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Saturday, December 18, 2010

‘TRON: Legacy’ Fights for the Users and the Audience


TRON: Legacy = 4 out of 5
Kevin Flynn: Greetings, programs!
In 1982, Disney released an original science fiction film known as TRON.  Despite its unique concept and the presence of Jeff Bridges, the film was only met with moderate success, developing a cult following over the years.  TRON’s most notable aspect, at the time, was in regards to the way it pioneered the use of computer technology to create its special effects.  Despite this notable quality, the film was disqualified from Oscar consideration regarding the special effects, because it was deemed to have cheated.  Now, 28 years later, due to the power young geeks who grew up watching TRON and are now working for Disney, a sequel has been made.
  Designed to appeal to both fans of the original film as well as anyone unfamiliar with it (which is a very large majority), TRON: Legacy is great looking and great sounding blast of silly fun.  Despite the film’s insistence on trying to be about something, I was more than happy to sit back and enjoy all the absurd glory that is the TRON universe and the use of the latest technology to amplify it.

Despite being heavy on tech-related lingo, the story of this film is very simple.  In the original TRON, Jeff Bridges’ character, Kevin Flynn, was digitally teleported into a computer grid.  With the help of a program, Tron (Bruce Boxleitner), Flynn was able to escape the computer world.  Some years after this event (the setup for this film), Flynn developed a very wealthy computer systems company, only to have disappeared without a trace, leaving his only son, Sam, behind.  Twenty years after Flynn has gone missing, a grown up Sam (Garrett Hedlund), now the leading share owner in his father’s company, receives interesting news.  His father’s best friend, Alan (Boxletner again, as he is the original creator of Tron and programs share the look of their creators), informs Sam that Flynn has sent a message, which has been traced to the site of his old arcade.


Upon arriving at the arcade, Sam manages to find a hidden door, leading him to a back room.  Before Sam has a chance to figure out of his dad was up to, he winds up being digitally teleported into a much newer computer grid.  Despite this inconvenience, Sam learns that his father has been trapped within this cyber-universe and he is going to help rescue him.  Along with one of Flynn’s confidants, Quorra (Olivia Wilde), Sam does everything he can to help escape this digital realm with his father.  The only major problem comes in the form of a program Flynn created, CLU (played by Bridges, but digitally altered to look much younger), who is hell bent on capturing Flynn, stealing his data, and, of course, taking over the world.
CLU:  Your move Flynn.  Come on!
The original TRON is not a great film.  The story is pretty flimsy and the characters, aside from the leads, are pretty bland.  That being said, I love that movie.  It does not come down to nostalgia or an image I built up in my mind once I knew the sequel was coming.  I saw TRON for the first time, all the way through, in 2001.  The 20th Anniversary DVD (which seems to be going for tons of money on eBay now) arrived the following year and I bought it immediately.  Since that time, I have been able to continue to enjoy TRON for the way it straddled the line between goofy and cool.  With this new film, I was not putting my hopes high on the idea that the future of cinema would change (James Cameron already made that promise last year).  Instead, I was hoping to continue to experience a world that exists for the pure means of giving audiences a unique, digital world to watch with amazement.  I wanted to experience that same mix of goofiness and wow factor, but with an updated look, and this film delivered that.

Newbie director Joseph Kosinski and a pair of writers from the series Lost, have managed to put together a film that, similar to something like Avatar, has all of the requirements to be enjoyed by general audiences, but also has an extra layer of depth regarding all that has went into the creation of the world presented.  With the huge amount of money Disney invested into a sequel of a property that had only moderate interest for the original audience, I can certainly understand why the fairly standard “quest” plot was used for a film like this, but I also admire the ambition that Kosinski seemed to employ when delivering on the assembly of this feature.  Add to that the father-son story dynamic, and there was certainly plenty for me to chew on from the basic levels.


Getting to the main players involved, it is of course Jeff Bridges who shines in a dual performance as both hero and villain.  Certainly not trying to transcend a higher level, Bridges is very much playing the likable side of his personality as the elder Flynn.  On the other side of the coin, he does a fine job at delving into an evil side, as CLU, a program seeking perfection – a concept he deems to be lost on his creator.  In addition to Bridges, I can say I enjoyed Hedlund’s work as Sam.  It is a very basic character – bit of a rebel, a dash of daredevil, and a handful of quips, but Hedlund is up to the task of filling in the required shoes of this type of personality, and he pulls it off fine.  Then you have Olivia Wilde as Quorra, who is playing the computer nerd’s dream girl.  She is spunky, loyal, smart, and brave.  What certainly helps is how Wilde not only looks great, but has the acting chops to make her character seem important.  Finally, Michael Sheen pops in as a flamboyant rock star program, designed to dance and chew up digital scenery.
[To the two DJs in the club]
Castor: Change the scheme! Alter the mood! Electrify the boys and girls if you'd be so kind.
As far as the look of this film goes, you can certainly see where the truck loads of money to develop this movie went.  The whole thing looks spectacular.  See this movie on a big screen and in 3D.  Similar to The Dark Knight, certain scenes were shot and formatted to play extra large on IMAX screens and they certainly blend in well and add to the scope of this film.  The set design, vehicles created, action set pieces (the arena sequence is easily the best part of this movie), and overall style of this cyber-universe is all perfectly realized.  After turning my mind off when it came to thinking about what the purpose these varying aspects of this world were (why do programs need entertaining gladiator battles?), I was happy to just be immersed in the world that was created.  Only adding to this satisfaction was the use of 3D, which was perfectly executed to draw the viewer further in.  I am as tired of the 3D fad as the next reasonable person, but I know when it is done well.


One of the biggest wins this film had from the get go, was making it known that the electronic mega duo, Daft Punk, would be providing the score for the film.  They deliver in spades.  The score of this film is the perfect mix of pulse pounding beats and a grand epic sweep that certainly helps set the tone and the scale of the film.  Among the moments to cheer, which included an awesome lightcycle battle and the disc wars fights, seeing Daft Punk cameo during the film was certainly a moment the audience was proud to acknowledge.

The film has its shortcomings.  Similar to the original film, ‘Legacy’ does not have the most compelling story, despite its urge to convince you that it does (I noticed lots of real life and biblical parallels and I am not one to do that).  It certainly feels as if more could be going on to better clarify elements of this world, but at the same time, exposition is delivered in clumps and makes you want to get back to the deadly Frisbee fights.  There can certainly be an argument made about the characters.  They are essentially black and white (or in this case, orange and blue), and as such, it seems less about complexity and more about how far you can take these archetypes (I would have loved to see Bridges twirling a digital mustache at some point).  And finally, the pacing can be a bit sluggish at times.  I find a lot of this interesting, as the first TRON suffers pretty much all of the same problems.


With all this in mind, I still had a blast watching this film.  It has all the cheesy elements one (especially for a fan of TRON due to its silliness) would hope for, but also contains some really slick visuals and action sequences.  While I do not know how well most audiences are going to be able to handle the computer-themed jargon of the movie, I do think that the father-son dynamic is basic enough to draw on universal understanding, and combined with the fact this is a super-awesome looking fantasy/sci-fi/action mini-epic, this is certainly the kind of fun flick that people who admire spectacle and like to have fun want to go to the movies for.  TRON fights for the users and Flynn abides.
Clu:  Out there is a new world! Out there... is our destiny!

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