Walt Disney Pictures
2 hours, 7 minutes
When I heard that there was a new "Tron" movie coming out, my initial reaction was a resounding "eh." But as time went on, and trust me, I've been putting up with "Tron" news for at least a year and a half now, I started to wonder if maybe I was missing the coolness. After all, the film geeks that I read online have been drooling all over their commemorative light cycle sculptures ever since the news was released.
Part of my ambivalence has to do with the fact that I had absolutely zero history with "Tron" or any of its related mythology -- odd, considering that the original film was made pretty much just for me. I was a 9-year-old fantasy junkie when Disney released "Tron" in 1982. A big-budget, high concept sci-fi movie set in the world of a video game? What kid could resist?
Apparently, me. I remember the movie coming out, but for some reason I skipped it. Probably I couldn't talk my parents into going to see what they considered a loud, incomprehensible waste of time, and eventually, I just forgot about it. That was easy to do in the days before the video aftermarket. Those of you younger than I won't get this, but there was a time when movies came to the theater, stayed a while, then disappeared, never to be heard from again, until they showed up as the CBS Movie of the Week three or four years later.
Eventually cable came along, and then the wait wasn't so long, but this whole idea of a movie being in theaters and then six months later being on your shelf in a "Deluxe Director's Extended Unrated Version" was unknown in those days. So I missed it.
Years later I would see it on the video store shelf and consider renting it, but I think I assumed it must have been lame or I would have seen it when it came out. That's pretty faulty logic, I'll grant you, but suffice it to say I'd never seen the original "Tron." Until a couple of weeks ago.
In anticipation of "Tron: Legacy," I rented the 25th Anniversary edition of "Tron," and, you know, it wasn't half bad. I can only imagine what I might have thought at 9. The story, in a nutshell, goes like this. A guy named Kevin Flynn, played by a young and sassy Jeff Bridges, gets gypped out of his share of the profits of some cool video games he designed by a weasely bureaucrat at ENCOM, the company they both work for. Said bureaucrat then designs a program that takes control of all the other programs inside ENCOM, and eventually starts taking control of systems outside the company.
Flynn accidentally gets shot by a laser which zaps him into a crazy computer world, which turns out to be the physical representation of all the computer systems in the company. Here he meets Tron, a computer program set up to revolt against the master program, represented by Bruce Boxleitner in a glowing bike helmet. Tron and Flynn battle the master program's hench-programs, zoom around on "light cycles" and throw crazy glowing disks around the screen, until they eventually win the day and destroy the master program. Then all the other programs are free to live out their lives in harmony, and Flynn gets the money he would have gotten for his video games and takes control of ENCOM. Yay!
"Tron: Legacy" takes place 28 years later. Flynn has long since disappeared, leaving his son Sam majority stockholder, but bitter and disaffected by his lack of a father. He spends his time riding motorcycles and pulling cyber pranks on his father's company until one day he gets word to check out the abandoned arcade his dad once owned. When he gets there he finds a secret office where, wouldn't you know it, he gets zapped by a laser which sends him to a crazy computer world. The free society left at the end of the first film is gone, however, and the programs now live in a shiny dystopia where, if you get picked up by the authorities it either means conscription or death in a gladiator-style gaming arena where people fight with shiny discs and ride light cycles.
Familiar, but way cooler looking than the original. Flynn, it seems, created a doppelganger named CLU, who, along with Tron and Flynn were going to set up a digital paradise, but things went awry and now Tron is AWOL, CLU is a mad dictator, and Flynn lives in hiding across the wasteland, unable to leave the "grid" but contentedly mastering the art of zen meditation.
Father and son evetually get together, but don't see eye to eye. Sam wants to kick butt, Flynn wants to hang loose, and CLU wants to lead an army into the real world and take over. Oh, and there's a girl. Several, to be exact.
I can't deny that "Tron: Legacy" looks very cool. The light cycles, the landscapes, the strange vehicles and glowing costumes -- every little element is perfect, except one, CLU. CLU looks completely awful, and as he's onscreen half the time, it's pretty distracting. Taking a cool idea that is still beyond everyone except James Cameron, apparently, the filmmakers decided that CLU should look just like Jeff Bridges, only circa 1982. It's basically a CGI version of Bridges, and it's so creepy fake looking that it's hard to even look at. I tried to make excuses for the film, saying that maybe it's intentional, since we are inside a computer, but no one else looks that way. Nope, just bad special effects.
The character of CLU is the most noticeable flaw in the film, but bigger problems exist. Basically, I just didn't buy it. I didn't really buy the original "Tron" either, but it's a smaller movie than "Legacy," and less serious, so it wasn't such a big deal. Almost no time is spent making any of this stuff make sense. What are these "programs?" Are they supposed to be doing something? Most of the time in this film they are either dying in battle or wandering around doing nothing. There's even a nightclub for the programs. Am I supposed to believe that all my Photoshop subroutines are off getting drunk when I'm not using them? Maybe that's why the program crashes occasionally.
This was kind of an issue in "The Matrix" as well, a movie that "Legacy" liberally rips off with abandon. It's ironic, considering "The Matrix" is a direct descendent of the original "Tron," but there you are. But at least in "The Matrix," the idea was that the programs were creating a fake Earth. Not so, here. In "Tron," the "landscape" of the "grid" just is. Don't question it. Why is there cloud cover? Why can the vehicles appear out of thin air, but then give off exhaust when you blast them? Why is there real food in the digital universe?
No reason. I just didn't believe any of it, and I don't think the writers did either. In the end, "Tron: Legacy" is exactly what a sequel shouldn't be, though usually is: a big, shiny, vacant rehash of an original idea that, while kind of cool, wasn't all that deep to begin with.
"Tron: Legacy" is rated PG for sequences of sci-fi action violence and brief mild language.
Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.
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