A film review by Craig J. Koban December 23, 2010
2010, PG, 125 mins.
2010, PG, 125 mins.
Kevin / Clu: Jeff Bridges / Sam: Garrett Hedlund / Quorra: Olivia
Wilde / Alan / Tron: Bruce Boxleitner / Jarvis: James Frain / Castor
/ Zuse: Michael Sheen
watched within the context of its original release way back in 1982,
Steven Lisberger’s science fiction film TRON was unequivocally a
watershed and pioneering film in the annals of cinema history.
Lisberger’s landmark and groundbreaking effort – which, for its
an absolutely unheard of marriage of live action and the extremely
new concept of computer generated animation – was undeniably
state-of-the art, despite its obvious crudity and simplicity
when viewed by today’s eyes that have been inundated with hundreds of
films yearly that use pixalized imagery like it were going out of style.
though the film has dated rather poorly when compared to modern visual
effects techniques, there is no doubt that Lisberger audaciously
imaginative design for the film stood proudly on its own: The original
TRON may have contained only 15-plus minutes of actual CGI footage and
used computers with memories that are dwarfed by the smart phones we carry
in our pockets daily, but it was the enterprising idea of combining filmed
actors with computer images that was a radical first.
TRON may not have been a solid box office hit for Disney when
released (it grossed a mere $33 million) nor did it create a titanic STAR
WARS-esque revisionism of the pop culture milieu of the time, but the cult
and influence of TRON is its proudest legacy.
John Lasseter has admitted that without the film’s existence
then the whole cannon of Pixar films would have arguably been merely a pipe dream.
This prologue brings me, of
course, to TRON’s long gestating sequel, subtitled LEGACY, which
continues the story that its prequel began 28-years earlier.
The basic plot of the original – you may or may not recall –
concerned a brilliant and intrepid video game developer named Kevin Flynn (Jeff
Bridges) that attempted to hack into an airtight computer mainframe of a
corporation, but in his attempts he found himself inadvertently teleported
to the digital world of the computer itself as a “user”.
While there he teamed up with various programs (one being named “Tron”)
that attempted to defeat the Master Control Program that ruled the digital
world with an oppressive resolve. Flynn
and Tron saved the day and Flynn returned to the real world and the new
film takes place – in one brief introductory scene – seven years later and then
flash-forwards to the present, where the story of Flynn and his offspring
involves a return trip to the digital world of the PC.
TRON: LEGACY begins in 1989 where
Flynn – at this point an innovative software programmer and CEO of a
vast computer corporation called ENCOM – informs his 8-year-old son Sam
(played as an adult by Garrett Hedlund) of the new digital frontier that
he has created called "The Grid", which is a virtual computer world set
apart from the real world. He lovingly reveals the exploits of how two of his
self-created programs, Tron and Clu (the latter played by Bridges, more on
that in a bit): Tron serves as the cop of the digital universe, keeping it
secure and safe, whereas Clu has been instructed to create the “perfect
system.” Flynn informs
his son how he is on the cusp of a major breakthrough in his work that
could change human civilization forever.
After he finishes his story to his son, Flynn departs to work…and is
never seen again.
decades pass and Flynn is still M.I.A., which has had the unfortunate side
effect of leaving Sam an orphan that has grown up never knowing why his
father never returned to him. ENCOM
has become a global-dominating entity that would make Microsoft blush with
envy, and Sam is the primary stockholder of the company, but he is more
interested in sabotaging their newest software efforts than with being a
member of the team. A
long-time colleague of Flynn's, Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner) has long
assumed that there is more to Flynn’s disappearance than petty and
but Sam never seems to buy into that idea.
One day changes Sam’s perspective on his father forever: When
Alan receives a message from what appears to be Flynn, it leads Sam to
investigating his father’s old arcade that, in turn, leads him to a secret
room filled with his father’s high tech computers.
Sam, inquisitive as ever, punches away on one keyboard, but he
accidentally launches a program for a nearby digitizing laser that
teleports him into the world of The Grid.
After a series of near-fatal gladiatorial
tests for Sam in the digital world, he is introduced to Clu, who has become
a despotic and cruel figure of The Grid.
Sam is eventually rescued by a being named Quorra (the gorgeous and
spunky Olivia Wilde) who takes him to a secret hideout where Sam has a
fateful meeting with his aged father. After
their teary-eyed reunion, Flynn informs his son as to how Clu betrayed
both him and Tron and seized control of The Grid and systematically
destroyed programs that Flynn created to unearth mysteries in every
human-centric field of study. Flynn could have “re-integrated” with Clu, thus stopping his
reign, but the process would kill them both. However, there is a pathway
between the real world and the digital universe that can be reached and
used, but only for a very limited time.
Flynn, Sam, and Quorra take it upon themselves to find a way to end
Clu’s tyrannical reign and return to the real world fully intact.
Before discussing the film’s
look, some mention needs to be made about the pleasure and genius of
getting back Jeff Bridges after a near-30-year departure from the
first film. The visual
effects wizards have taken Bridges' mug and de-aged it so that he can, in
essence, play the role of himself in a few brief scenes in the past, but
also so that he can play Clu (critics that bemoan that Clu looks waxy and
exhibits the Uncanny Valley Effect of most CGI human characters miss the
point: Clu should look real, per se, but kind of unreal at the same time, which
makes him a spooky presence). As
the elder Flynn – sporting a grizzled, Moses-like beard and robes and with a
hippie/Zen Buddhist philosophy – Bridges imparts considerable amount of
ultra-cool swagger and soul into the tech-heavy film.
His supporting cast is serviceable enough: Hedlund as his son is a decent and headstrong presence, and Wilde –
harboring perhaps the most
exotically beautiful eyes I’ve seen on screen in many a moon
- is both sultry and innocently vivacious as Quorra.
TRON: LEGACY – perhaps even
more than the original 1982 film – primarily exists as a state of the
art technological machine to engage, dazzle, and wow us, and on that level
the film is a masterful auditory/visual dynamo.
Joseph Kosinski, uses modern advances in CGI and 3D-filmed cinematography
(no lame upconverts here, folks!) to
imagine and construct digital environments of The Grid that’s stunningly
transfixing. The film –
like the most evocative examples of escapist fantasy – works by totally
transporting us to its
kaleidoscope of virtual panoramas that drips with atmosphere (which is punctuated
immensely by the outstanding music score by Daft Punk, which
simultaneously echoes the nostalgic electric cords of 1980’s film scores
while reiterating the sensation of being immersed in a digital universe). There
is also a simple elegance and sophistication to the exhilarating action
sequences, like an early contest between Sam and numerous
digital warriors that sport deadly Frisbees of light (a nod to the
original) that leads to a gravity and physics defying race set upon a
dizzying racetrack with sleek and deftly maneuverable light cycles (another
nod). The makers here spare
no expense at lovingly throwing odes to the original film’s
innovative sights, but it amps them up to infinitely higher levels to
appease the scrutinizing and demanding eyes of modern audiences.
For as technically marvelous as the film is to
engage in, TRON: LEGACY does have some minor
faults, like an overall storyline that feels somewhat sluggishly
conventional and, at times, leaves confused viewers asking questions
regarding the ambiguities of some concepts (like, for instance, how do
human “users” age in the digital world and, moreover, how do they
manage to eat and drink organic material while there?
Did I miss something?). The
Tron character himself, so integral to the first film, has nothing more
than a glorified cameo this time around (after all, this film is named after
him and this is his legacy) which may disappoint some purists.
Sometimes the film – at least when Bridges is not cheekily
playing Flynn with a religious solemnity and a capricious, Dude-like wit – takes
itself a bit too seriously and its sullenness overrides the
overall fun factor. At least
the great Michael Sheen shows up to satisfyingly ham it up to terrific
effect as a digital creation that runs a lounge within The Grid; Sheen
manages to come off as purely creepy and sinister while encompassing the
high camp value for the role.
Ultimately, though, people
don’t go to films like TRON and TRON: LEGACY for its dialogue or its
character dynamics; they go to marvel at these film’s spectacular and
liberating artifice. This new TRON certainly will not go down as the revolutionary
game-changer as its predecessor, but this is a wonderfully envisioned and
meticulously crafted sequel that faithfully takes the story and ideas of
the first film and expands upon them and thoroughly re-energizes them for
new audiences (which is what great sequels should do).
I may have not been bowled over by the perfunctory nature of the plot
of TRON: LEGACY, but there is no doubt that this film categorically
delivers on its intended promises to be a tour de force display of
technological innovation and creativity. For most of its two hours the film had me so actively
engrossed in its digital universe that I lost awareness of being a passive
viewer in the theatre. Not many
sci-fi fantasies have that type of out-of-body allure.