Wednesday, August 31, 2011


The original Tron was a landmark movie for special effects and computer graphics. In the 1980s, computers were just starting to come into their own in the movie business and the ability to create the sort of images we take for granted today was unheard of. Think about it: movies on the Lifetime channel probably have CGI a hundred times better than what was possible in the '80s. The computers used to make Tron had about 2 MB of memory, less than even the cheapest cell phone today, but at the time, it was the coolest thing to ever hit the screen. It's no surprise that Tron became a cult classic, and it's equally no surprise that Disney knew it'd have to pump out a sequel sooner or later when the technology wow-factor came around. So now, twenty something years and $150+ million later, we got TRON: Legacy.

The movie opens with a flashback to 1980s, featuring a young Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) tucking in his young son Sam to bed and telling him about work at his EMCON company. Flynn leaves after promising to see Sam in a bit, and later vanishes without a trace. Twenty years later and Sam (Garrett Hedlund) has grown up into the company's biggest shareholder in the wake of his dad's disappearance. Apart from dropping by once a year to play tricks on the company executives, Sam hardly seems to care about his company, and is sort of a loner - living in a garage with his dog and riding his sleek bike around while looking cool in leather jackets.

 One night, Flynn's old friend Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner) tells Sam about a page he received, which strangely seems to have come from Flynn's old video arcade. Sam reluctantly heads over to investigate, and finds an old mainframe waiting for him. After messing around with the keys, he is transported into a virtual world inside the computer - the Grid. Immediately after arriving in the Grid, Sam gets into trouble. He's picked up by programs and sent off to the games. The games are essentially gladiator fights to the death, and while fighting the most feared program on the Grid, Rinzler, Sam is discovered to be human. He's taken to see CLU (young, computerized Jeff Bridges), who is a copy of his father Flynn, and has become a dictator in the Grid. CLU fights Sam in the arena, and just as he's about to kill him during a light cycle race, in comes Quorra (Olivia Wilde) to save his skinny ass.

Quorra takes Sam to her hideout, which is revealed to be Flynn's home. Flynn has been trapped in the Grid for over twenty years, hostage to CLU and unable to escape. After being reunited with his father, Sam learns that the page he received originally came from CLU, as he is desperate to get out into the real world and enact his vision of a "perfect system." Flynn warns his son that it would be catastrophic if CLU got out, and both of them, alongside the oh so sexy Quorra have to do everything in their power to prevent CLU from making it into the real world, while trying to get Sam and Flynn to make it out themselves.

Right from the start, the trailer for Legacy made it pretty clear that this was obviously an effects driven movie. The light cycle scenes are insane, as is the club fight scene near the middle of the movie. On the big screen and with brutal surround sound it's really good stuff. Some of the other scenes with long shots showing the entire virtual city are pretty rad as well, and of course if you like electronic music, you'll dig the Daft Punk soundtrack. Hedlund and Wilde do a good job with their parts, though nothing spectacular really shines through. Jeff Bridges has by far the most interesting role as Flynn, but it's almost a shame how little we actually get to see of him. Also criminally underused was Tron, who gets a rushed plot twist of his own near the end which feels a bit cheap.  

Tron: Legacy is enjoyable, there's no doubt about it. The visuals are snazzy, the music is good, and fans of the original get their long lived patience rewarded (only a 30 year wait, right?). At the end though, I was left wondering if some of that ridiculous $170 million budget could have been spent crafting a story that could match the spectacle that unfolds on the screen. Sure, it's an extravagant orgy of light, color and sound and it's exhilarating to watch it on a huge screen and with massive speakers, but Bridges seems wasted and the only thing memorable about it is the obvious set up for a sequel. Maybe third time's the charm and Disney will prove me wrong when it comes out.

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