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TBTS Reviews: Tron:Legacy

December 19, 2010

Tron:Legacy poster

Tron 2: ReTron | Tron 2: Tron Harder | Tron 2: The Tronnination | Tron 2: Electric Boogaloo.

I’ll admit it. I’ve had nipple-boners for this movie ever since the teaser footage shown at ComicCon was leaked to YouTube. I went in with high expectations so let it be known that I’m somewhat less than an objective reviewer. Let it also be known that I deliberately chose to attend a non-3D showing because I hold a steadfast belief that 3D filmmaking is a gimmick and a fad. (However, if James Cameron has his way, it’ll be less of a fad…but even more of a gimmick.)

Tron:Legacy is of course the sequel to Disney’s Tron, a groundbreaking science-fiction film released in 1982 that was at least a decade ahead of its time. The original Tron‘s seamless blend of traditional photography (and complicated, time-consuming film processing and rotoscoping techniques) and early computer-generated sequences wowed an admittedly small audience in its day, but has lived on as a trailblazer in CGI-assisted filmmaking. Its story of Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), a human programmer sucked into a computer and forced to play video games from the inside, carries over into its sequel. The titular character was a “video warrior” Flynn helps to free the Computer Grid from the evil Master Control Program and its minion, Zark.

In Tron:Legacy it is 20 years after the events of Tron, and Flynn’s software company, ENCOM, is the largest in the world. Flynn disappeared some years ago and left his majority shareholdings to his son, Sam. Sam has grown up to be an adrenaline junkie and computer prankster, largely ignoring his father’s company with the exception of yearly hacking expeditions to deliberately release ENCOM’s expensive software to the world for free. A brief meeting with his father’s friend Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner, recurring his role from the first movie) prompts Sam to check out Flynn’s old arcade wherein he discovers a hidden office and computer terminal. Sam is of course sucked into the computer world as well, and thus begins his quest to find his father and get some answers about Flynn’s long absence. It turns out that the system is now under the brutal dictatorship of Clu, a program Flynn created in his own image to bring order and “perfection” to the Grid. Flynn has gone into exile and spends much of his time in a state of Zen-like meditation (“this Grid really ties the room together”), accompanied by his new acolyte, Quorra (a devastatingly gorgeous Olivia Wilde). Plot-wise, it’s difficult to reveal too much more without spoiling a few things.

Visually, Tron:Legacy is tough to beat. Once on the Grid, nearly all color is absent save for sparks of red, orange, yellow, and occasionally green. Skin tones are muted almost entirely to grayscale. Everything is black or white with lines of light throughout. The sky is perpetually cloudy and everything not man-made has a gaunt, angular appearance. The tone is one of a cold, bleak world of logic and data traveling along prescribed paths. The gaming sequences, including disc duels (another nod to the original Tron) and light-cycle battles (more on this later) are fast-paced and spectacular. Everything from the original Tron has been updated, from the appearance of the light-cycles (and even the discs) to the way Programs (characters) die (are “derezzed’). It’s notable that the updates do not appear to be simple, lazy tweaks of effects. These are complete and thoughtful re-imaginings of concepts from the original movie.

Of course, mimicking the first movie’s most memorable sequence, the marquee scene is the light-cycle game. Here, the light-cycles, in addition to being visually updated, operate on multiple levels, adding to the excitement and danger of the game. And when cycles are destroyed there is a satisfying liquidity to the explosion. This is a nice visual touch that lends a more organic feel to these sequences that the original Tron lacked due to the limitations of 1982 CG technology.

It seems no review of Tron:Legacy is complete without mentioning the soundtrack/score. It was composed and performed by French electronic duo Daft Punk. Now, I’m not a fan. In fact, to this day I have yet to forgive Daft Punk for the abomination that is “Around the World.” HOWEVER…the score and electronic soundtrack for Tron:Legacy are excellent; electronic whenever possible, orchestrated whenever necessary. I must admit that acquiring Daft Punk for the job (and a clever cameo in the movie) was quite a coup by the filmmakers. The band’s quasi-retro meets modern attention-to-sonic-detail style is perfectly suited to this movie.

In fact, there has been more than one coup accomplished in getting this movie made. Having Jeff Bridges back on board is essential, and he does a great job, both as himself and as Clu (though the latter CGIed to make him look younger.) It was great to see James Frain (The Tudors, True Blood) as Clu’s sycophant Jarvis. And Michael Sheen (Frost/Nixon, The Queen) was clearly having a ball as the flamboyant club owner Castor.

Those who know Tron well will recognize a few nods to the original here and there. (For example, Sam’s apartment is in a building bearing the name “Dumont,” which was the name of the old I/O gatekeeper program in Tron played by Barnard Hughes.) And there are a few lines of dialogue lifted verbatim from the original. There is also a pretty obvious telegraph of an inevitable sequel. Cillian Murphy is uncredited as Edward Dillinger, son of Ed Dillinger, the antagonist of the original movie who stole Flynn’s ideas for video games and presented them as his own. Now, there’s no way the filmmakers would bother to establish such a character (and get Cillian Murphy to play him) unless there were plans for a sequel somehow featuring the evil machinations of the Son of Dillinger!

There is a lamentable validity to some reviewers’ complaints about the plot. There are certain things that I wish had been explained better, and a few “twists” that the audience (or at least me) can see coming from miles away. But in all, Tron:Legacy is quite the proverbial ride.

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