In 1982 I was in middle school when I first saw Tron. I knew way back then that I was seeing something incredibly special, unique, and technologically magical. I remember seeing the commercials on TV and SO wanting to see this movie. When I emerged from the theater, I was blown away by the computer graphics up on the screen. I just didn’t think it could get better than this.
The story for me took a back seat however. A genius computer programmer and video game creator gets zapped into the very world he helped create. In that world, populated by errant programs, gladiatorial games, tanks and light cycles Kevin Flynn teams up with the titular character to help escape and set both worlds right.
It’s not science fiction. It was pure fantasy. Disney fantasy.
Fast-forward to 2010 and I can’t help but see the total differences between the two movies. Back in 1982, computer generated images on film was brand new and even controversial in its use (I read somewhere that Oscar nods to special effects in Tron were snubbed due to the new technology). Now there’s hardly ANY movie or TV show that doesn’t have even a simple CGI generated element in it, whether it’s a conjured background or subtle effects such as icy breaths coming out of mouths (as in Titanic).
Jeff Bridges was a well-established actor by the film’s release as was David Warner who played Sark, the movie’s villain. All the actors were older in this film whereas in the present sequel, the main characters are young and the whole film in general is geared to a younger, hip, video-game and technological indoctrinated crowd that probably wasn’t even born when the first movie premiered (Joseph Kosinski, the director, was only 8 years old in ’82!).
The original Tron opened up to small fanfare and ultimately faded away as a box-office flop. There were little movie tie-ins such as toys, happy meals or even media hype. Tron Legacy has been marketed to everything from phone apps, comic books, and comic book conventions, a video game, toys, and websites. We saw the commercials and the hype build up as the movie’s premiere drew nearer. Add IMAX 3D technology and it’s now totally sensory and media overload.
I still wanted to see this movie and believed that it was going to be just as the Hollywood machine made it up to be. I went to the 6:45 pm showing at the AMC Lowes Lincoln Square 13 theatre in midtown Manhattan. My buddy John invited me to join a Gizmodo meetup to see the film. After dinner at PJ Clark’s a few blocks away, we prepared to wait in the rather long line to see the film. As I walked to the back of the line, I couldn’t help but see all the types of people standing or sitting. There was a mixture of young and old, men and lot of women, students, after work professionals and of course, the geeks mixed in with the ultra cool.
Speaking of geeks (I say that with much love, of course), there was a young high school kid ahead of us on line who came dressed for the part. He made this own Tron costume complete with reflective tape on his lithe body and LED lights inside his motorcycle helmet. He even had an identity disc, which he attached to his back. Onlookers went up to him and took pictures and it did make the time pass by before being let in to the massive theatre.
I feel that the only way to see this movie is in IMAX 3D. It was SO immersive! Before the movie began however, a disclaimer appeared on the large screen, letting the audience know that the film was shot in 2D and 3D (much to some boos among the crowd). Nevertheless, we were required to wear our glasses during the entire film. All scenes in the real world were shot in 2D and when Sam entered the digital world, that’s when the 3D really kicked in. This was done according to the director’s wishes.
I’m quite sure everyone knows what the movie is about: the hero in the first film, Kevin Flynn disappears in 1989 and leaves behind a young son and a successful company with lots of unanswered questions as to his whereabouts. After receiving a page from a long disconnected phone, young Sam Flynn is drawn to his father’s video arcade where he finds his hidden work lab. After being zapped into the grid just as his father was years before, he sets out to find him and together they try to escape back to the real world. Hampering their efforts is Kevin Flynn’s digital creation, C.L.U. 2 in the form of a youthful looking version of Jeff Bridges (circa Against All Odds via CGI and nothing short of technological wizardry).
It’s sad that many people nowadays are unfazed with CGI technology, as it has become so commonplace in everything we see. They are quick to point faults. Sure, there’s something off with Jeff Bridges younger avatar, especially when you see him talking on screen. It’s not real and something about the facial expression makes it mannequin-like but hell, they did a great job nonetheless. Imagine what they can do within a few short years. Digital actors will be completely indistinguishable from the real ones. I am completely amazed at how they turned Jeff Bridges into a younger version of himself. It’s not perfect of course but the effort and ultimate illusion is well executed.
Just as in the first film decades ago, I was blown away with what I saw onscreen. Augmented by a large screen and 3D, the experience was worth every exorbitant penny I spent (thanks Fandango). The colors, sights and sounds just seemed to pop out and it wasn’t all attributed to the 3D. The action scenes were well choreographed and shot. The digital effects during those scenes as well as the light cycle sequence were totally awesome! I felt like a kid back in ’82. Forget owning a real life lightsaber, I want a light cycle! Joseph Konsinski did a tremendous job at creating this beautiful digital world.
The actors did a fine job with the material that they had. If there’s ever a weak link in the Tron Legacy phenomenon is in the story. In an effort to make a perfect world with the aid of C.L.U. 2.0, Kevin Flynn dooms the very world he created and threatens to destroy his world on the outside. Without giving away major spoilers, all I will say is that if you can accept that Kevin and Sam can be drawn into this digital world, the opposite is also true. I didn’t care much for the ending of the movie as the story made an incredible leap but I had to remember that this is a fantasy film. Disney fantasy. Once I remembered that, all was right with me.
Not everything is perfect however. Certain scenes left me scratching my head and wished they had explained a little more. Take for instance the scene where Sam, Quorra and Kevin are eating (Sam was hungry… in a digital world?). On the dinner table is a full course meal with a huge roasted pig in the middle of it and nothing is mentioned of it. Where did the food come from? Is it digital? If it is, then what’s the point? I was expecting some sort of smart and thought-provoking explanation but it was entirely glossed over. I remember the scene in the Matrix when Morpheus asks Neo if that was air that he was breathing while in the construct/matrix. It was a simple question that had me (and the lead character) scratching our heads figuratively. The question had an answer but it was only gleaned after much thought. It was smart and well written. I saw nothing like this in Tron Legacy. They touched upon human relationships and questioned what is real and not real. Unfortunately, I wanted it to go much deeper than that but the story never did.
Also towards the middle of the movie, an entire sequence just dragged for me and didn’t really fit in with the story at all. I talk about Michael Sheen’s character, Castor. He played it over-the-top and campy and I suppose the writers and director wanted it that way but I just saw it as another set piece to add more action to it. It did nothing for the story and the writers could’ve done something else with the character and/or setting. It was also an excuse to add French music artists, Daft Punk into the film. They are seen in the background mixing music for Castor’s club.
Speaking of music, Wendy Carlos did the score for the first film with synthesizers and it was okay. It was certainly different that’s for sure. This time around, Daft Punk put their own spin (excuse the pun) on the soundtrack and they did a fantastic job. I was always a fan of Daft Punk but was very surprised at what a good score they created; marrying electronica with a traditional score to produce an album that you can hear and enjoy well after the movie is over. I should know: it’s been playing on my iPod for a week before the movie premiered.
Garret Hudlund and Olivia Wilde carried the movie well for newcomers but it was seeing Jeff Bridges and Bruce Boxleitner that made this movie a real treat. Jeff Bridges was like The Dude in The Big Lebowski at times and the audience really had fun with his portrayal of an older, Zen-like Kevin Flynn. Bruce Boxleitner’s role in the movie was rather small and his character Tron even made a brief appearance in the movie, undergoing the same anti-aging special effects as Jeff Bridges. I was very surprised to see Cilian Murphy in the movie. He had only one small scene and I couldn’t help but wonder if they were setting him up for a future movie.
Yes, no doubt there will be a sequel. I read somewhere that even before this movie premiered, the creators already had in mind to come up with a sequel. They would be fools not to. If this movie is as successful as I think it’s going to be, then they will definitely rake in the millions with further movies. The way the movie ended and the way they left one major character floating in limbo (literally), there’s no doubt in my mind that we’ll be seeing more of the grid and its denizens.
I will be looking forward to this film to hit Blu-Ray next year and it will go right next to my Collector’s Edition Tron DVD (which for some reason is very hard to find nowadays – Amazon Marketplace is selling it for $90 – $200 as of this writing. That’s plain crazy!). There are rumors of a Tron TV series in the works as well so we’ll be seeing more light cycles and disc wars in the years to come (hopefully).
Go see Tron Legacy and check reality at the door. Have fun and see it in IMAX 3D if possible. You’ll have a fun time and will marvel at the hard work, imagination and direction that were put into the making of this film. Tron Legacy is pure escapism entertainment and nothing to take too seriously. Just enjoy the ride (and a wild one it is!). I for one was sad to leave the grid but will look forward in entering it again in the future.
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