Daft Punk's Electroma Review
Daft Punk’s Electroma is more CD than DVD. A no frills disc with no extras, no menu even, it simply plays. This is the mix album as movie, akin to one of those Back to Mine compilations in which various dance orientated artists treat us to their chill out/easy listening selections for our drug assisted enjoyment. But then it’s also lovingly packaged: a sleek slip-case houses a 44-page hardback book containing glossy production stills and no words. A fair summation of the film itself, in fact. Pristine visuals and no dialogue. All style and no substance?
Electroma has few direct precedents in cinematic terms and so it’s best to consider Daft Punk’s visual experiences of the past. Their promos have always been at the cutting edge, collaborating with the likes of Michel Gondry and Spike Jonze, and then there was the feature Interstella 5555, essentially their 2001 album Discovery set, track by track, to the (retro) anime of Leiji Matsumoto. Electroma could be described as a meeting of the two: the soundtrack comprises Daft Punk’s chill out mix (from Haydn and Chopin to Curtis Mayfield and Todd Rundgren’s offbeat AOR) and passages of silence; the visuals are effectively an extended promo, a scant narrative of disarming simplicity set to music. In a nutshell we have a world entirely inhabited by robots. Two of them, clad in Dior leather suits, attempt to be human (courtesy of Darkman-style latex masks which go over their helmets), fail and so head into the desert to die.
But the storyline isn’t important here. With no dialogue and no faces to any of its cast members (barring slight anthropomorphisms) there’s no emotion outside of the music and the atmosphere they create. The opening sequence recalls Easy Rider, or rather a 21st century variation, as our two leads drive through the open spaces of America to the strains of Todd Rundgren’s International Feel, eventually settling in a small town where everyone, from infants to postmen, is similarly wearing stylish helmets. And much like Easy Rider’s musical interludes this is all about mood and landscape, languid and laidback despite the sci-fi trappings. Indeed, the town has all the disquiet of Invasion of the Body Snatchers with its alien populace, whilst later on we get nods to THX 1138 and giant computer consoles whose dated chic is lovingly pored over. Yet it’s the counterculture quotations which resonate most. Zabriskie Point is another key reference point (and remember how much that was tied to its Pink Floyd soundtrack) and there’s a wonderful throwaway shot – though it may also be the most significant – in which the female body is twinned with the desert landscape thereby recalling that moment in Performance where, momentarily, we’re uncertain as to whether it’s a pyramid or a nipple up there on the screen.
All very much cult viewing, then, and a film whose fanbase, you’d imagine, will grow as the years progress. But it’s also an assured debut for the Daft Punk pair, here co-writing (alongside Cedric Hervet and Paul Hahn), co-directing and, in Thomas Bangalter’s case, serving as cinematographer to these consistently stunning visuals. Take it or leave it perhaps, but an intriguing art movie nonetheless and a happy reminder that singular visions such as these are still being produced. A little stuck in the sixties, despite its noughties sheen, although given time it may prove to be its own time capsule awaiting discovery from future generations, an artefact from the dance age that, cinematically at least, remains under-represented.
The lack of extras combined with the slick packaging should prompt high expectations when it comes to Electroma’s presentation. Yet the results are decidedly mixed and ultimately a little disappointing. We get the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, anamorphically enhanced and taken from an impeccable print. It’s generally pleasing although its interlaced nature becomes very apparent during scenes of high movement and edge enhancement also rears its head when it comes to brightly lit scenes. The soundtrack meanwhile doesn’t come in DD5.1 as promised on the sleeve – and as it should be or, even better, in DTS – but a fairly standard 2.0 offering. It copes fine as far as it goes with the soundtrack and demonstrates no perceivable flaws, yet this downscaling is undoubtedly disappointing. There are, of course, no optional subtitles given the complete lack of dialogue.