A blog about movies and filmmaking.

TRON And It’s Legacy

In cult film, sci-fi on December 25, 2010 at 3:10 am

So, last year we all got to go see a movie that was hyped for a number of years as “forever changing the landscape of cinema”, and of course SHERLOCK HOLMES…I mean AVATAR, became the highest grossing movie of all time. This year, we get a movie that has been hyped over a number of years – huge panels at San Diego Comic Con; arcades set up and laser light-shows at Disney World – and is a sequel for a long slumbering franchise (?), TRON: LEGACY. Why mention Avatar? Because many thought that Legacy might be on par with it.

While it’s no where near as good as Avatar – no matter how you feel about that movie, you’re bound to like it more than Tron, in nearly every way – there are still, some things worth mentioning that make it something I’d recommend seeing on the big screen. (Even in 3-D IMAX, if you’re so inclined.)

So, while I had seen the original Tron a long time ago, it was indeed a long time ago and all I remembered from the movie was David Warner (always awesome!), the weird glowy-suits, and bad computer graphics. So, just to do everything ass-backwards, I saw the new movie and then afterwards ventured back to the original one. Surprisingly, I wasn’t that lost with the new adventures on the grid; I remembered a lot of what happened and the plot sticks pretty close to what came before. And I’m not one of the few people that were actually big fans of the original. So, I think most people will be able to at least understand what happens in this movie.

The new movie starts with Kevin Flynn regaling his son, Sam, with the story of his fight against the Master Control Program and how the digital world is this magical place. Basically, recapping the original movie in broad strokes. Then Flynn goes to leave and says he’ll take Sam into the Grid soon. Of course, he never returns and jump forward twenty years (through a series of news broadcasts that tell us all of what happens between), and ENCOM – the company Flynn was fired from in the original movie and seemingly took over after the credits rolled in TRON 1 – is now on the cusp of releasing a new operating system. Sam, being the renegade hacker, that he was bound to grow up to be decides that the new OS should be free for all and releases it to the internet, gratis.

He gets to home, and Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner, who also is the titular Tron, in the computer world), has snuck in to tell Sam about a page he received. From Flynn’s decades-old abandoned arcade. Sam decides to check it out, gets sucked into the computer a la his father in the original and the (disc) games begin.

Let me say right off the bat, I enjoyed TRON: LEGACY. I thought that the effects were pretty great. It’s one of the few movies where I don’t mind having paid the premium for seeing it in IMAX 3-D – there’s a spectacular moment where a giant ship is being chased by a number of smaller ones, all emitting their own light trail (you know, that can destroy any object that comes into contact with them) and it’s absolutely stunning with all it’s DNA-ribbon like lines and twisting. The score is absolutely the best part of the whole movie and really makes the whole movie better just from having it blast during certain moments. I even, for the most part enjoyed the performances.

Garrett Hedlund (also in the recently released COUNTRY STRONG), is fine in the role of Sam Flynn. He needs to be slightly bull-headed and resistant. With that being pretty much all that’s required of him, he’s more than adequate. Olivia Wilde (THE NEXT THREE DAYS) as Quorra, really brings the movie to life when she’s on-screen. She’s got a bit of Leelu Dallas from THE FIFTH ELEMENT and also just some old-school femme fatale in the character. She’s innocent, badass, and sort of the macguffin of the whole movie. (Is that a spoiler?)

Then there’s Jeff Bridges. I’ve already commented on his performance in TRUE GRIT and he’s more than solid here. At first, when I saw Legacy, I was really turned off by what seemed to be his channeling The Dude from THE BIG LEBOWSKI until I went back and saw TRON; only to realize The Dude, is in-fact what Flynn would have been if he hadn’t been in a computer for twenty years. Still, beyond that strange affectation and the reliance on zen quotes (like, “it’s bio, digital jazz, man” or “you’re killing my zen”), the performance has a few moments of true pathos. He’s a little Neo and Obi-Wan, and really I tended to like the movie more when he was on-screen, even if I thought he was a little silly.

The biggest mark against the movie – would be the story, but I’m more than willing to forgive that, in that this year hasn’t exactly delivered much in the way of good stories in it’s blockbusters – is the digital versions of Jeff Bridges to make him look younger. Not only as CLU, the main antagonist of the movie – which might have actually been forgivable since he’s meant to be a digital creation – but also in the very beginning where we see a young Flynn talking to Sam. Even worse is the movie’s obvious attempts to try and hide the subpar effects, by holding on strange angles behind him; and in one moment, cutting to outside the house where Flynn talks to his son but stops not in front of a window – which I believe there are at least three – but behind one of the beams between windows. Hiding his face.

It’s that, that really killed the movie for me. Instead of embracing their limitations – or possibly working harder to make the opening look even better (come on, we all know, you can do a passable CGI person) – they obviously hide it and then completely jar you by revealing the effects. Hell, the first time we see CLU, he’s sitting alone in his skybox watching the digital gladiatorial games with his helmet on! Sure, maybe it’s to hide who the character is until the reveal to Sam, but honestly it just feels like it’s to hide the inadequate CGI.

So, getting all that out of the way, again I just want to note that I think this movie isn’t a failure. It’s a lot better than a lot of the big movies we got this year (PRINCE OF PERSIA, THE LAST AIRBENDER, I’m looking at you). The story was about what I figured based on what I remembered (and was confirmed on, by rewatching TRON), it was nonsensical, light and silly. There was added mythology to try and up the stakes – like in other long-waited, fairly disappointing sequels (THE MATRIX and STAR WARS, I’m looking at you now). But, there are definitely things to recommend about it.

So, go see it. Preferably do a double feature of it with TRUE GRIT, just to get every drop of Bridges goodness you can. And let’s hope they wait another twenty years when no one cares about TRON again, for them to make another sequel.

What, you didn’t think I wasn’t going to actually comment a little more on this whole franchise, did you?

Watching the original TRON, made me realize a number of points and ideas that were there that the creators of the new movie could have latched on to. First of all, the digital world that Sam gets sucked into is all set in a disconnected system, isolated from the expansion of computers and the discoveries of the internet and how the world has really sort of become a digital world in itself.

Where in the first movie, every “program” that was embodied in the Encom computers, was based off a system and seemingly modeled after their “user”; that’s why Sark was played by David Warner, who also played Ed Dillinger in the real world of TRON, and gets a nod of a sort in the new movie. That’s why the original Clu (oh yeah, he was in the original too), was Bridges and the character Tron was played by Boxleitner. It all had it’s own rules and way of making sense. The whole company of Encom was run by the Master Control Program (MCP), and that’s why there were accounting programs that were slightly tubby and complained about having to be active; why there were guardian programs that looked like the creators of the whole system. All with their own magnificent day-glo suits and helmets, and all with a sense of purpose.

In the new movie, with the computer isolated, it doesn’t really make sense why or even how this “Matrix” still runs. There are new creatures introduced, which are meant to be the backbone of what was to come next. But, it’s wasted, and the plot really goes nowhere. The entire style of the system has gone through many “cycles”, but it’s frustrating other than just acknowledging that the creators of the new movie didn’t want to have those silly spandex suits on everyone – instead going with skin-tight latex.

The original movie, was a light entertainment that asked questions about where the looming digital age was going to go – there was a moment of scientists trying to digitize physical objects. Creating teleporters and other various things. There were more existential questions in the Grid about whether Users actually existed, plus there were light cycles, disc wars, computer programs thinking that they could run all of humanity better than humans. In the new movie, they grasped onto the simple, “cooler” things – the light cycles/disc wars – and expanded on that. Kind of were hinting at the “expanding into the real world” idea but kept it hidden for far too long; and in the end, created a new age, digitally slick sequel that is merely only a shadow, spiritually, of what the original was.

Unfortunately, seeing the original TRON as of now isn’t an easy task. But, hopefully there will be a new release of the movie so people can see these two movies together.

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