Tron: Legacy

Tron LegacySynopsis: When Flynn, the world’s greatest video game creator, sends out a secret signal from an amazing digital realm, his son discovers the clue and embarks on a personal journey to save his long-lost father. With the help of the fearless female warrior Quorra, father and son venture through an incredible cyber universe and wage the ultimate battle of good versus evil.

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Tron: Legacy 7.5

eyelights: its stunning score by Daft Punk. its eye-catching visuals.
eyesores: its many action clichés.

“The only way to win the game is not to play.”

When ‘Tron: Legacy’ was announced, I was skeptical. A sequel to the cult classic nearly 30 years late? What was the point? Given that it’s Disney, I couldn’t help but think that it was a cynical ploy to make money off of a fan favourite; it was unlikely that it was being made for artistic reasons. Plus which I didn’t think it would ever get made; plenty of films are announced that never go into production.

But it became reality.

When it was finally released I was still skeptical. I didn’t go see it. When a friend of mine saw it in 3D and said that it was the only reason to see it, that the story was mundane but that the visuals were spectacular, it left me with the feeling that I didn’t miss much. Further to that, it suggested that I shouldn’t even bother with seeing it on home video, since it wouldn’t have the grandeur of IMAX 3D.

I did, however, take a stab at Daft Punk’s motion picture score for ‘Tron: Legacy’. I’ve got mixed feelings about the electronic duo, but I felt that it was an interesting coup to have landed them for this project, after having had another electronic music pioneer, Wendy Carlos, for the original film. I couldn’t help but wonder what they would create to go along with this picture’s lavish technological imagery.

I was BLOWN AWAY.

I listened to that soundtrack over and over again. It was exciting, it was elegant, it was textured, it was epic. It wasn’t quite Daft Punk, more like a classical action score processed through Daft Punk. I started to daydream about how good this must have sounded in cinemas, how great it would be on blu-ray. I hunted for an ultimate version of this album which collects the myriad bonus tracks in one place.

It never happened; to get all of the ‘Tron: Legacy” music, you have to buy from various sources. Or… ahem… dig for it.

In any case, the seed had been planted: I was interested in seeing the picture, if only to hear Daft Punk’s score blown through my speakers in high resolution. I hoped that the blu-ray would have a soundtrack-only track, as many do these days, but it didn’t. Forget the notion of releasing it on blu-ray, as some artists do. But I could always watch the movie and hope that their music wouldn’t be buried in it.

So I finally watched ‘Tron: Legacy’, five years later, and with reduced expectations. I went in curious to see the CGI work that they did to make Jeff Bridges look like his younger self again, and expected the rest of the film to be a mere re-iteration of what took place in the first picture, but modernized, and with a new hero for a new generation. Let’s just say that I didn’t expect a whole heck of a lot.

And I enjoyed it.

Now don’t get me wrong: ‘Tron: Legacy” is no grand cinematic masterpiece. For starters, it’s not innovative in the way that ‘Tron’ was – its chief appeal. But it is a fun ride, in the same way that some of the ‘Matrix‘ films and ‘Star Wars’ prequels are: it’s a slick fantasy action-adventure picture filled with special effects, backed by moderately talented actors and more impressive stunt and technical personnel.

‘Tron: Legacy’ begins in 1989. Kevin Flynn is a single parent and he is on top of the world, having made of Encom a star in the computer industry. But he disappears, leaving his son in control of his rising empire. Flash forward to 2010, and Sam is a rebellious young man totally disinterested in Encom. He cashes the cheques and lives independently, sometimes making grand public statements that land him in jail.

Until his father’s former business partner gets a page, asking him to go to Flynn’s (the arcade Flynn ran back in 1983), that is. Intrigued, Sam goes in his stead and finds a hidden office in the aging building’s guts. He soon discovers his father’s fate, as he is inadvertently sucked into The Grid, the computer world that Flynn created so many years ago. Now Sam will have to survive and then escape this artificial world.

‘Tron: Legacy” is a ride, nothing more, nothing less. And by that standard, it’s a decent enough motion picture. But it’s also relatively conventional in its structure and plot, bringing little new to the table. It’s arguably the same action film we’ve all seen before, but processed through the world of ‘Tron’ – enough so that it feels familiar to fans of the original, but not different enough that non-fans won’t enjoy it.

I watched it with enough satisfaction that it didn’t warrant much criticism. But a few thoughts crept into my mind:

  • Garrett Hedlund is decent enough as Sam, the new hero of our picture. He’s not outstanding, but he is good enough. And of course, they picked someone who looks good on a movie poster and in stills, surely to draw out cinema-goers looking for some eye candy. Oh, and he’s someone who can do action convincingly. It’s a superficial choice, but at least he doesn’t stink up the screen.
  • Jeff Bridges returns in a dual role, as Jeff Flynn and as CLU, his computer likeness in The Grid. Bridges is always good, and he doesn’t disappoint here. His Flynn has become a bit new-agey, which is in character, but which has become a bit of a cliché for Bridges. After a few lines of pseudo-philosophical babble you want him to keep to himself; the script overdid it. As for the CGI that rejuvenated him… well, I’d heard wonderful things about it, but his face looked made of clay, somewhat inexpressive. Perhaps it’s because I’ve seen Bridges in his youth, but I know he doesn’t look this way. If I hadn’t known that only his face was remodeled, I’d have imagined that he was fully CGI-ed. Seriously, this bothered me 95% of the time.
  • Olivia Wilde plays a new character called Quorra, who is supposed to be the grand saviour in this picture. At least, according to Flynn. But she is utterly useless: her performance in action sequences is so sluggish and inept that it was risible, her judgement is flawed (she sends Sam to get help from a traitor), and she has no abilities or powers that make her special. But she’s arguably pretty, and, sad to say, by that virtue alone she serves her function in the picture.
  • Michael Sheen does a credible rendition of David Bowie as Zuse, looking somewhat like Bowie did during his Aladdin Sane period and getting that accent absolutely right. He was very different later on, for some reason, but I thought this performance was notable.
  • Daft Punk make a cameo during a bar room scene, as the place’s in-house DJs. I liked the first glimpse of them; that was a cool inside for us fans. The second ruined the effect. The third was overkill. Of course, there’s very little subtlety in ‘Tron: Legacy’.
  • Encom is used as a cynical dig against Microsoft. When the board gets together to discuss their new O.S. and they joke that the only thing that’s new about it is that they slapped a “12” on it, you can’t help but think of Windows. I liked the commentary, but I thought that it was a bit heavy-handed. Of course, the average person probably doesn’t register subtlety, so perhaps this approach was necessary to get the point and humour across.
  • Sam breaks into Encom during the boardroom meeting with an ease that is surprising given the security system in place. Further to that, they have only one security guard for the whole tower: when an alarm goes off, the one guy, an overweight shlep with no credibility as a security guard, has to haul his @$$ from the monitoring station all the way to the top of the building, where Sam is. Really? That’s the best that Encom can do to secure its properties? Additionally, this same guy follows Sam on the roof and tries to walk a beam to get to him. Seriously? Sam escapes by jumping off the building and opening his chute at the last minute – and, naturally, all goes well.
  • Sam finds a hidden passage behind the Tron arcade game at Flynn’s. It’s hinged into the wall and swivels to the side. Not only does he quickly find it, by dropping a quarter on the ground, but no one’s ever noticed the grooves in the floor before -and the likely marks it would have left against the wall- in two decades. Anyway, the game couldn’t possibly be powered the way it’s set up.
  • Flynn’s mysterious disappearance is bogus. Had he gone to Flynn’s that night, his bike or car would have been parked outside the building and an investigation into his disappearance would have produced the poorly-hidden underground office/lab. Even if no one had figured out exactly where Flynn has disappeared to (which is unlikely), something would have come of that investigation – not some ambiguous “no one knows where he is” verdict.
  • Sam’s transference into The Grid is simple-minded. Yes, some people would just ignore what’s on their screen and hit “Yes”. Some people are like that: they don’t read the fine print or think before acting. But Sam has proven himself a bit craftier thus far, so this seems out of character. Of course, it was the only way to get him in there quickly – otherwise, he would have had to do some research and make the choice to go in, after alerting Flynn’s former partner, Alan. Too complicated, I guess.
  • After Sam gets into The Grid, he is caught. It’s interesting that the programs don’t know what to make of him, but they just shrug it off, even they should be getting an error message when they scan him. Apparently there is nothing in their programming that has them investigate this mysterious character further.
  • When Sam is processed, it is by four young women in tight outfits and in heels. Yes, because programs would wear heels. This is the same problem as the Matrix sequels, which has the machines, which are supposed to be all logic, act decidedly very human. The same thing happens later, when Sam and Quorra go to a club, where all the programs are partying, drinking and carousing. Or when, during the gladiatorial games, the crowds (full of programs) cheer wildly. Because programs would feel the urge to do any of these things.
  • Not only was Sam’s processing sequence unnecessary, in that he could have been prepped automatically by machines (as evidenced by some of his clothing appearing digitally), the women stink up the screen with poor posturing and delivery; they felt like little girls play-acting. Poorly. You’d think that the filmmakers would at least get “actresses” with high school drama level acting ability for their bloody movie. Sheesh.
  • Everything in ‘Tron: Legacy’ is basically ‘Tron’ on steroids. The disc fight is the ball and scoop fight, but more aggressive, with more action, and with a martial artist opponent. The bike races have teams of five, not three, have more levels, and allow cheating. All stuff that makes you wonder about the logic of the perfect programming in The Grid.
  • The violence was unnecessary. The excitement in ‘Tron’ didn’t come from the violence but from the wonderment of the otherworldly sequences the filmmakers created. The games were unique to ‘Tron’ and the action sequences revolved around the specificity of that world. ‘Tron: Legacy’ tosses out imagination and gives us action film tropes. Naturally we ended up with an air vehicle duel, a poorly ripped off version of the bike duel, but with guns in it. Yes, guns. Because an American action film can’t not have guns. Le sigh…
  • The direction wasn’t entirely top-notch. There are moments that make no sense whatsoever, like when Sam arrives at Flynn’s hideout and goes straight to his room, without any direction from anyone – as though he had been there before. Or when Sam is looking for Quorra, and the moment he asks about her, CLU appears with Quorra in tow, as though he had been waiting for this cue (Coincidence? Yes. And convenient, too). Or at the end, when Alan shows up at Flynn’s and Sam appears out of nowhere, like magic – when he should have been coming out of the secret passageway. I think that such scenes could have been handled differently. But perhaps it would have been too demanding. Maybe I’m being too demanding.
  • Finally, there’s the setting. In the original film, the world of Tron was an interpretation of what took place inside the machine, for the audience’s benefit. Programs had functions and many elements were based on computer applications. There’s very little of this in ‘Tron: Legacy’, which is a significant departure. A friend of mine suggested that this was just a self-contained virtual world, as opposed to a computer reality that connected across countless machines. If that’s the case, I’m even more disappointed: Second Life already exists. I don’t need to watch it as a movie.

‘Tron: Legacy’ wasn’t a monumental hit, but it was a bigger hit than its predecessor, leading to a television series and another sequel. Part of its success may have been due to its greater accessibility, for good or bad; it was less abstract and it was designed so that even people unfamiliar with ‘Tron’ could see it. Part of it might also have been that the Disney marketing machine hammered away until everyone in the whole wide world (and beyond!) was aware that it was coming out.

It is no great film, but it’s a perfectly watchable sci-fi action-adventure picture. You know the kind. It’s just a shame that the filmmakers were creating product here, not innovating all the while challenging its audience. To me, that was the appeal of the original, flawed as it is; at least you can watch it knowing that there is no other film like it. Sadly, ‘Tron: Legacy” is all too familiar to stick in one’s memory for long. In that respect, it’s to ‘Tron’ much like ‘Fantasia 2000‘ is to ‘Fantasia‘.

End of line.

Date of viewing: May 5, 2015

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