Feb 12, 2011

TRON: LEGACY - Daft Punk

1982 saw the release of the groundbreaking, Disney sci-fi cult film TRON, written and directed by animator Steven Lisberger. The animator was inspired to create the digital world, known as The Grid, after getting a sneak peek of the revolutionary video game known as Pong in 1976. Leading the cast was Oscar winner Jeff Bridges as protagonist Kevin Flynn and Babylon 5's Bruce Boxleitner in the title role. The Shining and A Clockwork Orange composer Wendy Carlos provided an interesting musical score, using a MOOG & digital synthesizer and an orchestra. The film went on to become a moderate box office success and blew audiences away with it's stunning visuals and dazzling special effects. Strangely enough, TRON was disqualified by the Academy in the Visual Effects category because using computers for special effects was considered cheating back then.
Flash forward eighteen years into the future and a whole new generation of movie goers are introduced to the digital world of The Grid in 2010's highly anticipated sequel, TRON: Legacy. Former TRON director, Lisberger, took a back seat comfortably in the producer's chair and handpicked an unknown to take his place. In comes Joseph Kosinski, known only for some impressive direction in some CGI generated commercials for the Halo 3 and Gears Of War video games. Kosinki must have done an impressive job as Disney has hired him to update its other sci-fi live action cult classic, The Black Hole, slated for a 2012 release.
Returning to "play" in the world of The Grid are Bridges and Boxleitner, reprising their respective roles. Joining them are Eragon's Garret Hedlund as Flynn's son, TV's House hottie: Olivia Wilde and a very creepy CGI generated younger version of Jeff Bridges as the main antagonist.
This time around, a different composer would be chosen to bring the digitally generated world a musical voice. The obvious choice for such a film would probably have been Hans Zimmer or Harry Gregson Williams who seem to be Disney's go to guys for their live action fare. In an impressive and very fitting twist the electro-dance duo from France, known as Daft Punk (aka Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo & Thomas Bangalter) were chosen to provide the music. Known for chart topping dance hits, like "Around The World" and "Da Funk", Daft Punk wouldn't seem to be a qualified choice to score such a film. However, their music, flavored with hints of the electronic grooves of the '70's and '80's, would prove to be the perfect fit to a film that still echoes such an era both visually and stylistically.
Daft Punk, as a duo, is new to the world of film composing and at first, sounded like it would have been a disaster on paper. However one half of Daft Punk had all ready done a little bit of dabbling in the world of film scoring. Bangalter had provided a deeply frightening score for French director Gaspar Noe's incredibly disturbing film, Irréversible in 2002.
With a little bit of background in the film business the Daft Punk boys started working on the film two years prior to the film's completion. From the beginning they knew that a film this vast would not suffice to just the use of a drum machine and a synthesizer. In addition to their usual synths and other trinkets, they decided to back themselves up with an 85-piece orchestra. Having no real experience writing for orchestra the "Punk"s requested some uncredited help from Hans Zimmer and some of his Remote Control boys, most likely John Powell and Harry Gregson-Williams.
The final outcome of the score is surprisingly very impressive, considering it's from some newcomers to the world of film music. Although the sound does share some familiar ingredients with the modern action film, (electronics layered with live orchestra), Daft Punk uses it in an intelligent and refreshing way. While most composers today seem to be trying to hide the fact they are using electronics in their scores, the "Punk"s make no attempt to hide the electronics and it results in something really interesting and somewhat stimulating to a listener growing tired of the generic modern action score.
The score blends flavors of Vangelis, John Carpenter, Basil Poledouris and Wendy Carlos (although DP makes hardly any use of her original TRON score), then sprinkling it with some more modern sounds and techniques used by Hans Zimmer and Steve Jablonsky. The driving force of the orchestra merging with electronic '80's styled beats and sounds, creates a unique foreign soundscape unlike anything really heard in film before.
The album opens with a very impressive introduction to this brave new world, "Overture". I assume it's Daft Punk expressing that this is not your usual trip into their world, as the first track is purely orchestral. Opening with a noticeably muted yet very present brass section it builds and builds with numerous layers of strings until it is allowed to soar with a powerful heroic glory. This track, as simple as it may be, resonates with a power that feels both nostalgic and simultaneously new. It's almost as if it's a long lost score cue from 20 years ago. I simply love it.
Next up, is "The Grid" where we are treated to a monologue by Jeff Bridges that for some reason reminds me of Peter Cullen's Optimus Prime. Strangely enough, that's the only voice ever heard on the album and sort of sticks out. The theme is a Daft Punk styled reworking of the same theme we heard in "Overture". Only this time it's rearranged using strings and electronic rhythms, resulting in something surprisingly just as effective as it's predecessor.
Three cues into the album we are greeted with something that's more of a traditional Daft Punk composition. "Son Of Flynn" gives off a late 70's, early '80's ascending electronic fluttering that almost feels like data flowing across one's computer screen, ala Matrix. To be fair, it is different from a regular score piece but it just sort of sits in place and looks bored.
"Recognizer" is when the Zimmer influence becomes quite clear. It adds a new layer and electronic manipulation to a motif introduced in the first two cues, proving it to be it the first track to successfully merge orchestra and electronics with a near perfect effect. A charging low end string section introduces the track with a very subtle electronic rhythm running through an audio filter, as it builds itself up with a high end string section and some heavy doses of Inception style brass blasts. It finally soars into a bold statement of pure urgency and wonder. I might go so far as to say the duo manage to beat Zimmer at his own game with this piece.
Brad Fiedel's famous Terminator "bup-bup-bup-bup-bup" is an obvious influence on "Arena" and "Rinzler". It's a neat little nod to Fiedel but it never really goes anywhere interesting or adds a whole lot to what is all ready established. However, in "The Game Has Changed" the same percussive pounding is used to much better effect, with interesting textures weaving in and out of the forefront as a slight string ensemble is charging throughout the background, until it is gracefully pushed into the forefront with a tremelo effect. This paves the way for "Outlands" to begin with the same strings churning and undulating, as Daft Punk astonishes with an extremely strong orchestral cue that's reminiscent of Don Davis' orchestral work on the Matrix series.
"Adagio for TRON" is one of the strongest highlights of the entire album and a respectful nod to Samuel Barber's classic "Adagio for Strings". It begins with an absolutely gorgeous solo cello in the first half before Daft Punk lets an electronic current and some strong brass statements run through resulting in an extremely successful marriage of the two sounds before exiting with that mournful solo cello again. "Adagio" is perhaps the only rendering by DP that even remotely resembles any of Wendy Carlos' themes used in the first film.
Back-to-back tracks "End Of The Line" and "Derezzed" are the cues that will most likely please the average Daft Punk dance fan with their electronic club vibes. While equally electronically produced, "Solar Sailer" couldn't be more of a different creature, as it pleases the ears with a dream like ambience that takes one back to the days of Vangelis' Blade Runner.
"Rectifier" is a wonderfully orchestrated cue that could easily be played over the Mussorgsky "Night On Bald Mountain" segment in Disney's Fantasia. It looms over you with an intimidating sense of the ominous and dangerous, created by loud blasts from a heavy horn section and some loud string stings to boot.
"C.L.U." simply astounds the listener as the epic finale, of which I'm sure the Daft Punk boys were simply jumping up and down with joy when they first heard it performed by a live orchestra. It takes the main theme introduced in the first few tracks and absolutely blows the roof off with an increasing tension and excitement, until it suddenly drops off making you wonder if your heart just stopped.
The final three cues, "Flynn Lives", "Finale" and "End Titles" played together could be used as a very effective sampler of the wonderful main theme and statements made throughout the film. They take all the different elements heard throughout the duration of the score and meld them together seamlessly. Without a doubt one of these three tracks will appear on a Best of Daft Punk compilation in the future.
Daft Punk's TRON: Legacy is an accomplishment to be proud of for the duo. However, it leaves me wondering, whether or not another project will come along for the boys to score that fits their sound so perfectly. Had it been any other film I'm not sure their sound would be as successful or as entertaining.
Daft Punk fans might be left a little confused and wondering where all the dance hits are, while the classic film score fan will be left as equally confused wondering where all the lush moments of string solos and woodwinds performances are.
Once again Disney shits the bed with another soundtrack release and not only puts out a single album but also sends the collector on a wild goose chase for extra track releases all over the map that practically forces a collector to illegally download the cues.
First off is a 2-CD limited edition that is fairly easy to track down but only offers an extra 12 minutes of score. Mind you, it is quite good and isn't simply filler, it's just that it tries the patience a little to even think of making such a release.
It doesn't end there. Disney decided to add in extras to digital downloads as well, offering separate cues from iTunes and Amazon not available on any disc or with each other. To add to the annoyance, even more cues were made available through another offer that included some impressive remixes. In the end a collected 41 minutes of extra music is made available. You just need to be prepared for a world of frustration as you run all over the place to track it all down.
All in all, the single disc album presentation is all right but it can be fixed with a little bit of rearranging and editing to create a superior fan made edition. It's especially rewarding if you do go to the bother of tracking down the other not so readily available bonus material. With nearly 100 minutes of music available it can all be edited down to about 40 minutes of 5 star material and that's what I highly recommend.
In conclusion, I found Daft Punk's first real attempt at film scoring to be an incredibly successful one and makes me hope another project comes along that offers visuals that matches the duo's sound.
I'd like to finish this extensive review by stating that when I first heard that Daft Punk would be scoring TRON: Legacy I thought "oh shit, this is going to be a disaster".
I am happy to admit that I couldn't have been more wrong.

A VERY strong *** 1/2 out 5

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