Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Daft Punk – TRON: Legacy - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

The “legacy” appended to the title of the new Tron film doesn’t just refer to the story and visuals of the seminal original, it’s also applicable to the soundtrack crafted by French electronic music stars Daft Punk. Furthering the themes of electronic music married to full orchestral accompaniment as pioneered by Wendy Carlos in the original film, the duo worked closely with director Joseph Kosinski throughout the new film’s production to fully develop the soundscapes necessary to guide viewers through its visionary world. The end result is like nothing they’ve produced in the past, and yet somehow still recognizable as their work.

Daft Punk are know for peppy, uplifting techno house hits such as “Around the World” and “One More Time”, songs that utilize catch melodies and warm, bouncy beats to put smiles on clubbers everywhere. As such, it’s initially shocking to enter the somber, muscular, dystopian soundscape they’ve created for the film, a joyless virtual world that heavily emphasizes drums, but not to move bodies. No, these drums are of a far more primal and tribal nature, more akin to the Kodo drummers of Japan than the electronic beats of clubland. Rather than rely solely on their synths on top of those drums, the duo utilized the full London Philharmonic Orchestra to masterfully expand the epic aims of their work with intense brass and strings, greatly increasing its powerful impact. In fact, their usual electronics are somewhat de-emphasized, called in for important extra color here and there but most consistently providing the low end bass to max out the subwoofers of the world. There’s nothing incidental or off-topic in the score, with barely anything approaching a ballad or dance beat, just a consistently strong and otherworldly auditory adventure into the dark electronic heart of Tron.

This is a score that demands to be experienced at peak volume in an IMAX theater, throbbing with a dangerous intensity and deep, deep bass that threatens to destroy lesser sound systems. It reminded me of Hans Zimmer’s excellent work on the Inception soundtrack earlier this year, with a similar urgency and focus on forceful repetition of notes rather than grand melodies, and like that film there’s no ignoring the score here as it’s clearly an integral and prominently featured component of the film. If you’ve seen any of the recent trailers for the film, you’ve already experienced a taste of what’s in store, and the suits at Disney must recognize they have a clear winner on their hands as it’s also being called into heavy and constant action during their current regular elecTRONica festivities at their California Adventure themepark. The score stands strongly on its own as a visceral and enthralling work that will undoubtedly have a long life regardless of the film’s success, but it’s almost assured that this audio legacy will follow in the footsteps of its soundtrack predecessor to fully expand the cutting-edge vision of the new film.

Article first published as Music Review: Daft Punk - TRON: Legacy - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack on Blogcritics.

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Tuesday, December 07, 2010

The Sound of Music: 45th Anniversary Edition

The hills are more alive than ever thanks to the stunning 45th anniversary Blu-ray + DVD release of this venerable classic. The film has been remastered for Blu-ray in 1080p hi def with 7.1 DTS-HD sound, making this the best possible way to watch the film at home. With a mind-numbing array of bonus features as well as the lengthy film itself, there are seemingly dozens of hours of entertainment contained in the package.

For anyone unfamiliar with the film, in pre-World War II Austria, Julie Andrews stars as a spirited nun-in-training named Maria who gets assigned as a nanny to the seven children of a stern widower named Captain von Trapp. Will she return to the abbey or find her true calling in the arms of the Captain? Will the family survive the impending Nazi occupation? And why do they spend so much time singing? There's little doubt about how the whole affair will turn out, but the film's heart and its earnest but unforgettable songs still make it worthwhile viewing nearly a half century after its debut.

The Blu-ray image is...well, kinda grainy at times. It's no fault of the hi def transfer, it's just that the digital precision of our newfangled technology reveals the decidedly non-digital nature of the source material. A few questionable focusing issues are also evident, but for the most part the film stands the test of time. The colors are stunning and the depth of field and clarity of detail make the film leap off the screen, with such minutiae as bike riders on the far side of the river behind the von Trapp estate clearly visible. That immersive quality fully brings the charming Austrian countryside to life in ways never before available to home viewers. The sound mix more than holds its own as well, with suitable but never flashy separation, just enough to expand the soundstage without trumpeting its 7.1 presence.

As for bonus features, the main Blu-ray disc includes an exhaustive interactive viewing experience that allows viewers to customize up to four discrete extra tracks during the film: behind-the-scenes images, on-screen lyrics, trivia track, and location quiz. That adds up to quite a bit of screen real estate taken over by extras, but it's also a lively and inventive idea to experience the film in an entirely new way. There's also a music machine sing-along that allows viewers to cut out all that pesky plot stuff and just bask in the glory of the uninterrupted songs, an endeavor that still adds up to a full hour of viewing and singing pleasure.

Disc 2 is another full Blu-ray of special features that include an all-new interactive backlot tour with in-depth featurettes on the songs, the original stage show and movie, the film and sound restoration process, and the real von Trapp family. The treasure trove continues with a virtual map of filming locations in Salzburg, Austria, screen tests, interviews, photo galleries, and vintage Rodgers & Hammerstein programs. Disc 3 is the DVD version of the film as well as the music machine sing-along and another featurette about the film. In short, there's seemingly everything and more included to satisfy even the most demanding of fans.

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