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Tron: Legacy
  • Composed by Daft Punk
  • Walt Disney Records / 2010 / 58:36

I’ve been reviewing film music albums for quite a long time, now.  I repeat myself a lot.  I am predictable.  I repeat myself a lot.  I am predictable.  I repeat myself a lot.  (I have a tendency to force home a fairly unfunny joke so hard that it loses any vague hint of humour.)  Some people will have been reading what I’ve written for years and those people have probably got quite good at knowing what I’m likely to say about something.  So here we are, Tron: Legacy, written by somebody called Daft Punk.  Apparently he is quite popular in the charts and a specialist with the keyboards.  This is about as “un-Southall” as a film score album could get.  

In my defence, I would say that if I have become a little predictable, then that’s because film music itself has become (more than) a little predictable.  Very few scores are written which are genuine surprises – whether due to an over-reliance on temp-tracks from directors (who then want the score to sound very similar to whatever has been used as temp) or a lack of creativity on the part of film composers, there are few times today even with the most talented composers where I see a film and recognise that the music composed for it is uniquely for that film and couldn’t be used in any other.  It happens, but not particularly often.  At one time it was the norm.

Then, all of a sudden, the hiring of Daft Punk to score Disney’s long-awaited Tron sequel begins to feel like it may just have been inspired.  Of course I don’t really think it’s a gentleman who’s popular in the charts – the French two-piece became enormously successful in the late 1990s with their brand of house music; clearly they inhabited a musical world which would be more than consistent with Tron: Legacy.  On hearing the score, the decision to hire them seems more than just inspired, it seems to be a moment of genius.

The biggest surprise is the amount of orchestra in the score – a lot.  Needless to say, there’s a lot of electronics too – and the resulting fusion is genuinely exciting.  The score was written over a very long period, reportedly two years, a luxury afforded to very few film scores – and it shows.  Daft Punk worked very closely with orchestrator Joseph Trapanese and the quality of the orchestral writing is tremendous.  This is blatantly not music where the melody was written on a keyboard and then sent off to an orchestration factory to be turned into something usable, which is what happens on so much orchestral film music today “written” by people with no orchestral training – this is music which has plainly been written using pencil and paper.

Daft Punk

That alone is clearly not enough to elevate the score to some higher level – what does that is the way the orchestral side is incorporated with the electronic.  Actually, one doesn’t listen to this music and even hear the two sides, because they are integrated so beautifully.  The electronic music is written by people who genuinely know how to write electronic music, the orchestral music I’ve already discussed, and the resulting mesh is stunningly organic and natural-sounding.

Influences run far and wide – everyone from Aaron Copland to Philip Glass to Vangelis and, perhaps most blatantly, Hans Zimmer.  Indeed, the stylistic similarities to Zimmer’s scores for Christopher Nolan (and in particular Inception) are hard to ignore, but also hard to explain when you consider that this score was actually recorded before Inception.  Perhaps the two were independently made and ended up at similar places (on several occasions this score sounds like an extension to – and almost infinite improvement over – Zimmer’s Batman music, which is also what Inception sounds like); perhaps there was even a little conversation at some stage, or even more – Zimmer is one of several prominent film composers thanked in this album’s credits.

Regardless of all that, what matters is the music, and it’s just fabulous.  Whether the haunting beauty of the orchestral “Adagio for Tron” (fans of Zimmer’s “Journey to the Line” style will be in heaven), the Koyaanisqatsi-like minimalism of “Disc Wars”, the trance-like state induced by the electronic “Derezzed”, or so many other highlights, this is music with a degree of sophistication and an intelligence of construction that frankly goes beyond what Zimmer might conceive except when at the very, very top of his game (which I would say has happened precisely twice).  Add to that, there is enough confidence in the writing that the orchestra is allowed to sound like an orchestra (none of that nonsense way of recording brass to make it sound fake even when it’s real that Zimmer employs) – this music is fresh, it’s exciting, it’s energising.  It has probably overtaken Inception as my own favourite score of the year.  (If somebody had told me at the start of 2010 my top two favourite scores of the year would be by Daft Punk and Hans Zimmer respectively, I’d have seriously questioned their sanity.)

The only downer is the controversial, seemingly highly-cynical way in which the score has been released.  There’s a standard album, available in stores.  There’s also a 2-CD album, also available in stores, with a second disc of bonus tracks which could all have fitted onto the first CD.  Then there’s an Amazon download version with its own bonus track, not available even on the 2-CD physical album.  Then there’s an iTunes version with two bonus tracks of its own – again, completely separate ones.  And, of course, none of these bonus tracks is available to download individually – the whole album has to be downloaded.  This is an atrocious way of treating the buying public – shameful.  If it leads to anything, it is likely to be a vast increase in illegal filesharing and downloading of the bonus cues.  The standard album is brilliant and I’m happy with that, but I daresay plenty of people would love to have all the bonus tracks.  Hopefully it doesn’t happen again.

Not wanting to end on a sour note, I can only repeat that this is seriously impressive music.  By the end of the moving “Finale”, I suspect that many listeners will – like me on my first run-through – scarcely be able to believe what they’ve just heard.  For all its myriad influences, Daft Punk (and whoever else) have managed to craft something which is genuinely perfect for, and unique to, Tron: Legacy.  I applaud them and hope that some day another film comes along which will allow the magic to happen again.  Who would have predicted that?  *****

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  1. Tristan (Reply) on Thursday 30 December, 2010 at 22:26

    This was the score I was least interested in this year. I never really cared much for Daft Punk so I was planning on ignoring this one. I’m glad I decided to listen to it after all cause this really is one of this year’s finest scores.

  2. Juanki (Reply) on Thursday 30 December, 2010 at 23:08

    Excellent review!!! Looking forward Inception’s

  3. Jon (Reply) on Friday 31 December, 2010 at 19:22

    Bravo. I entirely agree.

  4. Craig (Reply) on Saturday 1 January, 2011 at 16:47

    Enjoyed the review, but I was able to download the two bonus cues from iTunes for .99 cents each. They’re great and highly recommended. I hope they didn’t change them to ‘album only’ tracks.

  5. john mansell (Reply) on Tuesday 4 January, 2011 at 21:27

    I was slightly dubious about Disney’s choice on this one, but after hearing it through its a wonderful score, bravo Daft Punk !!!!

  6. Daniel Henderson (Reply) on Wednesday 15 July, 2015 at 09:24

    Any chance you’ll review Joseph Trapanese’s Tron:Uprising? It’s written in the same sound, but is Trapanese doing his own thing. Sounds pretty good.

    • Rory (Reply) on Thursday 5 April, 2018 at 07:47

      I sort of want to second this, but I’m on the fence about it. On the one hand, the electronics are solid, and there’s a great deal of compositional foresight to it– a lot of the show’s themes, while distinct, are written to dovetail directly into Legacy’s various motifs (the “Scars” two-parter, in particular, uses this to excellent effect).

      On the other, the keyboard-based orchestration kills a lot of the momentum– which is especially unfortunate as a lot of it is written with a greater degree of complexity than Legacy, and would have sounded great with a live orchestra.

      • Daniel Henderson (Reply) on Saturday 7 April, 2018 at 10:40

        It would sound great with a live orchestra, but I’ll take interesting electronic music over blah orchestra any day. I’ve been listening to a lot of Joel Goldsmith recently and between the ’93 Untouchables series and the first season on Stargate SG-1, and it’s all electronic and it doesn’t matter. I’m not crazy how the SG-1 album has jammed each episode into 1 long track, but I’d love to hear this tracked over episodes of Deep Space Nine at the height of the “Bermanizer.” Again, I know McCarthy/Chattaway and the rest could up their game (and did on Enterprise), but what Joel was doing on synths is what they should have been allowed to do on Star Trek with an orchestra.

        Sorry for the ramble, but long story short: Good music is good music. I’d take a Christopher Drake synth score to the animated Wonder Woman film over what Rupert Gregson-Williams made for a $200 million blockbuster.

        • Rory on Monday 30 April, 2018 at 10:02

          Fair point. I’d love to see Joel, Christopher Drake or Nathan Furst touched upon at some point.

  7. Rory (Reply) on Tuesday 20 February, 2018 at 23:37

    Hilariously, I picked up this and “Fanfare for the Common Man” at the library on the same day, having never heard either before.

    That said, that obvious an influence from Copland really speaks to how seriously these composers took the endeavor. Wow!