“You are really messing with my zen thing, man!”
The Scoop: 2010 PG, Directed by Joseph Kosinski and starring Garrett Hedlund, Olivia Wilde, Bruce Boxleitner and Jeff Bridges
Tagline: The Game has Changed.
Summary Capsule: Young man gets zapped into a digital world where everything is apparently made of glass while looking for his long-lost father, and Disney finally gets around to realizing the potential of the Tron franchise…sort of.
Mike’s rating: 00111001 out of 0011000100110000
Mike’s review: When the original Tron was released in 1982, it was an innovation in movie-making. It utilized a mix of computer animation, green screen and rotoscoping in a way never before seen and showed that CGI was a viable avenue ripe for development. Without Tron it’s safe to say there would be no 300, Sin City, or Avatar.
That being said, Tron was also a box office flop, thanks to agonizingly slow pacing and a storyline incomprehensible to ’80s audiences who had never even heard of the internet. Even tech savvy nerds had trouble wrapping their gigantic brains around some of the more preposterous tech concepts coupled with Jeff Bridges and Bruce Boxleitner in tights. To date, Tron stands as a textbook example of a feature in which the above-the-line aspects fail while the below-the-line aspects triumph, (for a more recent example of this phenomenon, see Avatar).
In time, however, Tron started looking better and better with age. Powered by the perpetual energy of cult movie fans, Tron left behind other long-forgotten Disney scifi outings of the era such as The Black Hole and Flight of the Navigator and gained a following. This following gained momentum in the ’90s with the advent of the internet, and the idea of total immersion into a computer generated world was expounded upon in films like The Lawnmower Man and Johnny Mnemonic. The conceptualization of metaphysical ramifications began to take center stage in Films like Dark City, The Matrix and most recently, Inception. In all that time everyone was thinking the same thing: how awesome it would be if they made Tron nowadays, with modern day trappings and storylines.
Then, in 2008 the trailer for what was then called “Tr2n” (yeah, I know, close one), was unveiled at San Diego Comic-Con, and it was quite possibly the most awesome three minutes ever filmed. No movie was released, but then a year later the same trailer, now for a film being called Tron: Legacy was again unveiled at Comic-Con, this time with a release date….for a about a year and a half later. So, nearly thirty years after the fact, Tron: Legacy is upon us. Is it everything we hoped it would be? Well, yes and no.
Twenty eight years after Kevin Flynn was zapped into the video games he created, his son Sam is the heir to the majority shares of Encom, (which basically serves as the Microsoft of this film’s universe). Flynn has been missing for twenty years and Sam has a bit of chip on his shoulder about that. Nevertheless, a tip about his dad’s possible whereabouts leads Sam into “The Grid”; the computer generated artificial reality where Flynn has been trapped. Sam learns that after his dad’s first adventure, Flynn kept going back. Eventually he created his own network, drag-and-dropped the Tron security program to police it, and created a copy of himself, called Clu, to help run it. Unfortunately there were a few creative differences, Tron was apparently deleted, and Flynn found himself stuck in his own hard drive. Now Sam has to fight Clu to get his dad out, with the help of a beautiful program called Quorra.
Where T:L succeeds, it succeeds spectacularly. The costumes are significantly cool-looking and work as a great evolution of the glowing, circuitry-laden costumes in the original film. The effects are top-notch, and a step above what we’ve seen in the past. The action scenes are everything you’d hope for. The light cycles, disk battles, fights and chase scenes are done with a lot of flair and a great sense of movement, and keep you excited. The score by Daft Punk, (who also have a cameo) at the very top of their composing game here, provide an electronic score that isn’t heard so much as experienced. Jeff Bridges plays Flynn with all the flippancy we remember from the first movie, but grounded with a new age zen philosophy. This results in Bridges making choices that are at times reminiscent of The Dude, and that is in no way a bad thing.
Ultimately though, the story is lacking any real weight, and the movie loses a few points overall for that. Characters aren’t given any motivation beyond the obvious, certain questions remain unanswered, and expository scenes seem forced and obligatory, rather than flowing naturally.
Now there are those who would argue that you don’t watch a movie like this for its overarching themes and deep, emotional character arcs, but rather for the effects and actions sequences. I would reply that there is certainly room for both, particularly when you’re throwing your hat into a genre occupied by films like Inception that question the metaphysical nature of reality. This film was ripe for deeper exploration. Do programs have a personal philosophy? Is there a choice or do they simply carry out their functions as put forth by their users? What issues does Sam carry with him as a result of his perceived abandonment? What was Flynn trying to accomplish by writing The Grid? Why should we care about Castor as a character, even if the awesome Michael Sheen is channeling David Bowie? I won’t get into Rinzler’s story arc for fear of spoiling it for those who don’t pick up on the twist early, but it was probably the most ripe for action and pathos and poignancy and ended up ultimately falling flat.
None of this makes the film bad by any stretch of the imagination. T:L does what it sets out to do, which is to take it’s audience on a fantastic ride, and on that score it succeeds admirably. If that’s all you’re looking for then T:L is worth a few views at least. The problem is that the lack of story development keeps the film from being truly great. You won’t leave unsatisfied, but there may be that nagging thought in the back of your mind; how some key scenes, while effective, could have been so much better if the writers or director has set their sights just a little higher. As it is, Tron:Legacy is a nine; a visually astonishing and adrenaline pumping action/scifi flick. The story keeps the film from being a ten, but still serves to drive the characters from point A to Point B. It may not be important to you where they’re going, but in a movie like this, it’s really the journey that counts.
- Graphic artist Doug TenNapel (creator of Earthworm Jim) wrote a treatment for a Tron sequel called “Tron: Into The Machine”.
- A partial replica of Flynn’s Arcade was set up at Comic-Con 2009, complete with several Space Paranoids consoles, and other 80’s video games. A full-scale model of the new light-cycle was also displayed. Another replica has since been opened at Disney’s California Adventure theme park, part of the park’s “ElecTRONica” promotion of the film.
- At San Diego Comic-Con 2010, this movie became the first film to be promoted for three years running.
- Steven Lisberger, who directed the original film has a cameo as the bartender in the End of Line club.
- The skintight “electric” suits worn were actually fitted with embedded light strips, thus eliminating the need for any effects modifications in post production.
- Torn:Legacy was filmed from the outset in 3D format, as opposed to being later converted in post production. The camera equipment used was also a generational step beyond the 3D technology used in Avatar.
- In order to retro-age Jeff Bridges to a 35-year-old, the actor had to wear a special helmet fitted with 4 strategically placed cameras enabling every textural nuance of his facial expressions to be recorded for precision synthesis during digital processing. In an interview, he noted that he was being scanned by laser into a computer, just like Flynn in the original Tron.
- Joseph Kosinski’s directorial debut: He was 8 when Tron was originally released.
- In the months leading up to the movie’s release, an online viral campaign was staged setting up the storyline of the movie. A number of websites were created, including an Encom business site which included a timeline of events in the movie, Arcade Aid, a site dedicated to eighties arcade games, and Flynn Lives, a conspiracy site investigating the disappearance of Flynn as depicted in the movie. These sites led fans to solve riddles for clues to join a scavenger hunt which ultimately led to a live “Wondercon” event where Bruce Boxleitner, playing Alan Bradley, held a press conference and released a new online version of Space Paranoids.
Castor: Change the scheme! Alter the mood! Electrify the boys and girls if you’d be so kind!
Kevin Flynn: The Grid. A digital frontier. I tried to picture clusters of information as they moved through the computer. What did they look like? Ships? motorcycles? Were the circuits like freeways? I kept dreaming of a world I thought I’d never see. And then, one day…
Sam Flynn: You got in.
Kevin Flynn: That’s right, man. I got in.
Kevin Flynn: Sam, you are really….you’re messing with my zen thing, man!
Kevin Flynn: Bio-digital jazz, man!
Sam Flynn: Ice caps are melting, war in the Middle East, Lakers/Celtics back at it. I don’t know, rich are getting richer, poor are getting poorer. Cell phones, online dating, Wi-fi.
Kevin Flynn: What’s Wi-fi?
Sam Flynn: Wireless interlinking.
Kevin Flynn: Of digital devices
Sam Flynn: Yeah.
Kevin Flynn: Huh. I thought of that in ’85.
Quorra: Do you know Jules Verne?
Sam Flynn: Sure.
Quorra: What’s he like?
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That point about the original film getting better with time–about it essentially being ahead of it’s time–was awesome and something I hadn’t really thought about. But, really, that’s the way a good piece of work is supposed to be. It SHOULD get better with time. I mean, how many great literary pieces have hit their peak posthumously? Heaven help these attention-hunting flicks that trip over each other in their hurry to date themselves (and render themselves almost instantly obsolete) with random references to Taylor Swift or other two-minute-long sensations. The test if time: totally worth taking!
I remember watching the original Tron at your place, possibly 16 or more years ago. I remember you and Mark being super hyped about it, and telling me that it was awesome, and that you couldn’t believe I hadn’t seen it yet. Now, back in the day, watching any movie I hadn’t seen yet was regarded as a treat. So I excitedly sat with you guys in your basement, and proceeded to get really confused for an hour and a half. I wasn’t confused about the plot mind you, it was barely simple enough for me to get at that age. I was confused because I was bored watching something that was supposed to be amazing and a reward of sorts. Tron is boring because the inside of the computer has FIVE COLORS IN IT. Five colors is not visually captivating. Five colors is absurdly boring to stare at for more than about 10 minutes, so if I don’t have a worthwhile story to get wrapped up in, I really really don’t care even a little. That was the problem with Tron back in the day, and that’s what’s wrong with Tr2n. If you like the Tron franchise at all, I’ve got a blacklight poster and a dime bag I can sell you. You can hang out with Bruce Boxlightner anytime you want, dude
Very nicely done! I like how you gave a history lesson of the first one to lead into the new one! Also, I thought that the artical as a whole did a great job on explaining why the movie was good, even if the story wasnt amazing. (Props on the usage of the Black Hole lol Old School Sci-Fi!)
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