by Mel Valentin
Two-and-a-half years ago, Disney surprised San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC) audiences with visual test footage from "Tron: Legacy," the sequel to the cult 1982 science-fiction film, "Tron." Joseph Kosinski, a director best known for effects-heavy commercials (for "Halo" and "Gears of War" among others, created the visual test footage to convince Disney executives to greenlight the sequel, a sequel to a film that failed to win over audiences almost three decades ago. Two-and-a-half years later, "Tron: Legacy" arrives in multiplexes in Disney Digital 3D (shot with native 3D cameras, not post-converted) with high expectations and anticipation, all the higher with the involvement of French electronic duo Daft Punk's involvement, from "Tron" fans and general moviegoers exposed the Disney's saturation marketing (i.e., everyone). "Tron: Legacy" meets, maybe even exceeds, those expectations, but only visually and aurally, not dramatically or emotionally.Tron: Legacy opens seven years after Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges),Tron's the hacker-hero, became the CEO and chief programmer for Encom, a multi-billion dollar software company. Claiming heís made a revolutionary discovery, Flynn disappears before he can share it with the world or with his preteen son, Sam. Two decades later, Sam (Garrett Hedlund) channels his anti-authoritarian anger into yearly pranks aimed at Encomís board of directors. For his latest prank, Sam breaks into Encom and pirates Encomís OS 12 (insert obligatory ďinformation wants to be freeĒ comment here). Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner), Kevinís friend and business partner (and Sam's surrogate father), bails him out of jail and follows Sam back to his waterfront apartment, a recycled shipping container. Bradley claims heís received a page from Flynnís Arcade, the video arcade the elder Flynn owned two decades ago. At the still-standing arcade, Sam finds a super-secret, underground lab. In the lab, he finds an isolated server that's still plugged in and running (one of several dubious plot points in Tron: Legacy). In one of many callbacks to Tron, Sam activates a touchscreen, command-line interface.
"Disney fought the mainframe and the mainframe won."
In a repeat of Kevin Flynnís decades-old experience, an AI-controlled laser sucks Sam into the Grid, a digital world shrouded in constant darkness that, at least superficially, resembles our own (e.g., a virtual Flynnís Arcade, city streets, and buildings). Almost immediately, heís captured by a Recognizer, outfitted with a modernized light-suit by digital Sirens who speak in eerily synchronized voices, and given an identity disc that records his experiences and memories, but also doubles as a weapon in Ultimate Frisbee/Disc War game. Sam meets CLU 2.0, an advanced program his father created more than two decades earlier to help him build the Grid. CLU looks and sounds like Sam's father in his mid-30s (cue Empire Strikes Back-inspired dialogue, ďIím not your father, Sam.Ē). CLU rebelled and took control of the Grid, forcing the elder Flynn to flee and find refuge in the Outlands.
Quorra (Olivia Wilde), an advanced program mentored by Kevin, takes Sam to his father's sanctuary in the Outlands. Through exposition-heavy, momentum-slowing flashbacks delivered by the white-robed, bearded Kevin, we learn that Flynn wanted more than the wealth and power that Encom could give him. He played virtual god, creating his own virtual world with the help of CLU and Tron (Boxleitner). Flynnís success proves short-lived when CLU, obsessed with creating a perfect system (a flaw in Kevin's programming) rebelled against Flynn and purged the ISOs (isomorphic algorithms), autonomous, Grid-generated programs/life forms (a.k.a., imperfections in the system), a backstory that makes Tron: Legacy yet another entry in a long series of cautionary tales about playing god and/or technology run amok.
Starting from the premise of a closed, but evolving ecosystem where time moves at an accelerated rate (minutes become decades, decades become centuries, etc.), Joseph Kosinski redesigned everything in the digital world. Light cycles, Recognizers, the Rectifier (CLUís flagship, modeled after a similar, aircraft-carrier-inspired ship that appeared in Tron), and the solar sailer have advanced to new, complex levels. Additions to the Grid include light runners, light planes, and light jets. A futuristic city (dubbed Tron City in the "Art of Tron: Legacy," but left unnamed in the film) takes Tronís ideas in new, original directions, but still pays homage to Tron's emphasis on geometric shapes and light lines (blue or white for heroes, orange-red or goldenrod for villains).
Unfortunately, Tron: Legacy fails story-(i.e., linear, derivative), character- (one-dimensional), and dialogue-wise (sub-par). Although Kosinski, production designer Darren Gilford, and lead vehicle designer Daniel Simon deserve considerable credit for the familiar-but-different design for the digital world and the digital vehicles (e.g., light cycles, light runners, tanks, etc.), Kosinski simply asked too much of Digital Domain, the visual effects company responsible for handling Tron: Legacy's 1,500 effects shots. CLU and Kevin-at-35 are almost never convincing (when they are itís because we see them far away or in a low-light shot). CLU suffers from what can be best called "frozen face syndrome" (FFS). His facial features, including his (dead) eyes, lack the gestural and micro-gestural flexibility typical of a human face.
Add to that over-dark, underlit 3D photography (an obvious consequence of Kosinski's vision for the Tron universe), an underwritten, risk-adverse screenplay, potentially compelling ideas left unexplored (e.g., the power of users within the Matrix, scratch that, within the virtual world of Tron, the impact of the ISOs on the real-world), flat, unengaging characters, Kevin Flynn as a faux-Zen monk (he even says, ďDonít mess with my Zen, man!Ē at one point), a bland, passive central character (made worse by Hedlund's somnambulant line deliveries), and the end result is one that oddly, curiously duplicates many of its predecessors narrative flaws, flaws only partly offset by the visual design of the digital world and the visually effects-oriented set pieces.The relationship between Kevin Flynn and his two "sons," CLU, made, vainly in Flynn's image and an usurper and, thus, the "false" son, Sam, the true, noble son, interested only in reuniting with his father and returning him to the real world where they can run Encom as father and son (echoes, once again, of "The Empire Strikes Back") offers something of interest thematically, but only receives superficial treatment. "Tron: Legacy" sets up, or to be more precise, attempts to set up, a third entry in the "Tron" franchise, dropping in one character in an early scene whose presence suggests heíll step into the villain role next time out and, unsurprisingly, leaving loose ends story wise for the next entry. Whether we see another "Tron" film, however, depends on how well it does commercially. Positive, let along negative, criticism are of minor importance when it comes to big-budget blockbusters with multi-year marketing campaigns.
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originally posted: 12/17/10 09:00:00