“I fight for users.”
1982’s TRON was a less than impressive corncob that was really only good because it was fun to watch. I liked it, although I found myself laughing at certain things the characters did. TRON was a comedy to be honest, and rarely took itself seriously. This new sequel TRON: Legacy, however, is no laughing matter. To be perfectly honest I didn’t expect to like TRON: Legacy, but as I sat watching it unfold before my eyes, I realized that something was happening that rarely happens to me. I was seeing something I had never seen before. The world of TRON: Legacy, although it resembles vaguely the world of the first film, is a much darker, moodier, and more beautiful world. The story is familiar, but I found myself totally immersed in it, watching with delight the entirely original realm of the digital world. In short: I loved TRON: Legacy.
The film begins in 1989, about seven years after the end of the first film with a digitally de-aged Jeff Bridges reprising his role as Kevin Flynn, a computer programmer and now head of a giant computer company called Encom, telling his son Sam about his adventures in the digital world and how he invented the video game “TRON”. Sam listens in amazement to what his dad has to say, and Flynn even promises to take him to the “Grid” one day. Then suddenly, Kevin disappears, leaving his son an orphan and his company in ruins. Twenty-one years later, Sam (Garrett Hedlund) finds the portal to the digital world his father created, to find not only his father, but also the system in ruins. All of this takes about twenty minutes of screen time, which seems to me, in light of the subject matter, to be a bit of a long intro. This film takes itself a little more seriously than the original, and as a result, can get away with a lot more generic story plots. But the faults in the screenplay are hardly noticeable since we are so immersed in the visuals. Seriously, this is one good lookin’ film. It is dark and atmospheric, and the CGI is used not just to dazzle us, but really as a kind of story devise, something rare in modern Hollywood films. To all of the fans of the original TRON, take heart, because all of the iconic images from that film have been either transferred over to or improved upon in this one. One of the best action scenes in the movie is a light-cycle battle much like the chase scene from film one, but instead of taking place on just one, two-dimensional coordinate plane, it now takes place on a multi-leveled grid which allows for some of the most fascinating and exciting shots of this past year.
The digital world, for anyone who does not know, is inhabited mostly by programs and, in the case of Flynn and Sam, a few “users”. Before Sam encounters his father, he confronts Clu (also by Jeff Bridges), a program his father created in his own image who has overturned Flynn and turned the Grid into a sort of semi-dictatorship. He’s a bit of a Darth Vader: corrupt, but not completely evil. It is Clu’s plan to find Flynn one day and either kill him or steal his “disc”, which documents everything Flynn has learned about the Grid. It is he who lures Sam into the Grid, hoping he will lead him to Flynn. On his side are a minion, a program called Rezlin, and an effervescent buffoon of a night club owner called Zeus (Michael Sheen). Through all of this, I was wondering where Tron the character was, an interesting point in the action that I will not reveal.
Sam finds his father living in a “house” far away from the city ruled by Clu. It seems that Kevin has lived there since he disappeared pondering a way to defeat Clu and restore the Grid to its glory days. It becomes evident that Flynn is sort of the exiled God of this Grid, the creator and caretaker. It reminds me of the Bible story in which God, the creator, creates the entire world, but one of his angels rebels and falls from glory becoming Satan the accuser. I don’t know if that’s what the screenwriters had in mind (in fact I rather doubt it), but I noticed these parallels whether they are true or not. It’s also interesting that Clu can’t be vanquished until Kevin’s son comes (a little like Jesus if you ask me). As Flynn and Sam move closer to their goal, there are several good, slow scenes that take us away from the action a bit and just let us look at the beautiful Grid world in its glory. Honestly, it’s one of the best visual production designs in recent years. The picture is so dark and cold looking, it’s tranquil and peaceful and quiet despite the war going on around. Where the first movie looked bizarre, electric, and colorful, this movie is the exact opposite. As I said earlier, I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ll forgive the plot inaccuracies and contrivances just because of the visual style of the film. It’s really quite stunning, like something you might dream of. Not anything like the first film. There’s something to be said for pure wonder and spectacle in a film, and I was bedazzled by TRON: Legacy.
I must say that I did not see it in 3-D. I actually think it might have been okay in 3-D, but I worry that the dark picture would have been made almost impossible to see with the dimness of 3-D glasses. The bottom line is that it’s just as good a movie in 2-D, and not eye-crossing like most 3-D films. Since Avatar, just about every big movie has been released in 3-D, most to adverse results. But I won’t use this review to once again rag on 3-D, I can do that some other time.
I think my only serious problem with TRON: Legacy was its length. At two hours and five minutes, it seemed way to long for this kind of film. I think cutting about a half of an hour would have made it a much more acceptable running time. By the time the credits rolled, despite my involvement in the motion picture, I found myself jumping out of my seat to get going. It’s way too long, a rather big problem in an otherwise wonderful film. It’s no masterpiece, but it’s a whole heck of a lot better than TRON and for that matter, better than most of the recently released Disney sequels. I hope that other such visually striking films will be married to a better screenplay, and then we’d have a rare sci-fi masterpiece. I was suspicious of the ending, which seemed to leave room for TRON 3, a film I would greatly discourage. A concept like that of the TRON films is a complex and interesting one that could probably be open to a lot of real philosophical debate. If perhaps the film had been a little more understandable, and a little more thought provoking, it would have gone beyond a good sci-fi picture and could have been, well, great.
Walt Disney Pictures presents a LivePlanet production
Cast: Jeff Bridges, Garrett Hedlund, Olivia Wilde, Bruce Boxleitner, James Frain, Beau Garrett, Michael Sheen. Directed by Joseph Kosinski
Rated PG for sequences of sci-fi action violence and brief mild language. Release Date: 17 December 2010