Okay, serious question: Should we call William Shatner a legend? An icon? Or just think of him as an actor, writer, director and producer whose connection to the “Star Trek” franchise will make sure that he’s remembered for generations yet to come?
That wasn’t something Indiewire got a chance to ask Shatner about when we got him on the phone recently, because what Shatner wanted to talk about was the upcoming “Star Trek – The Ultimate Voyage 50th Anniversary Concert Tour,” which brings the music composed by Gerald Fried, Jay Chattaway, Dennis McCarthy, Mark McKenzie, Cliff Eidelman, Ron Jones and Jerry Goldsmith to the United States and Canada as a live theatrical, orchestral experience.
Below, Shatner explains what an actor’s relationship to the soundtrack is like, how that changes when you’re also directing the project and what makes the mind of a composer so magically unique. Also, together we figure out why it is that, for the last 50 years, Shatner’s never been happy with how his performance of the opening narration accompanies the theme music. An edited transcript follows.
How has life been treating you?
In general, life is treating me beautifully. It would be terrible of me to complain.
Indeed. How does it feel to be celebrating the 50th anniversary of “Star Trek?”
Well, it’s hard to believe that 50 years have gone by. Of course, that’s everybody’s comment, but the truth of the matter is, from its inception to now, it seems like the blink of an eye. I’m dealing with science-fiction here, as though there was time travel involved. But the additional elements to that statement is that this ultimate voyage, which links the music of “Star Trek” and the themes of scenes of “Star Trek” is a great way to celebrate the 50th anniversary. The music of “Star Trek,” which a lot of people don’t know about — most people don’t know about — is as innovative and as majestic as some of the elements of “Star Trek” itself.
There have been incredible composers associated with the franchise all this time.
I’m glad you recognize that. Some of the composers who wrote music for “Star Trek” would’ve been recognized as top composers in any other age.
Jerry Goldsmith especially, I’m always going back to some of his music.
That’s wonderful. I wasn’t aware that you were aware. Yes, Jerry Goldsmith. A great composer. I was talking to one of the composers of “Star Trek” yesterday and he was talking about restrictions by the producers, e.g. no drums, and trying to evoke grief musically, and the fact that he was able to and how the musicians and he went as the music was created for the scene. It was beautiful. It was something I didn’t know about, and so finding out about the music of “Star Trek” and the composer, where it was composed, when and what for, is really a unique piece of knowledge. The fact that it will be on stage with a 40-foot screen and 35 musicians is incredible. It’s going to be an incredible event.
It’s such a special opportunity to talk to an actor about his relationship with the music of his show.
I also directed one of the films of the original “Star Trek,” and I worked with Jerry, so I may be uniquely cognizant of the music, of Jerry Goldsmith and “Star Trek.”
After shooting, when you’re seeing your work paired with the music, what is that experience like?
It’s very much like the lyrics to a song without the melody, and then a rush of orchestration happens and the melody line is introduced and the lyrics are totally enhanced, totally different — the meaning is different, the compelling power of the lyrics become so much more. Music is a magical element where I never quite got the explanation of why we human beings respond to music, and that explanation of how we began music in the first place. Everything sings and communicates vocally, but nobody makes an instrument to imitate nature or imitate our voice. So then why does a violin appeal to us? So why does a reed instrument reverberate with us? That magic has never been fully explained to me, or how it was made and its appeal.
Coming from the directing side, how does music affect your experience?
Well, as a director, I was conscious and preparing a segment of it where I would have the music and I would say to the person working on the script with me, “Put down here, this is an area for the composer. I’m shooting film here so that there will be music behind this.”
When you were actually shooting it, with that in mind, did what Jerry Goldsmith wrote correspond with what your expectations were?
Invariably, it was more, because I couldn’t imagine. These composers are strange individuals, their minds work in quite a different way than ours. These composers think in musical terms, they’re thinking in notes, they see the notes, they hum the notes. The notes become words for them, and as far as we’re communicating in English, they’re communicating in “beep-bop-beep-bop!” It was amazing that they operate on a different level. Whether that’s better or worse, I don’t know. But it’s different.
With composing especially, it goes beyond just being a musician, writing a song. It goes into this realm of trying to communicate an emotional moment.
Exactly. And they have to feel that emotional moment and figure out which instruments would carry the notes they’re writing, and more so the arrangement than the notes, but it’s also the notes.
How involved are you with the tour?
I’m just helping them put it together, but we’ve achieved a level of getting together. It’s a real wonderful thing going on here, we’re planning all the shows.
In terms of using the music to celebrate “Star Trek,” what specifically about the music of “Star Trek” is it that makes it so iconic for you?
Well, it’s iconic because it was written for that moment in that show. Specifically, it would be like jewelry designed for you. It’s unique. It doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world besides that strip of film. That music strip is right there, or however they do it electronically now. It is prepared like a culinary dish — the spice is just for that dish alone, and that’s what the music does. It’s not only iconic, it’s unique.
What kind of relationship do you have with the original “Star Trek” theme, given the fact that your voice is paired with it in voice-over? Do you have a different relationship with it than a viewer?
Yes, I have strived on several occasions to make the music of my voice fit with the majesty of the music behind me, and I have not done it to my satisfaction. I don’t think I’m going to get another chance at it, but I’ve never been content with my interpretation of the “boldly go” sort of thing.
Yeah. Maybe I should’ve done it to the music in my ear. The thought never occurred to me, but maybe the music would have enhanced the way I would’ve said it.
Maybe. The first time you did it, I imagine you hadn’t heard the theme song before?
Exactly, so maybe that’s what was missing all this time — that I didn’t match the music, which I should’ve. That’s very interesting of you to bring that up.
I’m glad we figured it out.
But I don’t think there are many people who would complain about your performance in the theme.
I’m the only one who seems to be complaining.
Looking back on “Star Trek,” especially with time, do you have that many complaints still?
What I say about everything I do is that I wish I knew then what I know now, even if it was yesterday.
For more information about “Star Trek – The Ultimate Voyage 50th Anniversary Concert Tour,” visit the website here.
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