But this had got me thinking about Tron: Legacy and what a difference music can make. After all, the sequel is one of those movies where I fell in love about 30 seconds in (just like with the first RDJ Sherlock Holmes movie) when the French horns started in on the main theme, and the soundtrack swept me along all the way through to the end, which I still weep over every time. And yes, the visuals are amazing, and are what originally caught my interest when I heard they'd finally done a Tron sequel, and theme of fathers and children (in various positive and negative iterations) is surprisingly more meaty than I could have predicted, given the source material. The pacing is a bit uneven and the script definitely has weaknesses, but overall it's a satisfying story that manages to avoid some of the more obvious cliches.
But it's the music that really makes it something more--there's some quality about it that's expansive, that lends the overall movie a sense of grandeur while avoiding the first movie's tendency towards bombast. It makes me feel bigger on the inside while I'm listening to it, that makes me want to press on to some great deed that sits just out of view. Everyone remembers the Daft Punk bits, and those are great, but it's those French horns and that main theme that keep me coming back.
Just to have a little fun, let's compare the two introductory battle scenes, paying attention primarily to the use of music:
The first thing to notice is that there's almost nothing in the way of ambient noises, meaning that the score doesn't have anything to build out of. In fact, it almost completely overpowers what little dialog and Foley there is. The second is that it's nearly omnipresent--there isn't more than a single moment where the scene is allowed to unfold on its own. The backing music is constantly there to inform us that it's a very tense situation. Though the actual sound of it is kind of incongruous: if you simply listen, without any visuals, I'm not sure you'd be able to guess that the scene is about two people being forced to kill each other for someone else's amusement. (Theoretical amusement? It's set up like an execution, but it's a game, so...?)
It starts with a kind of military/death march, and then switches to an almost bouncy tone, and the whole thing is just an odd mish-mash.
To contrast: after the lead-in fanfare, the music drops out, and we can tell just by listening that this is some kind of arena with contestants and a large crowd. The Foley work is highlighted so that we can hear and almost feel that this is a very dangerous situation, which is then augmented by an almost entirely obscured drumline, like a heightened heartbeat. But for the early parts of the scene the focus is on the ambient noises so that it's like we're inside the action and not merely watching it. And when the music does kick in fully, it does so to indicate a change in what's happening--a move from Sam holding his own to being entirely outmatched. It's like time is slowing down so we can more acutely see and feel just how badly things are going for him. Throughout, the music is there to highlight and punctuate, but not overwrite or interpret what's going on.
And that's how it is for the whole movie, and good golly do I love it.