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Tron: Legacy Music Review or DAFT PUNK FANBOY ALERT!

This is a long post. Go get some chips and a beer.

I finally caught Tron: Legacy yesterday. First, my thoughts on the movie.

A visual stunner. Do NOT watch this in 2D. I hadn’t watched the original Tron so the story was a mystery to me (I dread visiting Wikipedia because I can’t help reading the plot). As a result the first half hour was mystifying. In any case, I recommend leaving disbelief at the door. If it is possible to transition from physical existence into a digital one, why question the rest of the plot, the effects, the science or the philosophy? Roll with it.

Speaking of transitions, the movie gets awesomely trippy once Flynn Jr. enters the Grid. 3D effects really kick in, although brightness is an issue. That is soon taken care of with magnificent disc battles and bike chases with light walls. I won’t explain any of this, go see it. The aircraft finale is mind-blowing. It reminded me of those programs which generate complex bezier curves. Now tack on some 3D glasses and imagine what that’ll look like.

I noticed tips-of-the-hat to at least three movies. There is a scene where the ship carrying the father and son duo is attacked by C.L.U. and his brigade. Flynn Jr’s seat takes him out of the cockpit into the gun turret where he proceeds to derezz the enemy craft. Star Wars. In another scene a comely female program leads Flynn to a power-broker known as “Zeus”. Shades of Matrix Reloaded and Merovingian. Finally, right at the end of the movie, Tron himself plays a pivotal role in bringing the conflict to a conclusion, very much like Gollum in LOTR: Return of the King. I like such tributes that provide respite and familiarity in strange plots.

As you may have guessed, one needn’t delve on acting prowess. Trust me, acting isn’t the main point. However Jeff Bridges is awesome with his Amitabh Bachchan baritone.

Shorter reviews of the movie, here and here. (Haha! Too bad you already read the longer version!)

Now let’s get to the point. The music.

I have been a Daft Punk fan since their commercial debut “Homework”, a bassed-up collection of scratches, loops and samples that revolutionized house music and helped it step away from its underground roots. They followed this aggressive album with the stunningly mellow and introspective “Discovery”. The beats stayed but there was more melody and character. Songs about rolling and scratching gave way to songs about love and discovery. The album won Grammys and I became a bonafide fanboy. Their third album “Human After All” was a puzzling collection of electronic music which had a couple of winners but seemed deliberately conditioned to veer away from their previous mass-market offerings. I was reading an interview with DP and they mentioned an innate need to “try something different every time”. That explained “Human After All”.

Then there was silence for a few years.

When I first saw the trailer for Tron, the music stood out. It said the composers were Daft Punk. Wow. A movie soundtrack?! As soon as it hit iTunes it was playing in a loop on my iPhone. This was the first time I had purchased a soundtrack without watching the movie. The first word that came to mind was “evocative”. Even if you haven’t seen the movie the music makes it easy to visualize the situations. I was amazed at the subtlety with which they blended an electronic base to an orchestra. Case in point is Adagio for Tron.

The first half of the song is owned by the orchestra as the violins guide you through a landscape of uncertainty and conflict. Then the pace becomes more hectic and you realize the violins are gliding over a powerful electronic beat. Sheer class. It merges flawlessly with no jarring effects. It is so easy for such songs to sound pretentious, like a Yanni composition, but Daft Punk steer clear of such mediocrity. Tron isn’t for elevator music lovers.

During the movie I was blown away by the ability of the music to elevate otherwise mundane scenes to something more profound.

I understand why this soundtrack is so overpowering and full of character compared to other standard soundtrack albums. There are three characteristics Daft Punk have stayed true to in all their albums:

1. Theme: They stick to the point. Homework was house and danceable, Discovery was introspective, Human After All was electronic experimentation and Tron captures the wonder and intrigue of a digital world where everything gets quantized except emotions. Just as the all-encompassing blue-hue representing The Grid stays with you throughout the movie, Daft Punk’s score stays consistent in its theme. I’m reminded of the Jurassic Park soundtrack. If you’ve heard the title-track you’ll notice it veers off into a different direction halfway through. It’s like an athlete powering through the field and suddenly running off for a tea break. No such deviations with Daft Punk.

2. Layering: Daft Punk build many of their songs in layers. I am a huge fan of the way they use bass in their songs. Rather than using it as a crutch, DP build the song around different tones of bass. For example, one of the standout tracks on the album is “End of Line”. The song starts with a synthesizer riff that saunters along to a funky, laidback beat. That gets augmented with a layer of bass. As the song progresses a deeper and harsher bass rides the melody on top of these layers. They manage to sustain interest in the song, suck you in and at times, capture the enormity of a scene in the movie. By the way, you need to watch “End of Line” in the movie in 3D and surround sound to appreciate the utter brilliance of the track.

3. Adventure: Thomas Bangalter and Guy De-Homem Christo have never been afraid of stretching their capabilities into new genres. This time, they take on an orchestra and merge it with electrosynth. I can always be certain every subsequent offering is going to be path-breaking.

I rate Discovery and Tron as the finest examples of Daft Punk’s capability. The film’s director Joseph Kosinski mentions in the Tron digital booklet,

I am excited for you to experience Daft Punk’s first contribution to the world of film scoring – I have a feeling it won’t be their last.

I raise my glass to many more!

PS – My favorite tracks on the album.

Armory

End of Line

The Grid

Recognizer

Solar Sailer

Derezzed

The Son of Flynn

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