Saturday, December 18, 2010

Listen: TRON: Legacy

Soundtracks get little respect. Talk to any classical music aficionado or hipster neighbor and watch as their eyes roll back in their heads, their bodies nearly convulsing in disgust as they lose all respect for you, their $200 headphones falling into the dirt. But I am a traitor, classically trained on the piano and cello, and I defy them. A good score is the breath of a film, and as in any organism, can determine whether or not it lives or dies.

I've been sitting on this soundtrack review for weeks, debating whether or not I should wait for the release of TRON: Legacy before talking about the music. While Daft Punk's score stands alone, and has been on repeat during my work day, in the context of the film its power is even clearer. TRON would not be same movie, not a good movie, without it. Admittedly, the French duo isn't doing anything all that original with the music, taking themes from the original 1982 TRON score, the beats and arrangements heavy with influences from Steve Reich, John Adams, and Isao Tomita to Alan Parsons and Philip Glass. It will also come as no surprise to learn that Hans Zimmer and Harry Gregson-Williams are both thanked by Daft Punk in the liner notes, Zimmer's tell tale, Inception and Dark Knight booms and soft swirls present any time the score turns from beat laden to orchestral.

But Daft Punk have absorbed all these influences and reflected them back out through their own lens, making something that's familiar yet sublime. The film is visually stunning and well acted enough to skate by, but the music makes the first hour of TRON: Legacy into transcendental sci-fi. It's the catalyst for the feeling of wonder that occurs when Sam Flynn is first dropped into his Father's world, an effect particularly stunning in the scene where Sam first receives his armor before the games. It dictates and encourages the audience to stay engaged and focused, even when the film begins to drag, making the most repetitive of action sequences suddenly fresh.

Most Daft Punk fans will be sorely disappointed, in fact, most already are if you check the comment section of any music blog. But this isn't another dance album meant to showcase them as a band. This is a movie soundtrack, designed with the intent to bolster a visual story unfolding on a screen, to act as a background and not the focal point, sometimes repetitive, and overtly orchestral and free-flowing by nature. Daft Punk succeeds where any other Howard Shore sound-a-like would have failed, bringing a new energy and to a genre where typically one theme is played over and over again, or the music only acts to heighten a crescendo or soften a mood, a non-entity when removed from its source. But their short yet plentiful tracks are compelling enough to work without a visual. If you can't stand the genre, then you might as well get off my lawn. As for the rest of us soundtrack lovers out there, we'll sit here with our Michael Nyman, John Williams, Hans Zimmer, and Danny Elfman and eagerly welcome Daft Punk into yet another area they've mastered.

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