But would it work? Could they do it? It’s a long way from the dancefloor to the dark, cavernous movie theatre, and very few are able to make that transition. Clint Mansell has crossed over, but he’s one of the very few. You see film music should bring to life and add complex dimensions to moving pictures, and that’s not easy. It’s just easy to do badly.
The real trick is to make your film music desirable as a recording in its own right, which is no mean feat either. A good example of what I mean is the score to American Beauty. specifically that twinkly Thomas Newman track. It magically took on a life of its own outside the cinema, became this ubiquitous accompaniment to anything and everything and even morphed into a dance anthem too. Impressive work. Thomas Newman is a modern film composer and part of a Hollywood musical dynasty. Daft Punk, on the other hand, are global dance music legends, can build great tracks, memorable hooks, and this could well be the finest opportunity they will have to make movie history. The film suits them perfectly, it’s futuristic, weird and electronic. And the original 1982 score was penned by Wendy Carlos, an artist they will be all too familiar with.
So, two years ago the stage was set, and a buzz has been slowly building up around its release. The equation of Daft Punk + Tron = Something Very Special was a simple one to put together, and maybe, just maybe this could be a promising new direction for Hollywood scores to take. After all, the current state of film music is not all that healthy. Most scores are over worked, heavily produced, lack character and all blend into one great big orchestral racket. Alternatively they fall into either the tinkling reverbed piano style or the hit and miss compilation type. There are successes every so often, but only every so often.
“This score only starts getting interesting with tracks like ‘End Of Line’ and ‘Derezzed’, when the Daft Punk-ness of it all kicks in.”
As a soundtrack reviewer I was lucky enough to get an early hearing of this brand new work. The label, EMI, were unbelievably excited, and understandably paranoid about pirating, so I heard it under high security at their head office – one room, no bags allowed, just paper and a pen. There was a laptop with headphones on a desk, linked up to a secure musical server, and a supervisor watched over my listening all the time. This just added to the excitement. I clicked play, sat back and let the score wash over me.
It begins with an overture of about five minutes, which reminds me of the Wild West and the classic scoring of the 1950s. Panoramic, exciting, nicely played. But you’d never know it was Daft Punk. There then followed 21 further cues of heavy long bass notes, big orchestral washes and lots of electronic keyboard playing that sound really like the beginning bit from Jarre’s Oxygene. Many of the cues have this impending excitement, which never really deliver anything that exciting. There are also brief flirtations with classics such as Barber’s Adagio For Strings, but this score only starts getting interesting with tracks like ‘End Of Line’ and ‘Derezzed’, when the Daft Punk-ness of it all kicks in. By this I mean you can hear it’s them, the humour is there, the slight funky madness is there as is their house style of unexpected noises and that squidgy bouncy sound they’re so good at. And every now and again you can hear them employing the orchestra like a dance sequencer, growing tracks every four bars, but each time they seem to end nowhere special. And you keep thinking it’s Hans Zimmer.
What’s missing is maybe the pure electro beauty of say, Bladerunner, or the stripped back addictive simplicity of a John Carpenter score. Hear these and you hum them, sing them, want them. But with Tron: Legacy I really can’t remember a single distinctive melody. The original Tron score is not a major Carlos work, but none the less it has a memorable theme, which found its way onto the arcade game released in 1982. I can still hum it today.
Maybe Daft Punk wanted to play it more in their own style and were restricted by the Disney machine. Or maybe they really wanted to try their hand at proper classical scoring, in which case their attempt is decidedly average.
To sum it all up, I’d call it a listenable score but one that lacks character, real distinction and fails to break new ground. Which is something we all really wanted it to do. Oh well, we’ll see what else the future brings.