Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Movie Music Mania: TRON: LEGACY

Welcome to MOVIE MUSIC MANIA, where we talk about some of the amazing music that shapes the films we love.  This week we take a look at the amazing score behind the visually beautiful sequel to Tron...TRON: LEGACY.

It's fair to say that Tron never became the huge franchise that Disney wanted it to be at the time of Tron: Legacy's release in 2010. While the movie made money, it wasn't as profitable as Disney had hoped, with Disney announcing several months ago that plans for a third Tron had been shelved for the time being. It's a shame really, since I'm someone who was a big fan of the movie when it came out. What most people took away from the movie, though, was a visual marvel that was bolstered by one of the most notable soundtracks in a movie in a while.

Part of the reason the soundtrack is remembered so fondly, aside from its quality, is the talent behind it. It was a big deal when Disney announced that French electronic duo, Daft Punk, had signed on to make the music for the sci-fi movie, and the results speak for themselves. Tron: Legacy's soundtrack is a fascinating blend of orchestral and electronic ambiance that perfectly blends the styles of both Daft Punk's breed of electronica with composer Joseph Trapenese's orchestral skills, creating an unparalleled work of symphonic-electronic glory. Tracks like "The Grid," which is track 2 on the official soundtrack, display this combination, with the track featuring a dark, foreboding electronic beat punctuated by strings underneath. Tracks like "the Game Has Changed," one of the more popular tracks, also shows this combination. "The Grid," and the preceding track, "Overture," also mark the first appearance of the film's leitmotif, a descending series of chords that is a constant throughout the tracklist, appearing in some form or another in tracks like "Recognizer," "Armory," "Flynn Lives," and the end credits theme.

It's a surprisingly easy blend, not only because the three musicians can create tracks that incorporate both elements, but also how easily they can slip between tracks with the dominant use of one or the other without having them feel out of place. Many of the tracks will often feature one style or the other predominantly, some of which end up being the best tracks. The soundtrack's only official "single" was the track "Derezzed," a track that's very obviously an electronic track more in the vein of what one would expect from a Daft Punk project, especially compared to the album they'd made before this, Human After All. Some of my favorites would have to be "Arena" and "End of Line," the latter of which features in the nightclub of Castor, Michael Sheen's character. It's just a track with a great beat to it, the kind of catchy tune with a dark foreboding that you'd find playing in a seedy club of a great cyberpunk thriller. "Derezzed" is also a fun track, but I think suffers a bit from having to be the promotional single for the album, an album which had more publicity surrounding it than your usual soundtrack.

The straightforward symphonic tracks also have some great moments, with tracks like "Outland" and "Flynn Lives" providing some great epic soundscapes that give the movie a sense of scale and intimacy that's rarely seen in these kind of high concepts. "Flynn Lives" in particular stands as one of my favorites, playing at the very climax of the film and giving the spectacle a real sense of humanity to it. The horns blaring out the leitmotif give a sense of finality to the proceedings, a sense that, even if more movies were made after this, this was to be one of the defining moments of the franchise.

Much of the track listing is punctuated by a lot of lower key tracks that serve as great ambiance. Not all of them truly stick out as memorable themes, but they're all very good background music, and work well not only in the film, but also just for pleasurable listening. If I ever put on a film soundtrack on the background while I'm working on something, it's often this soundtrack. It's one of the rare ones I keep coming back to. Probably my favorite track is the end credits theme, which is an electronic adaptation of the theme that had been peppered throughout the soundtrack, almost always orchestrated, now digitized to close out the movie.

To speak a bit on the bonus tracks included on different versions of the soundtrack, special editions come with a bonus disc containing "ENCOM Part I," "ENCOM Part II," "Round One," "Castor," and "Reflections." All of these are nice tracks, good ambient tracks, with the standout being "Castor." Though it, at times, verges a bit too much on a campy, almost 80's, style synth-pop, it's got enough interesting moments to make it worth listening. Amazon's version has the exclusive track, "Sea of Simulation," an interesting experimental soundscape that actually evokes some of the tracks on Daft Punk's later album, Random Access Memories. It's fair to say that this soundtrack had quite an influence on Random Access Memories given that record's use of orchestra, a carryover from these Tron sessions. The Nokia Music Store also had its own exclusive track, "Sunrise Prelude," which, along with all previously mentioned bonus tracks, would be included on Side D of the vinyl edition of the soundtrack (which I own). The only tracks not included are two iTunes exclusive tracks, "Father and Son," and "Outlands Part II." "Father and Son" is nice enough, but "Outlands Part II" is far too similar to regular "Outlands" for my taste. For what it's worth, the vinyl edition is certainly worth owning , and on CD, I'd probably only go as far to recommend the special edition with the bonus disc. Dealing with Amazon, Nokia, and iTunes is probably much too much of a hassle for most people.

Lastly, I want to quickly discuss some of the tracks left off of the official soundtrack. A YouTube video I will link below includes, towards the end, some tracks that were used in promotion but never officially released in any capacity.

Most of these seem to be early demos or slightly reworked versions of tracks officially included in the soundtrack, such as "The Game Has Changed," and "Armory." But easily the most interesting track that was left off is the track, "Computerized," a track that was unfinished and left off the soundtrack completely and left undiscovered until it surfaced on the web in 2014. The track seems to be the leftovers of a collaboration between Daft Punk and rapper, Jay-Z, and uses some new instrumentation as well as a sample of the track "Son of Flynn" from the finished soundtrack. The track is obviously unpolished, but does feature original lyrics from Jay-Z, and sounds like it COULD have been something quite interesting. Now, though, it's but an interesting relic of a potential collaboration between two titans of music for a very peculiar movie.

Tron: Legacy may not have left a splash when it came out, but it DID leave behind one of the best film soundtracks in years. I still wholeheartedly believe that this should have won the Oscar that year for the Best Score over the Social Network (despite me loving that score as well). It's a unique, vibrant, and surprisingly intimate work the likes of which we probably won't see much of again since the film wasn't the smash it was set up to be. I do dearly hope this isn't the last film work we see from the electronic duo, because the film world could use more soundtracks of this kind. Time will tell, I suppose. For now, I highly recommend checking the soundtrack out.

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