Daft Punk's TRON:LEGACY magnificent score is literally the best of both worlds

DECEMBER 7, 2010                    REVIEW BY SCOTT WEITZ                           5 STARS

Delicate and scintillating as a microcircuit yet bold and daring as a high-speed Light Cycle chase, Daft Punk's dramatically integrated and towering original score for TRON:LEGACY is an immediate entry among top soundtracks of the year and merits Best Score nominations in the year-end cinema trophy season.

Given the film's audacious and awe-inspiring 3D visual effects and sumptuous, glowing futurist designs, one might not expect the score to stand up to TRON:LEGACY's cutting edge vision. Yet the uncanny combination of Daft Punk's electro sizzle and orchestral power not only matches the sprawling vistas and speeding races of light, it enhances and unifies the virtual fantasy with its very human drama. This score is one of those rare and delightful score achievements in which what the ears hear expands that which the eyes see.

While musician/DJs Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter and their tempo-pounding style of house music may have been an obvious choice to score the silicon-inspired reality of TRON:LEGACY, they may not have been the expected one given their Grammy-winning records' definitive dance rhythms. Yet Steven Lisberger's original film TRON was a strong childhood influence on Christo, at least partially inspiring the self-illuminated robotic look of their costumes as well as the synthesized sound of their music. Though updated and vastly expanded in aural scope, Daft Punk's 22-track score links back to the 1980s sound of TRON composer Wendy Carlos while ingeniously weaving together house music's flash and a 100-piece orchestra's thunder. Our review will highlight many but not all tracks to better express the range of emotional and sonic effects this score elicits in 58 minutes of disc play.

From the subtle, looming synth foreboding melting into the triumphant brass and percussion crescendo in Overture, Christo and Bangalter begin fusing influences spanning the works of Max Steiner, Maurice Jarre, Vangelis and even John Carpenter's driving digital pulses, merging the human soul with the silicon mainframe. Track 2, The Grid, embodies the electronic drive and majesty of digital composition in a cue featuring actor Jeff Bridges' opening narration as Kevin Flynn recounting the fateful day a human entered the cyberuniverse and helped forge a electron-powered existence. Once again, the integration of the human and technologic sides of our own world are cross-circuited into a new reality of meaning.

The Son of Flynn pays further homage to the synth legacy of Wendy Carlos' 1982 TRON score but set at the Ducati-racing pace of Sam Flynn's off-the-grid lifestyle and personality. The darkness of Clu's dictatorship over Tron City rumbles throughout Recognizer as the next-gen version of this menacing monolith abducts Sam upon his arrival in the virtual world and rushes him off to meet his fate on the game grid. Guttural brass and percussion provide the thrust while arpeggios of strings and synth march Sam toward his destiny as tension and scale build to epic heights — for comparison, blend the lofty futurism of Vangelis' BLADE RUNNER score with Hans Zimmer's blustery cues for INCEPTION, rewired through Daft Punk's digital sensibility. Turn up this track and enjoy the ride.

The dual-weaponed Disc War champion Rinzler gets his own highly martial, pulse-pounding theme exhibiting a strong dose of Japanese taiko drum percussion while synth elements repeatedly slice through the air like his lethally hurled discs, ready to derez his next opponent in Clu's gladiatorial games. One of the earliest tracks heard as it appeared in the first TRON:LEGACY theatrical trailer, The Game Has Changed continues this percussive, booming battle score interspersed with humming electronic sounds which sonically emphasize the raw, dangerous energy harnessed and lost in these life-or-death competitions.

A massive Recognizer abucts Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund) upon his arrival in the virtual world of TRON:LEGACY. Image © 2010 Disney Enterprises, used with permission. All rights reserved.

Adagio for TRON counters with somber, wistful strings and synth which reinforce the human emotion engaged in this digital struggle, adding simulated organ pipes to elevate and uplift the senses before a deep synth chord cuts off this reverie and shifts gears into a faster, impelled tempo mirroring the regret and race to save Tron City and its inhabitants from Clu's cruel oppression. End of Line mixes Daft Punk's spiraling club-style composition with '80s-style videogame sound effects for a fun introduction to Tron City's amusement mecca with a cool, nightclub vibe embodying the playful whimsy of the club's owner, Castor. Derezzed may well be Daft Punk signature composition for the film as this track breaks the film/score barrier when Castor asks his digital DJs (Christo and Bangalter in their cameo appearance) to "electrify the boys and girls." Click the play button below to watch the Derezzed music video.

Fall returns to the darker path ahead of Sam Flynn with beating distant drums, urgent strings and building horns reaching a thematic crescendo of tension and expectation the heir to his father's legacy. In contrast, Solar Sailer is a much more contemplative, ethereal track again harkening back in homage to the rolling synth landscapes of Wendy Carlos' sounds for the original TRON.

Daft Punk gets down and dirty in Rectifier, the name of Clu's massive carrier-like vessel from which he rules on high over Tron City and this score's most audacious composition in eerie take on a military march which conjures mental images of the huge craft glowering above its dominated subjects. This track embraces and celebrates the paradox that it sounds nothing like what listeners would expect from the duo, yet they composed this aural omen of an awakening, relentless behemoth on the move to deliver judgmental doom on any trespassers or traitors. A stand out track that deserves to give your sound system a workout. Flynn Lives summarizes the tone, temperament and sheer creativity of the entire score in a noble theme rich with heroic but disciplined horns supported by energetic strings which hail Kevin Flynn's legacy and Sam's journey to be continued as this tale of creation and rebirth is anything but concluded. This is one of my favorite tracks amid a wealth of riches in the score.

This 22-track composition accomplishes what a great original score must achieve: it refuses to interfere or outshine the film while remaining indispensable to it. TRON:LEGACY would be a lesser film without this dynamic range of themes, cues and motifs masterfully crafted by Daft Punk, and their work here vaults them to the elite of 2010 film soundtracks upon its debut today. If the Motion Picture Academy members have ears to listen and the balls to vote, they will nominate Christo and Bangalter for a Best Original Score Oscar on January 25th, 2011 as the duo has richly earned with this cinematically lush and kinetic soundtrack. FilmEdge easily rates Daft Punk's TRON:LEGACY original score soundtrack 5 stars for its sheer, brilliant creativity.

NOTES ON ADDING THE TRON:LEGACY SOUNDTRACK TO YOUR COLLECTION:

Currently the official TronSoundtrack.com website is still taking orders for their exclusive Deluxe Digipak offer, combining an instant digital download of the entire score in high-quality MP3/320 KBPS format, the physical CD digipak soundtrack, plus an exclusive 27"x39" Daft Punk TRON:LEGACY film poster featuring a glow-in-the-dark image of the duo — all for $34.98 when ordered from the official site linked above. The site also offers the Digital Download-only soundtrack featuring all 22 tracks in high-quality MP3 format for $9.99. Purchase of either soundtrack edition will result in email confirmation with your download code, and shipping estimates for physical product if applicable to your order. Act fast if you want one of these exclusive Daft Punk posters, supplies are now limited!

Amazon.com also has two offers for the TRON:LEGACY soundtrack: the 22-track physical CD pack or their Amazon exclusive MP3 download version with digital booklet plus a 23rd bonus track, Sea of Simulation, a 2:42 composition which fully embraces the synth legacy of Wendy Carlos' original TRON score from 1982. The digital booklet contains 12 pages of hi-res photos, liner notes and album credits in .pdf document format for your viewing and reading pleasure.

No matter how or where you purchase it, enjoy one of the best original film scores of this year and recent years!