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• TRON Legacy

Let’s get the obvious out of the way; the original TRON hasn’t aged very well.  It had some revolutionary animated sequences (which admittedly still look pretty cool as an artifact of early computer graphics) but putting these aside, the characters and plot were sorta boring.  Legacy benefits not only from the past 30 years of gradual technological progress, but more importantly its emphasis on the characters.  This is one of the most stylish sci-fi fantasy films ever made, but the iconic visuals are thankfully backed up by a surprisingly strong emotional journey.

Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), the hero of the first film, mysteriously disappeared in the ’80s, leaving behind a son named Sam (Garrett Hedlund).  I was initially gutted when the film falters in its first 15 minutes or so as we fast forward to the present day, with Sam “hacking” an irrelevant board meeting at his father’s former computer software company.  The effect is further compounded when Sam subsequently base dives from the top of ENCOM’s headquarters (parachute and all) before finally landing on top of a taxi.  But it’s not long after this laughably bad and totally unnecessary sequence that Sam enters the Grid, and things get dramatically better from then on.

Make no mistake, TRON is not a pure science-fiction film, but rather a sci-fi fantasy film.  Don’t expect a convincing plot device to explain how humans become digitized like in The Matrix.  This is the cyberspace twin of The Wizard of OZ, promptly whisking the viewer away to a strange land that, while dangerous, is too god damned shiny to be anything but fun.

This is the 2nd film (after Avatar) that really showcases the benefits of 3-D cinema.  The many action sequences are not only conceptually original but look downright jaw dropping in 3-D, punctuated by teeth-clenching slow-motion to let it all sink in.  Three decades later, TRON Legacy is everything the first film wanted to be and more.  To begin with, the campy glowing suits have been given a sexy redesign.  While a handful of silly looking costumes, hair, and make up are present and accounted for, key characters look very cool and menacing.  When the personified Programs get “de-rezzed” (Grid speak for deleted) they shatter into a million glowing shards of data that spill across the floor.  And the lightcycles’ trademark light-trail refracts and bends the surrounding environment as if it were made of some sort of magical glass, to name just a few of the many visual treats.

The computer graphics do fall short in one, some might say essential, category: Kevin Flynn’s digital younger self.  The film makers maximize its effectiveness with clever lighting, but the effect is far from perfect.  That said, it shouldn’t bother anyone who has touched a video game in the last 5 years, and its CG sheen sort of fits within the context of the film’s digital world.  I’ve said it before, but it is worth reiterating just how difficult it is to create a convincing artificial human – whether it’s a computer-generated actor or a synthetic humanoid robot.

Special mention must be made of the soundtrack, which was composed by the French DJ robots known as Daft Punk.  Daft Punk and TRON are a match made in heaven, so whoever was in charge at Disney that made this happen deserves a serious bonus.  They even put in an enjoyable cameo, but if you’re not a fan I don’t feel the music will turn you off.  It’s more cinematic than their typical sound, dovetailing nicely with the action or the rumbling emotional underpinnings of any given scene.  That’s probably a good thing, but as a fan I was hoping it would have a little more in common with what we’ve come to expect from their albums.  To conclude, do yourself a favor and disregard the negative reviews (I don’t know what these critics were expecting) – seeing it in 3-D is the way to go.

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