Tron Legacy: The Memorable Score of a Forgotten Film 

Looking back, I’m not sure that anyone would have expected the keyboard player briefly seen in the “Video Killed the Radio Star” music video to go on to compose some of the most prolific modern film scores. It’s true; Hans Zimmer started his career as a keyboard and synthesizer musician for various bands such as Krakatoa, Krisma, and of course, The Buggles. In fact, many renowned film composers got their start as musicians and/or members of bands. Danny Elfman and Trent Reznor are just two examples of composers that followed this trajectory.

Sometimes, the crossover between popular music and film score is less of a career transition for artists and more of a one-off instance. Some examples of this would include Arcade Fire’s composition of the score for Her (dir. Spike Jonez, 2013), or RZA’s production of the original music for Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (dir. Jim Jarmusch, 1999). But none of these have struck the same chord of success that was the score of Tron: Legacy (dir. Joseph Kosinksi, 2010), created by the French electronic duo Daft Punk.

The pair were chosen specifically because director Joseph Kosinksi wanted to “try something fresh and different,” while still honoring continuity from the synth-filled, futuristic soundtrack of Tron (dir. Steven Lisberger, 1982). When they agreed to score Tron: Legacy, Daft Punk took a direction that was slightly different then their normal productions by combining their typical electronic sound with that of orchestral music, to provide a more cinematic feel. They proved to be a perfect match for the film, especially given their inclination to pair music with visuals. Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, one-half of the duo, stated at one point that “Tron was cut to the music” from the start. Much of the positive critical reception the film received was dedicated to the original score, which went on to be nominated at the 2012 Grammy Awards.

Tron: Legacy represented the perfect mash-up of a popular artist with an original film score composition. The band’s style blended perfectly with the aesthetic of the film, and they were able to make it sound unique enough from their standalone music to feel natural in the film. Daft Punk has since disbanded in the years following Legacy’s release, and they did not produce music for any other films.

Actually, since Legacy, no film has utilized a popular artist in the same way for an original score. This is surprising to me, given the overwhelming and almost cult acclaim Daft Punk’s Tron: Legacy soundtrack has accumulated. Perhaps it was due to the film’s disappointing financial performance, or just the lightning-in-a-bottle union of styles between the artist and the film, but this instance has not been replicated in recent years. Regardless, I think it illustrates the potential of this type of fusion, and I would be willing to see more of it in films to come.

(Unless it’s Tron 3, of course, which shouldn’t be made without a reunited Daft Punk.)

Tron: Legacy is currently streaming on Disney Plus.