Posts Tagged ‘Tron: Legacy’

The voracious demands of dozens of channels mean that, these days, it’s seldom very long between a film’s theatrical release and it turning up on TV. Doubly so if it’s a film with any kind of reputation or prestige – Avatar’s already available on pay-per-view, for instance. But it was not always thus. UK fans of the original Highlander had to wait nine years before it showed up on terrestrial TV, while The Empire Strikes Back lingered in the netherworld of home video for eight. (Godzilla Vs Megalon had to wait nearly two decades before it triumphantly stormed onto British TVs in the small hours of the morning on Channel 4, but that’s not quite the same thing.)

The original Tron took a similarly leisurely route to the small screen, finally arriving around Christmas 1990 by which time it already looked odd and possibly a bit dated. Possibly I am doing it an injustice as I’m pretty sure it would have looked odd even on its original theatrical release in the early Eighties. Something leads me to suspect that Joseph Kosinski’s Tron: Legacy will not tarry nearly as much, but even so it won’t look nearly as innovative as its predecessor.

There’s a rich irony to the fact that Tron 1.0 was barred from even being nominated for a special effects Oscar, on the grounds that computers had been used. This was considered cheating, back in 1982. Nowadays, of course, if you attempt to do a big special-effects movie without the benefit of computers everyone thinks you’re crazy. If Legacy does have a claim to the same kind of technical innovation as its forebear it’s in the use of a digitally-rejuvenated model of one of the lead actors to portray one of the main characters (while this isn’t unprecedented, it’s the first time it’s been done on such a scale).

Anyway… like the original, this is essentially the story of techie wunderkind Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), who was zapped into one of his own computer games in the first film. Some years later Flynn disappears without trace, much to the anguish of his young son. Twenty years later, a now-grown Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund) is lured to his father’s old office by a mysterious message. As will come as a surprise to roughly no-one, he has his own date with a laser digitiser…

Yes, sure enough Sam winds up on the Grid as well – a computer world his father created, populated by programs who appear to him as other people. But all is not well, as the Grid is under the despotic control of Clu, a control program created by the elder Flynn and sharing his image (which is why he’s played by Jeff Bridges as well). But this virtual world is not enough for Clu, who aspires to extend his authority to the ‘real’ world as well – which is why he wants Sam’s help in locating his father…

Well, to some extent we’re in sequel-as-remake territory here, as once Sam arrives on the Grid things proceed along very similar lines, albeit with buffed-up special effects. So there’s a frisbee-throwing contest, followed in short order by a new version of the lightcycle sequence, a break for freedom, a search for someone who can help and then a journey to the Place of Ultimate Plot Resolution. It’s all competently and efficiently done, if never particularly surprising. (Tron the character appears in the film, but only in a very subordinate role and almost always as a faceless drone – Bruce Boxleitner’s clearly not a big enough name to deserve a CGI facelift and is mostly limited to playing his real-world character. Still, it’s always nice to see him and at least he’s made it into the sequel – there’s no sign of Yori or Sark whatsoever.)

The programs are still grappling with the concept of breaking wind discreetly.

There is some new stuff, too, which is a bit of a mixed bag. Most agreeable is Jeff Bridges’ performance as the elder Flynn – although this is possibly because Bridges appears to have reviewed the wrong DVD and rather than reprising his performance from Tron, comes out with another take on the Dude from Big Lebowski. He’s almost the only performer in the movie who isn’t obliterated by the visual styling around him – Michael Sheen takes a break from playing Tony Blair to pop up as an odd, Bowie-styled games program and makes an impression but for the wrong reasons. Also new to Legacy is some rather vague and contrived material about spontaneously-forming digital life-forms who hold the secrets of the universe, or something, and who Clu naturally wants to eradicate. This mainly seems to be here to buff up the importance of leading lady Quorra, embodied (and I use the word with precision) by Olivia Wilde. Daft Punk’s soundtrack is incorporated into the movie rather impressively, too.

However, while Legacy has only some of the virtues of Tron, it has all of its flaws. Being of a logical – oh, all right, pedantic – turn of mind, I couldn’t help wondering what the Grid was supposed to represent. Is it a particular computer system, or the whole internet, or an entirely separate world like Narnia? What do all these programs actually do? What does it mean in real-world terms when they’re eating or drinking? Different moments in the films suggest different things, but what does seem certain is that this is don’t-think-about-it-in-too-much-detail fantasy rather than any kind of SF.

Having said that, let’s proceed to think about it in a bit more detail. The garish neon-hued Grid of the first Tron had the virtue of actually resembling computer game graphics of the time. These days, everything’s a bit more naturalistic in games, but aside from making everything a little more shadowy and noir-ish Legacy’s world still looks retro. This extends to the costuming – the silly hats have gone, but everyone still wanders around looking like they’re on the way to a particularly stylish fetish party (the sight of Beau Garrett in a PVC catsuit nearly caused me to lose my grip on the plot) – do the programs actually do the nasty together? What does that represent if they do? (Oh, dear, off I go again.)

I suspect the look of this film is the result of a need to maintain some kind of visual continuity with the original, and avoid veering too close to the territory of The Matrix and its sequels. Narratively and thematically Tron and The Matrix aren’t a million miles away from each other, and the action sequences aren’t that dissimilar either. I emerged from Tron: Legacy feeling much the same as I did after seeing The Matrix sequels – impressed by the obvious technical proficiency of the people who’d made the movie, but unsatisfied by the details of the plot and the conception of the movie’s world. Seeing it on the big screen with the benefit of digital 3D and first-rate sound, it’s an efficient piece of entertainment – but I think that when it makes its small-screen debut, probably rather sooner than 2018, its numerous flaws will be rather harder to ignore.

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