Enterprise again sets forth on another adventure. We open at 0:19 with sparkling chimes and sprightly woodwinds, which usher in the theme on trumpet. An inspiring reprise of the theme by strings leads to a segue into the Star Trek Theme nobly carried by French horn. We conclude with a stirring restatement of the theme that inspires and brings quivers to your author. Themes like this are why I love film score music. “Spock’s Wisdom” is a most complex scene. Outwardly Spock toasts and honors Velaris as his successor, yet the internal narrative is that of betrayal since Velaris conspires to subvert the peace initiative. The ethereal otherworldly sensibility of Spock’s Theme is perfectly attenuated to both Spock and this scene. The music is mystical, contemplative and tinged with an unspoken sadness. At 2:02 the mood is broken by the ominous Enemies Of Peace Theme with a scene change as the Klingon Battleship Kronos I joins the Enterprise. This is a well-conceived cue perfectly attenuated to the film’s narrative.

“Assassination” features the attack of Kronos I with photon torpedoes by what appears to be the Enterprise. As the ship loses internal gravity and power, a special ops team beams aboard and assassinates the Chancellor. This is an astounding score highlight with extraordinary writing by Eidelman who weaves together two competing musical narratives; the alarm and ensuing panic aboard the Enterprise, and the terror of the Klingons aboard their crippled ship. Ominous low register woodwinds and horns evoke tension until the first torpedo strike shatters its flow at 0:18. Discordant woodwind, panpipes and percussion emote the confusion of both crews until a second strike at 0:51 bring horrific clarity. From here fierce hard-edged percussion, hammering trombones, wordless male chorus and a solo horn emote Kirk’s alarm and propels the music. Interplay with the Enemies of Peace Theme enters at 1:09 and emotes the dark specter of treachery as well as the Klingons sense of doom. We close with snare drums, choral wailing and growling bass as the assassins wreak havoc.

In “Surrender for Peace” a drifting Kronos I slowly regains gravity, navigation and begins an avenging attack run. AT first, an eerie synthesizer sustain, wailing chorus and plaintive panpipes underscore the disabled Kronos I. This ambient line continues until 1:03 when snare drums slowly usher in the Enemies of Peace Theme as the Klingons regain control and Kronos I begins its attack run. Kirk wisely orders surrender in an attempt to deescalate tensions and forestall war. This moment is marked by the entry of the Conflict Theme at 1:25, which interplays with an eerie Enemies of Peace Theme now augmented by panpipes to conclude the cue. With “The Death of Gorkon” Kirk and McCoy board Kronos I, attempt to save Gorkon and are arrested following his death. A dark bass sustain with sparkling percussion mark the gravity of the moment. The Enemies of Peace Theme enters as Kirk and McCoy are arrested. A scene change to the Enterprise at 1:13 reveals Spock assuming command. An undulating string ostinato and muted horns underscore this tense scene.

“Rura Penthe” reveals Kirk and McCoy arriving at the frigid gulag. Eidelman cleverly chose to score the scene with a grim marcia funebre. The harsh alien setting is supported by a textural array of exotic percussion, panpipes, rattles, horns, piano and Klingon voices chanting “To Be or Not To Be.” This approach was ingenious and succeeds on all counts. We segue at 2:28 into “First Sight of Rura Penthe” where we see Kirk and McCoy introduced to their dank underground prison. Eidelman sustains his exotic textural approach to emote the prison’s alien soundscape as our heroes contemplate their dire straits. In “First Evidence” we see Sulu mulling over a dispatch that reveals the Enterprise’s refusal to return to space dock, while dark foreboding bass and metallic percussion echo a fragmentary Enemies of Peace Theme as Chekov discovers evidence. We explode into “The Search” at 0:42 atop the Conflict Theme after Spock orders a search of all crew uniforms. We end with a dramatic orchestral flourish when Velaris discovers bloodstained boots in a crew locker.

“Escape from Rura Penthe” features Martia leading Kirk and McCoy through a secret escape tunnel to the frozen surface. Eidelman sustains his use of exotic textural percussion, panpipes, rattles and horns to underscore the prison’s alien setting. A percussive ostinato commences at 1:29 and gains increasing potency and urgency as the three escape past the last guards. As they emerge onto the surface at 2:20, the music slows and conveys trepidation as the pass the frozen corpse of a former inmate. Ominous bass and eerie strings evoke the dire and precarious nature of their situation. As the camera pans out for panorama of the frozen landscape we hear Spock’s Theme emoted on a solo trumpet over a violin sustain, which portends his imminent arrival for rescue. I must say that the magnificence of the spectacular scenery is equally matched by a truly grandiose orchestral statement of Spock’s Theme, for which Eidelman includes a horn line playing a contrapuntal variant of the Conflict Theme. This contrapuntal line continues alone and gains percussive force and urgency with a scene change to the Enterprise at 4:02 as Spock and Ohura scan the surface. We conclude the cue with a plaintive oboe that ends with a dramatic flourish as Kirk helps a struggling McCoy to push on.

“Revealed” is a complex cue that spans five scenes. An echo of Spock’s Theme underscores Scotty’s discovery of the assassin’s uniforms. Then the Enemies of Peace Theme resonates ominously on bass as Chang learns of Kirks Escape. Eidelman escalates the suspense with the Klingon Attack Theme atop churning celli as Kirk and Spock contemplate the terror of a bird of prey that can fire while cloaked. Lastly low register celli and bass echo the Enemies Of Peace Theme as Kirk lays a trap to lure the assassin to Sick Bay. “Mind Meld” features the very forceful mental assault and violation of Valeris’ psyche by Spock. It is a purely textural cue supported by a low register dark bass sustain that is countered by high register string and synth chords that echo Spock’s Theme. Nicely done, this is minimalism at its best. With “Dining on Ashes” we deal with Spock’s distraught in the aftermath of his forced mind meld with Valeris. We hear a sad variant of the Enterprise Theme carried by solo French horn, clarinet and strings, which mirrors Spock’s inner state. A restatement by solo trumpet signals Spock’s reconciliation with what had to be done.

This final ternary cue is a tour de force and a score highlight where Eidelman weaves three of his core themes into a powerful statement. “The Battle for Peace” opens menacingly with militaristic snare drums and bass inquietante emoting the Enemies Of Peace Theme as Chang hunts the Enterprise while cloaked. We transition to a high register rendering of Spock’s Theme, which supports the tense countdown to the Enterprise’s arrival at Khitomer. A crescendo ushers in overtures to the Conflict Theme and we segue into “The Final Chance for Peace” at 1:22 with tense tonal writing as Spock and McCoy try to configure a torpedo to home in on the cloaked vessel. When Chang contacts Kirk and declares his intent to kill him, the battle is joined and all hell breaks loose. As we see the Enterprise struggling to survive as its shields collapse under Chang’s unrelenting assault we are treated to a fine interplay of both Klingon Themes and the Conflict Theme that rise and fall between tense diminuendo interludes. From here the music crescendos and becomes a horrific marcia dell’inferno as the Klingon Attack Theme become ascendant. We are not done! Slowly yet inexorably Eidelman begins a ferocious driving crescendo atop the Conflict Theme until an Enterprise torpedo is fired at 1:38, which ends the onslaught with a tense silence. We conclude with “The Final Count” where the torpedo finds its mark. Kirk and Sulu target their weapons on the explosion and pummel the bird of prey with a withering firestorm that destroys the vessel. Twin blaring horn blasts signal Chang’s well-deserved demise. We end the cue with a classic accelerando atop a furious Conflict Theme, which ends in a dramatic flourish as Kirk and crew beam down to save the day. This is just a stunning cue!

“Sign Off” is potent emotional cue in that it brings both our story and the journey of the crew we have come to love to an end. The opening bars of the Enterprise Theme sound on horns as Kirk bids Sulu farewell. At 0:22 a sad interlude follows as Kirk is ordered to bring the Enterprise home. Yet true to form, Kirk at Spock’s surprising bidding, again disobeys Star Fleet orders and instead orders the Enterprise onward to a new adventure! Eidelman fittingly scores the moment with the heraldic horns of Courage’s Star Trek Theme. As the film ends with each of the crew’s flowing signatures we are treated to a truly wondrous major modal statement. Eidelman introduces a four-note heraldic horn motif that joins in a masterful and refulgent interplay with the Enterprise Theme and Courage’s Star Trek Theme, which concludes the cue with a flourish! This cue always brings a quiver and a tear. Bravo! We complete our journey with the score’s masterpiece cue “Star Trek VI End Credits Suite”. Folks, this suite is a tour de force that features a magnificent interplay of all the major themes. We open with a refulgent and celebratory Enterprise Theme that just inspires with its heroic fanfare abounding. At 1:09 we segue atop solo flute and orchestra into Spock’s Theme, which builds to a stirring grandiose statement. From out this rises atop fierce horns bellicoso and militaristic snare drums the combative Klingon Attack Theme. At 3:12 we flow into a unitary statement of the Klingon Themes, which emote with a dark, aggressive and ominous power that swells defiantly atop militaristic snare drums and fierce horns. At 4:10 we segue into a dramatic and sterling rendering of the Battle For Peace Theme. A cymbal clash at 4:54 ushers in a diminuendo from which arises the Conflict Theme. Propelled by horns barbaro in a classic accelerando we appear to build towards a concluding crescendo, yet instead Eidelman brings closure with a sparkling rendition of the Enterprise Theme that ends with a flourish! Folks, this cue in my judgment ranks with Goldsmith’s “Enterprise” cue from “Star Trek I” as one of the best of the franchise.

As for the extras only the first trailer, which Paramount asked Eidelman to write merits commentary. “Trailer” opens with plaintive strings from which arises Spock’s Theme whose melodic flow is shattered by the fierce horns of the Klingon Attack Theme. This in turn flows into the tense Conflict Theme now joined by a contrapuntal line of the foreboding Enemies Of Peace Theme. The Conflict Theme prevails and we conclude with a dramatic sounding of Courage’s Star Trek Theme! Wow, this is an astounding cue, which offers enduring testimony to Eidelman’s genius. Regarding the remaining cues of the original album presentation, I found only slight variations that in my judgment are insufficient to warrant commentary.

This lover of Star Trek warmly thanks Lukas Kendall, Douglass Fake, Cliff Eidelman, Intrada and Universal Music & Paramount Pictures for this stunning and long overdue two CD release of the complete score to Star Trek VI. The sound quality is pristine thanks again to the expert mastering by Mike Matessino from the score’s digital 2-track stereo session masters and the trailer’s 2″ 24-track analog masters. Folk’s this is an epic score which features powerful multi-thematic writing of the highest order. Eidelman correctly interprets the film’s dark narrative, perfectly attenuates his music to the film’s imagery and demonstrates compelling mastery of his craft. His expert interplay between seven themes, use of instruments and tonal coloring all join in a wondrous synergy to yield a magnificent musical journey that will echo through time. I believe this score to be his Magnum Opus and highly recommend it as an absolutely essential part of your collection.

Rating: *****

Buy the Star Trek VI soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Overture (3:02)
  • The Incident (1:09)
  • Spacedock/Clear All Moorings (1:59)
  • Spock’s Wisdom (3:13)
  • Guess Who’s Coming (0:49)
  • Assassination (2:16)
  • Surrender For Peace (2:48)
  • The Death of Gorkon (2:07)
  • The Trial/Morally Unjust Evidence (1:13)
  • Sentencing (1:02)
  • Rura Penthe/First Sight of Rura Penthe (4:09)
  • Alien Fight (1:05)
  • First Evidence/The Search (1:33)
  • Escape from Rura Penthe (5:35)
  • The Mirror (1:17)
  • Revealed (2:48)
  • Mind Meld (2:06)
  • Dining on Ashes (1:01)
  • The Battle for Peace/The Final Chance for Peace/The Final Count (8:15)
  • The Undiscovered Country (1:07)
  • Sign Off (3:16)
  • Star Trek VI End Credits Suite (6:17)
  • Trailer (Take 10) [BONUS] (2:23)
  • Guess Who’s Coming (Alternate Version) [BONUS] (0:51)
  • Sign Off (Alternate Version) [BONUS] (3:31)
  • Trailer (Take 2) [BONUS] (2:20)
  • Overture (2:57)
  • An Incident (0:53)
  • Clear All Moorings (1:39)
  • Assassination (4:45)
  • Surrender For Peace (2:46)
  • Death of Gorkon (1:10)
  • Rura Penthe (4:22)
  • Revealed (2:38)
  • Escape from Rura Penthe (5:34)
  • Dining on Ashes (1:00)
  • The Battle for Peace (8:03)
  • Sign Off (3:13)
  • Star Trek VI Suite (6:18)

Running Time: 112 minutes 31 seconds

Intrada INTMAF-7117 (1991/2012)

Music composed and conducted by Cliff Eidelman. Orchestrations by Mark McKenzie and William Kidd. Theme from Star Trek composed by Alexander Courage. Recorded and mixed by Armin Steiner. Edited by Bunny Andrews. Score produced by Cliff Eidelman. Album produced by Lukas Kendall, Douglass Fake and Roger FeIgelson.

  1. May 7, 2012 at 8:15 pm

    Great review as always, Craig. I remember first watching this film years ago in my early teens, and being completely blown away by the dark orchestral fury. Need to revisit this album, and can’t wait to hear the complete release!
    Also, great to meet you last night!

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