Should I Watch..? Tron: Legacy
What's the Big Deal?
Tron: Legacy is a sci-fi action film released in 2010 and is the sequel to the 1982 movie Tron (1). The film stars Jeff Bridges and Bruce Boxleitner reprising their roles in the first film as well as Garrett Hedlund, Olivia Wilde. and Michael Sheen. The film focuses on the son of computer genius Kevin Flynn discovering an alternate universe within computers known as the Grid and attempting to escape from it. After the original film became a cult hit, Disney greenlit the sequel back in 2005. Despite a mixed reaction from critics, the film went on to gross more than $400 million worldwide but this was apparently not enough for Disney as a proposed third film was cancelled in 2015.
What's It About?
Seven years after the events of the first film, the recently-appointed CEO of ENCOM International Kevin Flynn mysteriously disappears and leaves his young son Sam heart-broken. Fast forward to 2010 and Sam—now ENCOM's primary stockholder—has little to do with the company, spending time fixing up his dad's old bike and getting into mischief. As ENCOM is about to release its latest operating system, Kevin's former partner and ENCOM board member Alan Bradley tells Sam that he received a page from Kevin's old office at the downtown arcade - apparently from Kevin.
Intrigued, Sam heads to Flynn's Arcade to discover that the place has lain empty for years. But upon further investigation, he discovers a secret lab in the basement containing a complex series of computers running some strange program for the last twenty years. Accessing the system, Sam finds himself in a strange neon-lit nightmare and forced to compete in combat. Then it hits Sam—he is in the Grid, the mysterious other-world Kevin had previously spoken of...
Kevin Flynn / CLU
Alan Bradley / Tron
Zuse / Castor
Edward Kitsis & Adam Horowitz *
Release Date (UK)
17th December, 2010
Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Academy Award Nominations
Best Sound Editing
What's to Like?
The world was not ready for Tron (1) when it appeared in 1982, blowing audiences away with its garish neon costumes and fantastic visions of a world inside a computer—not to mention the unforgettable light cycles. But technology moves even faster than them and all too soon, the film looked about as cutting edge as a wooden spoon. So one thing this movie had to do was get the visuals right and my goodness, they did. The film is a true spectacular with vast cities sprawling into the darkness and towering skyscrapers reaching upwards. The film inserts the detail into the visuals of the first film, showing us what exactly those 'stomper' robots were and dazzling us afresh with light cycles for probably the best sequence in the film. In short, it is nothing short of beautiful.
It's not just easy on the eyes either. The film's soundtrack by French electronic pioneers Daft Punk (a natural pairing with this franchise, if ever there was one - so natural, in fact, that they make a cameo) is also sublime, perfectly underscoring every scene but never dominating proceedings - it is one of the best soundtracks I've ever heard since Vangelis' score for Blade Runner (2). I must also mention some of the performances - Bridges is as reliable as ever, even if he has to have heated arguments with himself while Frain does well as the snivelling Jarvis. But Sheen's performance is as electric as the film's many costumes. He just lights up the screen with such energy and flamboyance that David Bowie himself would have been proud.
- In order to play the villainous CLU, Jeff Bridges had to be scanned into a computer and his image digitally overlaid the actual actor - the same technology was used to age Brad Pitt in The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button (3). Bridges was amused to note that as he was being scanned by the laser, the same thing had happened to him fictionally in the first film.
- The wardrobe budget for the film was $13 million with one custom suit for the bike riders costing $600'000. Even so, the lithium batteries that lit the suits up only worked for twelve minutes at a time and the actors couldn't sit down in them for fear of breaking the circuitry inside.
- Shooting the film took just 64 days but post-production, where the special effects were inserted, took 68 weeks.
What's Not to Like?
Veteran gamers will tell you that any new updated game needs more than fancy visuals and a thumping soundtrack. And sadly, Tron: Legacy has more than a few bugs in the system. First and foremost is the complete miscasting of Hedlund who is neither bewildered by the strange world he finds himself in or able to generate any empathy with an audience. At times, he is reminiscent of Hayden Christensen's ham-fisted portrayal of Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars: Episode II - Attack Of The Clones (4) and feels a total fish-out-of-water. Wilde isn't much better but at least Quorra is a more interesting character than Sam and she looks more natural in the environment and costume than he does.
The other problem is the story, as it so often is when so many writers are involved. The first film was hardly free from gaps in logic but sadly, this bloated extravaganza has enough room for a couple of tanks. The dialogue feels as artificial as the Grid itself and explains very little - even MIT's legendary tech-heads would struggle to understand this nonsense. When the ending eventually came (it does feel like it goes on for a bit too long), I had more questions than answers and more came long after the credits had finished. Lastly, I fear that the CG department went a bit over-enthusiastic when it came to superimposing Jeff Bridges' face onto CLU—it's the only part of the film that looks suspect but considering how much screen time the principal baddie has in the film, it bugged me more and more.
Should I Watch It?
Viewers who missed the original will be delighted to have these delicious visuals to snaffle up, even if the story won't make a blind bit of sense. But this film is really for those with fond memories of Tron (1), becoming arguably the first feature-length fan-boy tribute in Hollywood's long history. It does feel like a tribute act to the original but with every technical trick up its sleeve. Enjoy the pretty visuals and brilliant soundtrack but don't expect to be entertained by a enthralling story or decent performances.
Great For: fans of the first film, cos-players, Daft Punk's album sales.
Not So Great For: children (it's a bit dark at times), anyone hoping to understand the script, luddites.
What Else Should I Watch?
So is this better than the first film? Certainly, it's better to look at and listen to but Tron (1) had more of a fun feel to it which makes it better for family viewing. It felt like a less analogue version of The Wizard Of Oz (5) Whereas this feels darker and gloomier somehow and likely only to appeal to fans of the original - which makes me wonder how Disney ever thought it would recoup its vast budget.
There are plenty of films dealing with the subject of telepresence, the sensation of being somewhere other than where you actually are. Not surprising, technology is a factor in most of them from the mind-bending Inception (6) to the ground-breaking effects of The Matrix (7). Not all of these are entirely successful, obviously. I've had migraines that were more pleasant than Johnny Mnemonic (8) but it remains interesting to see if the ideas and imagination of film-makers can keep up with technology's relentless pace of evolution.