After 28 years of waiting and over a year of the hype-machine in overdrive, Tron: Legacy has finally rezzed its way into theaters. While critical reception has been less than positive, reactions from fans are just the opposite. Like the Bit character from the original movie, it’s all about either YES or NO. One thing about Tron: Legacy that most do seem to agree on though is the shared excitement over the original soundtrack crafted by Daft Punk. After a year of alleged leaks, rumors and official streams, the music of Tron: Legacy is out now, with a debut that cracked the Top 10 of Billboard's album chart. How does it sound? Pull up a laser and join us on the Grid for a listen. If you still haven’t seen the movie yet, we’ll try and keep the spoiler bugs off your interface as much as possible.
Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo’s music deserves to win every soundtrack award in existence for 2010. Yes, it is that good. The sounds created by Daft Punk in tandem with music arranger and orchestrator Joe Trapanese are worthy of accolades not only because of the quality of the music overall but because of how well it plays both on screen and off. Please note at this point, I purchased my copies (yes, copies) of the Tron: Legacy soundtrack, so this is not a PR-driven review.
First off, this is not traditional Daft Punk music. This is a film soundtrack. Anyone thinking that Daft Punk would record this as Discovery, Part 2 or Human After All: The Sequel will be greatly disappointed. If this causes you to make angry faces under your homemade Daft Punk mask, consider this: When Danny Elfman transitioned full time from Oingo Boingo to soundtrack composing no one thought his music would sound exactly like his former band. Most people accepted it with open arms and ears. His soundtracks always had that certain Elfman quirk to their sound and it is the same way with Daft Punk and Tron: Legacy. You know it’s them and you can feel it in the aural colors with which they paint the music, even without a dance beat behind it.
What Daft Punk has created here proves the duo are multifaceted artists, not confined to just being creative within their genre. This soundtrack could easily make them a household name, and if not, will definitely elevate them to a new level of fandom. I fully expect this will not be the last we hear Daft Punk blasting from movie theater speakers as images unspool across the screen or in video games for that matter, but more on this later.
The music Daft Punk created for Tron: Legacy is a near-perfect blend of electronic-meets-orchestra. The heavy electronic pieces (especially the two mentioned above) are used in perfect context within in the film, and the orchestral passages fit the scenes they were built for in the same manner. What is even more exciting to hear are tracks like “Rinzler” and “Arrival” where the French duo and a 90-piece orchestra combine to create a new, magical sound for Tron. This isn’t just a mash-up of styles either. This is more. It’s well thought out, well executed, and sounds frankly amazing. Hardcore soundtrack aficionados with a love for Vangelis’ Blade Runner soundtrack or the numerous film scores of Tangerine Dream will identify immediately with Tron: Legacy. Despite her being completely absent from the production, there are even subtle nods to ideas and motifs created by Wendy Carlos for the original Tron soundtrack.
And this is exactly what I was hoping the music would turn out to be. Honestly, when I first heard Daft Punk was composing the music for Tron: Legacy, I was excited and skeptical. Not because this was their first foray into the soundtrack realm, but because what I didn’t want to hear was what a small fan minority seemed to want: two hours of dance music. It would not have been appropriate for a film such as this. The end result far exceeded my expectations. If you’ve been to the theater to see it already, you know exactly what I mean. The film is wall-to-wall music. There is very little screen time where Daft Punk’s creations aren’t heard. The pieces aren’t generic, and all have specific on-screen reasons for being played. The decision by director Joseph Kosinski to collaboratively work with Daft Punk and Joe Trapanese for two years during the actual production, instead of waiting till it was near picture lock as is often done in film scoring, shows in both the final on-screen product and in listening to the music out of context from the film.
The music of Tron: Legacy is amazingly listenable, no matter where or how you are hearing it. When played in the background during a study session or as office music, you won’t have quiet periods where little is heard to fill the empty spaces, nor will you hear jarring string section attacks to throw off your focus. Throw on your headphones and immerse yourself in the sound of the Game Grid. Play it loud while you are driving to make your ride much more epic. Just remember you are in a car, not a lightcycle, and cutting off the moron next to you on their cell phone won’t cause them to derez. Try listening to it on Shuffle. No matter the order in which the tracks play, they come out of your speakers in exciting fashion, making for a surprising and near-unique experience during each play.
Of particular note about the Tron: Legacy soundtrack, are its multiple versions. The standard album lists 22 tracks. There are, in fact, a total of 30* tracks available. Amazon’s MP3 version includes an exclusive bonus track entitled “Sea of Simulation”. It is well worth the download. Over in Apple’s sector of the Grid, iTunes has a pair of bonus tracks, “Father and Son” and “Outlands, Pt. II”, both of which round out the album well. The good news is all three of these bonus tracks can be purchased individually. There is no “album only” purchase restriction on them. Whether it was Disney or the respective MP3 retailers who chose to do this, all I can say is kudos to you. So that brings us to 25 tracks. Where are the other 5?
Gamers should expect, at the very least hope or even demand that the Users of the video game development world take heed of Daft Punk’s sonic creations for Tron: Legacy. The inclusion of two pieces from the film (“The Grid” and “Derezzed”) in the tie-in game Tron: Evolution was a no-brainer. Now imagine for a moment what Daft Punk building an entire electrorchestra soundtrack for say, a future version in the Deus Ex franchise would sound like. Too easy? How about Halo? Before you set your comment weaponry to derez, remember, 343 Industries is now at the helm of the UNSC. Marty O’Donnell is with Bungie, working on the music of their new project at Activision and someone has to create the music for a future deployment of Master Chief. Why not Daft Punk? Whether it would be a science-fantasy RPG, a space-based FPS or a cyber-punk inspired adventure, just imagine what a game could sound like with this level of music in it. There is no reason why the robots designated as Thomas and Guy need only be heard in DJ Hero.
(* While researching the upcoming vinyl version of Tron: Legacy, we stumbled across a German music site listing an EP releasing in February with an alleged additional 4 pieces not on any currently released version. It’s doubtful this is legit, but, it will be interesting if even more of Daft Punk’s music escapes the Game Grid.)
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UPDATED As one of our commenters pointed out , a 31st track has now surfaced. "Sunrise Prelude" is an exclusive download available from the Ovi MP3 store, which isn't available in North America. The track can be previewed here at least. You will recognize this track as coming from the very end of the film, right before the credits. At nearly three minutes in length, it is a significant addition to the soundtrack.
This is yet another really good reason why there should be an expanded edition album with all the cues from the film released later.