TRON: Legacy has to be one of the most hyped, if not highly-anticipated movies of the year. It’s been teased at the San Diego Comic-Con for three years in a row – where the footage shown wowed the crowd. It’s obvious how much hard work and dedication went into the visual aspect of the film, but unfortunately that’s about all it has going for it.
The original TRON was released way back in 1982, and at the time was considered groundbreaking for its use of computer graphics in a live-action film. If you’ve never seen the film and watch it for the first time today, you’ll probably find yourself laughing at the “hokey” visual effects – but remember that back then they didn’t have the advantage of being able to create virtual worlds via CGI motion-capture that could be translated into a computer-based character, etc.
Those who love the original film (myself included) may be infected by a bit of movie nostalgia – it’s not a great film, but it’s entertaining enough and actually managed to explore some interesting concepts at a time where computers were still “new” to most people.
Legacy is a sequel that starts out about seven years after the end of the first film. Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) has taken over Encom and with the help of Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner) has made the company wildly successful. Flynn has a young son named Sam, who he’s regaled with stories of his exploits “on the grid,” and he promises to take his wide-eyed son there one day. Flynn is also on the verge of bringing a “miracle” to the world that will redefine everything – science, religion, medicine, etc.
After sharing this with his son, Kevin Flynn disappears – never to be seen again.
Cut to Sam (Garrett Hedlund) at age 27, now a loner bad boy who’s only involvement with Encom (despite being the majority shareholder) is to hack into it once a year in an attempt to disrupt the now greedy corporation (as opposed to the wonderful, benevolent company it was when his father ran it) in one way or another.
Sam is led to a secret lab at Flynn’s Arcade, where he repeats his father’s last computer command on the dusty console – which transports him into the cyber-universe of the grid. Director Joseph Kosinski makes this universe seem even more “special” in an effective way: The “real world” scenes are in 2D, but once we move into the computer world the 3D in the film finally kicks in – and it really makes for an effective transition. Think about the scene in The Wizard of Oz where Dorothy emerges from her house into Oz – on steroids.
Once in the cyber world Sam is understandably overwhelmed, but adapts quickly being the athletic guy we met in the real-world scenes. Sam soon meets Clu, the program his father created to run the system, who looks like a much younger Jeff Bridges (more on that, later). It seems Clu has turned into a dictator in search of perfection, and is not satisfied with pursing/enforcing it only in the computer realm.
Eventually a program named Quorra (Olivia Wilde) brings Sam to see his father, who has been trapped there since he vanished so many years ago. Of course Sam wants to return to our world with his father, but dear old dad is reticent because his “identity disc” contains the information that Clu needs to invade our world – and he doesn’t want to risk that. The trio race to find a way to stop Clu, and escape the cyber world, before Clu can execute his terrible plan.
TRON: Legacy is a visual treat – at least until you get used to it. Visually, the highlight of the film takes place not long after Sam’s arrival in the computer world. The scenes in which the battles take place on the grid, both the hand-to-hand and the lightcycle racing, are truly amazing. As I watched that part of the film I thought “this is the techno answer to Avatar.” The 3D here is used to excellent effect, including a multi-level, transparent race track where the lightcycles do battle.
The musical score by Daft Punk is an excellent match for the film. Being an old guy, the first time heard of them was in reference to this film, but their techo-rock, pulsing soundtrack matches the otherworldly look of the film. As a bonus, they actually appear in the film (the club scene).
This world is much more detailed than that of the original film, reflecting the increase in computing and graphics power we have today compared to the vector graphics of almost 30 years ago. Updates to the ships and the suits worn by the programs are all well done and are visually impressive – there are also some new designs introduced to keep things fresh.
There are many nods to the original film – I’ll leave them unmentioned so you can discover them as you watch the movie. However, there are also many things taken from lots of other films that came before – some so similar that it’s difficult not to think “rip-off” instead of “nod.” Those films include Star Wars, The Matrix, 2001: A Space Odyssey and more. In fact, in one scene I thought Garrett Hedlund was channeling Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker.
The world of the film is filled with many perfectly pretty people – and I felt little connection to most of them. If I had to pick one person who generated a sense of connection above the others, it would be Bruce Boxleitner reprising his role as Alan Bradley – and he was barely in the film. Michael Sheen as Castor had an excess of personality that made him seem like he was far more advanced than “just a program.” Olivia Wilde generated no connection and her character was no better. With a collection of the greatest written works of all time having been read by her (as provided by old Flynn), she professed her favorite author to be Jules Verne. Nothing against Jules Verne, but compared to the other books there and her apparent hunger to understand the real world, it seemed like an odd (lame) choice.
Then there was the quest to get home – was old Flynn’s data disc required or not? Was it important enough to guard with one’s life (because at one point it seems like an “oh well”), and do we even care?
Finally we get to the CGI recreation of Jeff Bridges as a young man. Have we finally gotten past the “uncanny valley” (where the mind/eye discerns that something is just not quite “real”)? Sadly, no. As long as young Kevin Flynn wasn’t talking, the face looked great – but as soon as he spoke, the creepy factor pops up. He looked like he had a face full of Botox – think Joan Rivers as seen recently on The Apprentice. One could argue that Clu was a computer program and should have been “stiff” compared to a human, but even in the opening scene of the film where we see the real-world young Kevin Flynn, the same effect is present.
Really, if you’re going to see the film, try to make it to an IMAX theater if you have one available – and if there isn’t one you really should see the film in 3D, as TRON: Legacy is an example of 3D done right. It was shot in 3D and there is use of both subtle and overt 3D in the film, an overall effect that looks impressive and adds to the feeling of being in a world that is not ours.
But if you’re looking for characters and a story that will draw you in, wait and go see that other Jeff Bridges movie: True Grit.
Here’s a trailer for TRON: Legacy:
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If you want to talk about the film without worry about spoiling it for others, head over to our TRON: Legacy Spoilers Discussion.