A visually extraordinary and belated sequel to the 1982 cult hit Tron, Joseph Kosinski's Tron: Legacy (2010) famously only took 64 days to shoot – but post-production lasted a staggering 68 weeks! Even more amazingly, it was the director's film debut. The original Tron capitalised on every geek's fantasy – what if you could disappear inside a video game? Unsurprisingly, the mega-budget sequel improves on the blocky graphics of old and conjures a sleek, neon-inflected world that is a marvel to behold. The film is also noteworthy for featuring a CGI "de-aged" version of Jeff Bridges as the central villain – although Bridges stars in his human form as well. Aside from the special effects and technical aspects of the production, the most noteworthy aspect of the film is the sublime, outstanding score by Daft Punk. Like Kosinski behind the camera, it was their debut film score. Comprised of French electronic musical duo Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel De Honem-Cristo, Daft Punk achieved massive popularity through their house-synthpop style and hit club singles like "One More Time" and "Harder Better Faster Stronger" (later sampled by Kanye West).
The duo are also famous for their sense of theatricality during their live shows, which often incorporate story components and disguises (they are frequently seen wearing helmets, which adds to their mystique). Daft Punk's cinematic sensibility therefore made them an inspired, if unexpected, choice to score Tron: Legacy and director Kosinski should be applauded for his astute musical understanding. The film's producers had initially approached the duo in 2007 but they were unavailable due to touring commitments. Eventually they were signed, although Daft Punk had to turn down a chance to score Gaspar Noe's Touching the Void in the process.
Put simply, Tron: Legacy is a cutting edge example of how to incorporate electronics with an orchestra. Hans Zimmer's Inception (another 2010 release) may have snagged more of the limelight (if only because it was attached to a much better film) – but Daft Punk's work is light years ahead in terms of texture, soundscape and innovation. However, it is important to highlight the issue of time: the French twosome were given two years to work on the score, from pre-production to post. That's a staggering amount of time rarely accorded to most film composers who, if anything, must often work on an accelerated schedule of months or even weeks.
But while there's no denying that those two years clearly afforded Daft Punk the time to hone and refine the score, what really resonates is their innate feeling for cinematic themes and notable musical building blocks that give the score a sense of structure. Refreshingly and perhaps surprisingly given their background, they commit to the Jerry Goldsmith school of thought which is that, for all the electronic bells and whistles, the orchestra should never be sacrificed.
The two elements (synth and orchestra) are both beautifully handled, resulting in a score that's possessed of a unique, thrilling texture. Working with regular Zimmer collaborator Gavin Greenaway (who conducted the score) and arranger/orchestrator Joseph Trapanese, Daft Punk made it very clear that the score was designed as an homage to numerous composers and film scores. First and foremost, they were sure to pay due deference to Wendy Carlos, whose pioneering work on the original Tron, not to mention other 1980s films such as The Shining, earned her a place in film music history.
The score is built around a powerful, heroic theme that is first introduced on low horns at the start of "Overture" (lovely to see a recent score with one of those) before it gets a spine-tingling electronic statement in the second half of the track, one that concludes with a spectacular timpani-led crescendo. "The Grid" is a heavily electronic piece with a distinctly rhythmic synthpop beat. The main theme again gets a dramatic reprisal in its electronic form, showcasing its malleability. There's even a segment of narration from Jeff Bridges' character Kevin Flynn.
"Son of Flynn" begins with synths above noble horn lines before a rhythmic action track takes over in "Recogniser". Beginning with pulsating electronics atop choppy staccato strings, gradually more and more layers are added, building into a terrific statement of defiance. Mysterious minimalist synths open "Armory", calling to mind the classic works of Vangelis and John Carpenter, and its followed by the dreamy "Arena" that opens into a vast, bold soundscape that is brilliantly cinematic. This is superb music.
Both "Rinzler" and "The Game Has Changed" then take the score in a darker, more harshly percussive direction, evoking a much starker sense of danger and an imminent sense of battle. The superb "Outlands" then follows – one of the scores best tracks, it's a surging orchestral-electronic piece that builds to a sensational finale (it was also heard on a Virgin Money advert a couple of years ago). It calls to mind another composer – Danny Elfman, specifically his ground-breaking work on Tim Burton's Batman.
The beautiful "Adagio for Tron" then takes the score in a different direction, adding a calming texture to the score and preventing it from becoming too overbearing. As you'd expect from the title, it's an unexpectedly moving lament with special emphasis placed on moving strings before ethereal, tasteful synths are added. The string solo towards the end is especially beautiful. On listening to such sophisticated, intelligent film music as this, you'd be forgiven for thinking that Daft Punk had been doing it for their entire career.
"Nocturne" re-introduces the main theme in a soothing, subtle fashion. "End of Line" and "Derezzed" change the mood again, taking us into a heavily processed dance context to reflect the nightclub to which the characters travel in the film. Of all the tracks in the score, these are the ones that most explicitly hearken back to Daft Punk's roots – listen carefully and what appear to be 8-bit samples can be heard amid the churning electronics.
"Fall" draws us back towards a more cinematic context, the synths given a harsher, more abrasive edge as the dramatic strings and brass again complement them brilliantly. "Solar Sailer" is possibly the most beautiful track on the album – a throbbing electronic pulse gradually building into a haunting electronic statement on top of which are further dreamy layers of undulating synths. "Rectifier" continues on an especially dark note with rumbling piano and driving strings in the manner of a horror score (specifically Wojciech Kilar's Dracula).
The purposeful "Disc Wars" again introduces a noteworthy element of percussion, which is used a bedrock for yet more layers of strings and synths that pile up on top. Unsurprisingly, Hans Zimmer's influence is especially notable in tracks such as this (little wonder given Greenaway's presence as conductor) – but if anything Daft Punk's work tops them all. The wonderful "C.L.U." builds the main theme into its most heroic statement on the album across four gripping minutes before the eerie "Arrival" again carries overtones of Vangelis.
"Flynn Lives" ushers in the noble horn statement of the main theme heard in the "Overture", this time above a bed of racing strings and an electronic effect that sounds like an EKG machine. The eventual explosion of the theme at the track's conclusion is utterly brilliant, the sort of brazen statement that is not fashionable in many scores nowadays. That leaves us with the final two tracks, which effectively sum up the two sides of Daft Punk's compositional personality. "End Titles" is another overtly dancy rendition of the central theme before "Finale", after a surprisingly broody start, adds a tender sense of string-led optimism and a final layer of resounding brass to end the score on an triumphant note.
Nowadays, originality is often hard to come by in film scores. Even when a composer successfully apes a past master or deliberately sets out to create a pastiche of a golden age classic, they are frequently met with criticism that it's all been heard before. That's why scores like Tron: Legacy need to be championed and celebrated. Not only does it prove what can be done with the often fractious relationship between 'natural' and 'manufactured' musical styles – it also demonstrates that such a fusion is for nought if there's little dramatic intuition behind it. Where Daft Punk succeed is their understanding that the music must never descend into noise for noise's sake. Every track introduces a new texture or sound of some kind that complements the whole while taking the score in new directions, all the while anchored by a strong central theme that gets just enough airings to give it all a sense of structure. In the process, the duo created a genuinely top class film score – one that was frustratingly and bafflingly overlooked by many critics on its release. This must surely be attributed to the lukewarm reception that greeted the film itself – because modern film scores rarely get better than this. Resplendent in the sounds of classic works from the likes of Carlos, Vangelis and Goldsmith, it's an undisputed triumph and Daft Punk's next film scoring assignment can't come soon enough.
Tron: Legacy has a contentious release history. The score was released in multiple formats, making it very difficult to form a complete picture of the music. The standard album (reviewed here) went on general release, along with a 2 CD album with a second disc of bonus tracks. Additionally, the score also became available to download on Amazon with an additional bonus track not available on the 2 CD version – and there was an iTunes version of the score with two more separate bonus tracks!
Footnote on the score's orchestral elements: arranged and orchestrated by Joseph Trapanese, conducted by Gavin Greenaway.
Standard Album (22 tracks) and Limited Edition CD1 (22 tracks):
Footnote on the orchestral music - "Tron: Legacy" was arranged and orchestrated by Joseph Trapanese, and conducted by Gavin Greenaway. Joseph Trapanese has also provided the music for the "Tron: Uprising" animated TV series, which is also available on a Soundtrack album at Amazon.com.
Limited Edition CD2 (5 tracks):
The Limited Edition double-album is available via this link at Amazon.co.uk.
iTunes Edition (24 tracks):
This version of the soundtrack can be downloaded at iTunes.
Amazon Edition (23 tracks):