Written by UTG critic Grace Duffy, Scene & Heard takes a look at the music that makes our favorite films so memorable. Whether it’s the 400-piece orchestra Christopher Nolan used for The Dark Knight, or the dozen or so bands that contributed to the soundtrack of Top Gun, there is no denying the impact music has on movies and this column hopes to highlight the best of the best.
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Given the intensely cult following that the original Tron fostered upon its release in 1982, it’s perhaps no surprise that it’s much-vaunted 2010 sequel failed to live up to anyone’s expectations. For my part, I actually greatly enjoyed Tron: Legacy. It’s the only movie I’ve seen yet that makes a case for 3D, and even then it isn’t entirely filmed in the irksome medium. Visually, it’s gorgeous, a sumptuous display of vivid, rich aesthetics from the opening Grid-style redesign of the Disney logo. Indeed, it’s the spectacular creation of the Grid that lends the film most of its artistic value. Yet, one of the lesser-discussed though no less exciting aspects of the film was the buzz generated by the appointment of French electronica maestros Daft Punk as composers of the score. Thomas Bangalter and the stupendously-named Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo were brought on board to create music as dynamic and breathtaking as the picture onscreen, and the result is a stirring, seamless masterwork of atmospheric delight.
I’ve heard mixed reviews of this score – it is possible the band’s reputation gave listeners too exalted an expectation, or indeed that the lukewarm reception afforded the film petered down into its accompaniment. Mind, the music itself is not quite as charged or eclectic as the French duo’s everyday work, but this is an unfair standard by which to judge them as the soundtrack excels as a standalone work. It utilises pieces of dialogue from the film – specifically, on “The Grid,” in which Jeff Bridges narrates an opening cluster of curious synths that mirror his character’s inquisitive experiments. The music evolves to become ever more climactic, relying on a steady foundation of bass upon which a soaring wall of electronica is constructed. “The Son of Flynn” is more playful, its opening strands lighter and more elegant than the sombre throb of many other tracks. It seems to hint at the boldness and youthful impetuosity of its namesake, serenading his reckless pursuit of his father with characteristic aplomb.
Tracks like “Armoury” and “Arena” are more atmospheric and cautious. Given their positioning as pieces for the alien, stark dangers of the Grid, it is fitting that they should be built around shadowy threads of synth that gradually coalesce and engulf the listener. There’s a real cinematic swell to “Arena” in particular, establishing with some well-placed percussion a perfect mood of defiance and courageousness for the battle about to ensue. This comes to a riveting climax in “Rinzler,” a breathtaking sweep through militaristic drums that creates a luminous backing track for its titular character.
There’s an impressive depth to “The Game Has Changed” that establishes the scope, breadth, and detail of the Grid in as much splendour and awe as the visuals. “Adagio for Tron” sets itself apart with the use of a mournful, pained violin to evoke some of the deeper sentiment onscreen. Father and son have, after all, been separated for twenty years and their eventual reunion in the Outlands is poignant, yet inescapably surreal due to the otherworldly surroundings. The best track on the soundtrack however is indisputably “End of Line,” so named for the club in which perpetual scene-stealer Michael Sheen (as Castor/Zuse) greets and then betrays Sam. Castor memorably remarks, “Electrify the boys and girls” and that’s exactly what this does. A thumping, sleazy, intoxicating delight, “End of Line” is even better in its extended five-minute version, which adds a lengthy and bombastic overture by way of club beats and bass lines. It’s a shameless crowd-pleaser but a fine one, injecting some real rhythm and teaming electricity into the soundtrack. This is the one area in which Daft Punk let their head down and explore something more akin to their commercial works, temporarily distracting from evoking the story and putting together something rivetingly sexy for the dark Tron netherworld.
The film’s other musical highlight is the unexpected and profoundly arresting appearance of Journey’s “Separate Ways/Worlds Apart” in the arcade that eventually leads Sam into the Grid. He hits a button on an old game and the song strikes up authoritatively, with such a tangible impact that many around me lurched in the cinema to ask one another what the song was. I’m game for a bit of Journey at the best of times but the inclusion of this song was inspired; sheer aural perfection.
This score is majestic, raving artistry at its best and represents a glorious addition to the catalogue of the composers. The film may have been a bit muddled for your tastes, but the music easily provides all the thrills and excitement the former may lack. If nothing else, give it a spin for Journey and “End of Line” alone, which are guaranteed to have an indelible effect.
Written by: Grace Duffy (Twitter)