This week, we’re delving into the gaming world for a listen to the soundtrack for Star Trek, the video game published in 2013 by Namco Bandai.
I’ll start off here with a confession: I’m not a gamer. I don’t play video games, console games, whatever the proper nomenclature is. I’m more than happy to sit back and watch my son battle his way through Anthem or any of the Assassin’s Creed titles than pick up a controller and have a go myself. That being said, I became aware of this particular Star Trek video game (I’m guessing there are others) simply because it was… well, Star Trek. I didn’t play it, though.
Set between the 2009 movie and 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness, the game takes the premise that the Gorn have stolen a terraforming device from the New Vulcan colony and Kirk and Spock are assigned to investigate said theft. The rest, I guess, is up to the player/s – but I’m not here to talk about that. I’m here to talk about Chad Seiter’s specially-composed score.
It might be something of a challenge, mind, because I have no specific basis of reference to the scenes/sequences/game-play that Seiter actually composed for. But bearing in mind this is a game set in the Kelvin Timeline (and therefore one I’m already familiar with) with a plot that is pretty straightforward, I think I should be okay.
So… you ready, player one? (See? I get the lingo!)
Seiter himself is no stranger to Star Trek, even if the name isn’t initially familiar to us. He was for a while an assistant to one Michael Giacchino and has followed in his footsteps by scoring for a number of other games (including LEGO Jurassic World and Fracture). He provided orchestration to Giacchino’s score for 2009’s Star Trek and so was an obvious choice to provide original music for the Namco Bandai game spin-off. 123 members of the Slovak National Symphony Orchestra perform the music and when it sits alongside Giacchino’s own work for the Kelvin take on the saga, it is a worthy entry.
In fact, in some ways it surpasses Giacchino’s source material, and here’s why:
I mentioned in a previous article about Giacchino’s score for Star Trek Beyond that there was a lack of elegance which stunted my full appreciation of the work. Admittedly, elegance isn’t something that is prevalent here either but Seiter’s input is very exciting. It’s also very, very militaristic and the most militaristic and bombastic of any music composed for the franchise to date. It has its own continuity and it never lets up in its approach. I’m having to assume that this is because of the media it was written for, that gameplay is a constant and something that requires the interactivity of the player: as a result Seiter’s score very rarely lets up.
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It’s interesting, the fact that this is Star Trek music at its most militaristic. When you think of the concept outline from Gene Roddenberry that this was originally a ‘wagon train to the stars’ and that the characterizations of Pike, Kirk and then Picard all stem from CS Forester‘s thoughtful Horatio Hornblower, to be presented with music that wouldn’t be unwelcome in Medal of Honor (interestingly, a series of video games that have in the main been scored by Giacchino) or even a modern Hollywood war movie, feels a little strange. When we think of James Horner’s work for Star Trek, we cannot help but be drawn up to the stars with him, with his sweeping vistas and emotive melodies.
Yet Seiter’s brutal, in-your-ears score works surprisingly well.
‘Main Titles’ expands upon Giacchino’s own main Star Trek theme, one that rarely saw anything beyond the painfully short opening titles, touched on during action sequences and relegated to the end credits. Here Seiter gives it a full, symphonic treatment and is easily the best version out there. Lots of percussion, lots of bass and interweaving melodies that enhance (and always come back to) Giacchino’s composition.
With scored scenes such as ‘Medbay Shootout’, ‘Red Alert’, ‘T’Mar Is Kidnapped’, ‘The Enterprise Chase’ and ‘The Mountain Jump’, Seiter’s action work is relentless. Yet there are very few melodic passages and it’s Seiter’s reliance on Giacchino’s main theme that allows moments of clarity.
And in a change of pace, ‘Trouble With Tricorders’ and the opening refrain to ‘Gorn Hegemony’ present us with lovely brooding low notes, emphasizing tension without letting up on the drama. Then we’re back with the action onslaught. It’s a wild ride for sure and distinctly self-indulgent and excusably so, right up to the Giacchino-inspired pun ‘To Boldly Gorn’. There is no Alexander Courage fanfare and, actually, it’s not missed (something I never thought I’d ever write!): this is because of Seiter’s style and his controlled use of Giacchino’s creation.
There are many out there who have criticized Star Trek: Discovery‘s plots for being too battle-driven and I’m sure they would have issue with Seiter’s musical take on the franchise here, as well. That said, I don’t think this score would fit well within a TV episode or motion picture (unless it was a gung-ho, Bruce Willis-vest wearing, growling, pyrotechnic-fulled ‘Trek and the Furious’), but in the context of a video game it’s very successful – and good fun to listen to, especially on dull car journeys.
Next time: Jerry Goldsmith’s Star Trek V – The Final Frontier.