Whether you realize it or not, movie scores are often what makes a good movie a great one. In this column, we look at truly great scores, including some that transcend their films.
Joseph Kosinski’s Tron: Legacy, the 2010 sequel to the 1982 cult film Tron, is a love it or hate it affair for most viewers. But no matter what opinion reviewers and the public had on the quality of the film as a whole, the film’s soundtrack by the French electronic music duo Daft Punk was a wild success.
The Tron: Legacy score is a deft blend of electronica and classical orchestra, jumping back and forth, not only from piece to piece, but also within a single track. Daft Punk’s duo of Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter have gone on the record saying that Wendy Carlos’ score for the original Tronwas a big influence on them, so getting the chance to score Tron: Legacy was surely a great chance for the two. And it shows — the duo pull out all the stops when it comes to their vision for the score. The group’s score was arranged and orchestrated by Joseph Trapanese, who also worked with M83 for the Oblivion soundtrack. Combined, the score has a strong grasp of both futuristic electronica and classical music.
Also, Daft Punk began work on the score before filming for the movie was even complete, leading to much of Tron: Legacy being edited to the music. As such, the film is a strong visual and musical experience, making up for the somewhat commonplace story.
For the record, this score was nominated by several organizations including the Grammys, but did not get nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Score. Combine that with How to Train Your Dragon and Inception being looked over in favor of The Social Network, and I stopped caring about the category for the most part.
A large portion of the score is based on “Overture.” While this piece is not exclusively featured at any point in Tron: Legacy, it influences the shape of the score as a whole. The piece is based in 10 notes, starting off quiet and simple and building to a crescendo. Quiet, reflective moments in the movie feature it played on a single piano, while the finale has the full 85-piece orchestra led by Trapanese belting it out. In either case, it feels epic and easily distinguishable, binding the score together in all its parts.
While “Overture” and the various pieces it informs are largely orchestral, Daft Punk brings their signature electronica in full force throughout the film. The group’s presence is perhaps most strongly felt in “Derezzed,” a frenetic piece of electronica that’s both a dance tune and battle music. It’s easy to understand why the hand-to-hand combat that happens in the scene takes place on a dance floor. In fact, Daft Punk themselves provide a cameo as the MP3 programs creating the music within the scene itself.
“The Son of Flynn” is another track that lets Daft Punk take over the film. With its rapidly ascending synthesizer notes, the track takes on a fast paced yet trance-inducing quality. It accompanies the first scene in present day and helps set the tone for the rest of the film’s music.
One of the film’s early standout set pieces is Sam Flynn’s forced participation in The Grid’s “Games,” a battle to the death in a variety of arenas. The scenes are accompanied by four tracks and mix together electronica and orchestra, creating pulsating beats and increasing intensity. “Armory” is a quiet and dark piece, underscoring Sam’s confusion in the new world he has entered and is good company for the cold and sleek environment of The Grid. “Arena” and “Rinzler” bring the intensity as Sam fights for his life in the Disc Wars. Finally, “The Game Has Changed” is perfect music for the Light Cycle battle. The fight is fast, bright, and filled with explosions. Fizzed-out bass drums pound out the beat as frantic strings pulsate, springing to life whenever Sam’s life is on the line.
It’s not all frenetic tracks, however. “Solar Sailer” is a humming, low-key mood setter that feels like it should be set in the middle of the sky. And it is! “Arrival” is also spaced-out and airy. Paired with “Flynn Lives,” it helps give the finale of the film more emotional emphasis as it pares down to the four main characters, free of Light Cycles and explosions.
Finally, “Tron: Legacy (End Titles)” is my favorite piece of the entire film. Some end titles choose to just reuse a piece of track from earlier in the film or use a pre-existing piece of music, but some create truly special piece for the credits. Like Vangelis’ “Blade Runner (End Titles)” this makes the experience of the film stronger and sends out the audiences on a strong note.
While the track only plays over the credits of the film, it’s both a great finish to the movie and a solid end cap to the score as a whole. The cyclical electronic rhythm from start to finish drives the track into trance mode while “Overture” is once again played, this time via keyboard. The effect is a track that recaps the film while inducing a sense of wonder, excitement, and emotion.
Three years later, the Tron: Legacy soundtrack is still one of the best scores from the last 10 years. It bucks the trend of other modern scores, helping it stand on its own. In another 10 years, it will still be as unique and memorable as it is today.