25 May 2024

End of Line: Revisiting Daft Punk’s TRON: Legacy Score

With the news that came out of nowhere and shocked the music world, legendary French music duo Daft Punk announced that they would be parting ways after an almost 30-year career.

In an 8-minute clip posted on YouTube titled “Epilogue”, the video featured a scene from their tantalising 2006 avant-garde science fiction film Electroma. In the video, the pair bid each other farewell in a desert as one self-destructs and the other walks away.

Once more, this came out of the blue. No warning and no explanation. After eight years since their last studio effort Random Access Memories and no public appearance since 2014, this wasn’t the announcement fans…Around the World…had hoped for. Speculation immediately began as to whether or not this was a publicity stunt for a future release, or whether it was a legitimate Power > Shutdown from music. Their long-time publicist later confirmed the announcement to be true. Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo seemingly have parted ways.

Often regarded as one of the most influential acts in dance music history with an arsenal of hit songs, Bangalter and Homem-Christo leave behind a flawless catalogue of four studio albums, two live releases, two feature-length films, a multitude of production and remix credits, as well as one film soundtrack. Throughout the late 90s and 2000s, the Parisian duo were simply untouchable! Everything they laid their robotic hands on was a triumph! One of their most prestigious artistic achievements was the score they composed for Disney’s 2010 science fiction film TRON: Legacy.

As a sequel to the iconic 1982 film starring Jeff Bridges, Legacy takes place twenty years after the disappearance of CEO of ENCOM International, Kevin Flynn. In an attempt to find his father, son, Sam (Garrett Hedlund) is unexpectedly digitalised and downloaded into The Grid – a virtual reality created by his father.

After its release, TRON: Legacy was met with mostly positive praise. Its biggest acclaim was the state-of-the-art production design and neon-drenched visuals. Eleven years on, the cinematography and visuals of Joseph Kosinski’s debut film are still tear-jearkingly astonishing. Completely and utterly breathtaking. I would even go as far as to say that Legacy may be one of the most visually stunning works of science fiction in cinematic history. It comfortably sits atop the most masterful exercises in cinematography, alongside titans such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Wong Kar-wai‘s 2046, Blade Runner 2049 and Alex Garland‘s criminally underrated Annihilation.

TRON: Legacy‘s most noteworthy takeaway is its score/soundtrack. [As of 2020] In its most complete form, Bangalter and Homem-Christo‘s musical backdrop to the Disney epic features a whopping 31 tracks.

Recorded between 2008 and 2010, the futuristic score features an 85-piece orchestra arranged by Joseph Trapanese and conducted by Gavin Greenaway; birthed at AIR Lyndhurst Studios in London. Although this wasn’t the first time for the duo to be featured on a film soundtrack – with their previous endeavour being iconic anime Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem, it was the first time for the duo create an original film score from the ground up. Prior to their monumental leap to work with Disney, the robot rockers had only released their signature French touch house music. However, Bangalter had previously produced the score for Gaspar Noé‘s highly controversial 2002 psychological thriller, Irréversible.

With nods to the electronic, synthesizer-based work of John Carpenter and the pioneering Blade Runner soundtrack by Vangelis, the amalgamated end product is a first-class science fiction film score and one of the most pronounced of the 21st Century. The Parisian robots even made a cameo appearance in Kosinski’s film as DJs a Tron City nightclub.

The small handful of bass-pumping club bangers like ‘End of Line’, ‘Derezzed’ and ‘TRON Legacy (End Titles)’ are satisfactory to those long-time fans who enjoy frequenting the discotheques, energetically cutting shapes on the dance floor. Retrospectively, these serve as the very last snippets of the boom bap, sample-heavy, French house-styled Daft Punk that dominated music and advertising worlds throughout the 90s and 2000s. Following this soundtrack, the duo threw it back to the sounds of disco throughout the 70s and 80s on Random Access Memories.

Frantic, sky dancing Tall Boy-esque raving aside, the rest of Legacy‘s soundtrack was made up of grandiose cyberpunk compositions. From the thoroughly consistent arpeggiated strings and pulsating, stomach-churning basslines to the behemoth crescendos on tracks such as ‘The Grid’, ‘Rinzler’ and ‘Finale’, the orchestra screams supreme vigour. With the right home audio setup or headphones, it’s near-impossible to hear to these arrangements and not feel stimulated. Each and every piece of music on this soundtrack is poetry in motion; extremely uplifting. One of my biggest regrets in life is choosing not to watch TRON: Legacy in a cinema during its initial theatrical release. To have had the opportunity to experience Kosinski and Claudio Miranda‘s stellar visuals and Daft Punk’s grandeur score in the best possible environment and not leap at the opportunity, I’ll eternally kick myself for it.

Bangalter and Homem-Christo‘s work lead to critical acclaim. It won a variety of awards following its release including “Best Original Score for a Fantasy/Science Fiction/Horror Film” by the International Film Music Critics Association. It was even nominated for “Best Score Soundtrack Album for Visual Media” at the 54th Grammy Awards in 2012 but somehow was beat by the completely forgettable score to The King’s Speech. Consequently, excerpts from the soundtrack have been used in various film and television spots and trailers, and have been sampled by other musicians and artists on their songs. For its 10th anniversary in 2020, in partnership with Walt Disney Records, Mondo released a lush special edition containing the score in its entirety on 2LP coloured vinyl. And if like me you missed out on the opportunity to pick one up on its release day, you’ll know their value has skyrocketed and they are now worth a fortune. I am constantly patrolling sites such as Discogs to try and snag a copy that wouldn’t require me to take out a very large bank loan.

Perhaps what’s most impressive of Disney’s saga score is that Daft Punk were newbies to the realm of film score composing prior to TRON: Legacy. Despite Bangalter’s brief experience and with the big contemporaries like John Williams, Danny Elfman, Hans Zimmer and Clint Mansell, Disney could have easily played it safe and gone to a well-established composer. Instead – alongside director Joseph Kosinski and music supervisor Jason Bentley, they took a gigantic risk which resulted in a huge payout for everybody involved.

If the publicity-shy, robot persona really is no more, I would love to see Bangalter and Homem-Christo work…One More Time…on more film scores and soundtracks in the future, whether that’s together under their…Human After All…names, or respectively as solo artists. Part robot, part human, they unarguably have a extraterrestrial, otherworldly talent for even greater artistic and musical amplification. TRON: Legacy is the briefest of glimpses into the full potential of the two brilliant French minds.

For now though…Lose Yourself to Dance…to the timeless music and art Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo have left us with.

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