Are those sleek Light Cycles equipped to run on fumes? Because the two robots that were once known as Daft Punk sure are, having now officially capped an entire decade’s worth of coasting off Discovery’s still potent hot-pink cheese. The announcement that the French house duo would be filling the role Wendy Carlos did back in 1982 and scoring a new installment of what Disney clearly hopes can be resurrected into a series of TRON 3D experiences was met with blithering anticipation. The choice turned what would’ve arguably been accepted as a desperate wild-pitch attempt to boot up a new franchise into one of the most hipster-anticipated blockbusters in recent memory. How could it fail? Speed-freak visuals straight out of PlayStation’s Wipeout racing series and jet-black robo-dystopianism accompanied by chunky, distorted beats playing at decibels only IMAX theaters seem equipped to offer. Win, win, and win again.
The credibility that Daft Punk still somehow carry—despite having underwhelmed everyone with their crude bummer Human After All and filling in the gaps on either side of their discography with multiple live iterations of their back catalogue—has kept fanboys salivating for years now, lubricated with the promise of something forgotten from their childhood that only they can truly remember and celebrate properly, like some sort of happily unheimlich game token. Which is why it’s going to be a particularly bitter red pill to swallow when they hear just how prosaic and standard-issue Daft Punk’s musical contributions to the TRON matrix are. Instead of the menacing, body-ravaging textures Thomas Bangalter gave the soundtrack to Gaspar Noe’s predatory Irréversible, and instead of the even more brain-meltingly monolithic assault beats Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo perpetrated on his side-project Crydamoure label, Daft Punk’s cues for TRON: Legacy are safe, tamed, and domesticated.
Instead of their previously faultless ear for yesterday’s synthetic textures that should’ve plucked the baton right from Carlos’s neo-prog fingertips, we get the same old half-Wagnerian, half-Carmina Buranic pulsations, with heavy, plodding orchestrations, chugging string section riffs, and Hans Zimmeresque tribal drums sweetened only occasionally and very stingily with the cheapjack distortions and squelches you know and love (most notably in “Derezzed” and the end titles). It’s all too clear Disney wanted the cachet, not the daft nor the punk. Trick yourselves into thinking the robots are twisting some radical new spin on the form if you wish, but I’m logging off now.