The movie Tron: Legacy arrives at a point of very good fortune, and it is the most unlikely of comebacks. First off, it’s a sequel that never should have happened. In its original release in the early-1980’s, it was a bona fide flop, the target of critical lambasting for a near incomprehensible, geek-speak script. Yet the film struck a chord with a small but loyal few, and when CG visual effects overtook all other processes, it became something of a historical precedent (although in truth, there are very few instances of computer graphics in the movie. A lot of the visuals are standard animations backlit to have a synthetic look).
The original soundtrack for the first film was by Wendy Carlos, of Switched On Bach fame. Unlike electronic soundtracks of the time from Giorgio Moroder (Midnight Express), Vangelis and Tangerine Dream, Carlos’ mission was to create a score that was made via synth but had the layers of an orchestral composition. It stood out, but at the same time was jarring. It was another strike against the original Tron. But here we are in 2010 awaiting the sequel, shot in dedicated 3-D (as opposed to 3-D conversion after the fact), featuring original actors Bruce Boxleitner and newly-minted Oscar winner Jeff Bridges (for his role in Crazy Heart) in two roles, as Kevin Flynn and as his renegade program Clu. Thanks to technology developed for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, audiences will see Bridges as his alter-ego as he looked back in the ’80s.
And by now, you’re wondering why I haven’t mentioned the soundtrack by the electronic duo Daft Punk. The real reason is because, if you’re expecting the Tron Legacy soundtrack to be the latest album from Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter, you’ll be a bit disappointed. I have no doubt they were the driving force behind some of the themes, specifically a motif of descending notes that figures heavily in the score, but the overall soundtrack is predominantly orchestral with Daft Punk adding electronic touches within arrangements.
Occasionally they do break out with tracks to themselves like “Derezzed,” “Tron Legacy End Titles,” and the track that accompanies their cameo in the film, “End Of Line,” but mostly, they play as a component of the orchestra, not as the orchestra unto themselves.
This is not a bad thing actually, and while the score overall doesn’t have the weight and addictive qualities Hans Zimmer’s score for Inception had, itself an orchestral/electronic hybrid, it remains a very enjoyable piece of movie music, and succeeds where Wendy Carlos’ early entry didn’t. In movie music, there are just some scenes that require the depth of feeling an orchestrated score provides. It’s mostly a state of pop culture conditioning propagated by John Williams and his innate understanding of Wagnerian storytelling. By now, isolated synth beats and beds just don’t convey the same information as efficiently, which is where Carlos fell down on the original Tron. One could say Daft Punk have hedged their bet here, but it works. The cynic in me expects a full Daft Punk version to emerge if the film does well, but that’s something only time will reveal. For this suddenly revitalized, and increasingly lucky franchise, very little is impossible.