Film Review with Robert Mann – Tron Legacy

Tron Legacy 3D *****
Tron Legacy 2D *****
While it may seem hard to believe considering how dated it looks now, 1982’s Tron was once a film on the cutting edge of visual effects, the then state of the art visuals boasting the first extensive use of computer generated imagery in a movie with about 20 minutes of footage featuring digitally created visuals including, among many other things, early attempts at facial animation.
As dated as the visuals look now, however, they still have a certain power, being rather impressive for the time in which they were produced, so much so that, rather than vanishing into obscurity, the film still has a substantial fanbase now twenty eight years later. Not only that but the film was also very ahead of its time in a number of ways and seemingly foresaw the shape of things to come, a video game that features in its initial scenes bearing remarkable resemblances to 3D graphics game engines that would not be invented for another twelve years and many Disney animators refusing to work on the film because they feared computers would put them out of business, something that seemed set to actually happen twenty two years later when Disney closed its hand-drawn animation studio in favour of CG animation (although it was eventually reopened by new creative director John Lasseter, ironically also the head of a computer generate animation company in the form of Pixar). Tron was not very successful upon its original theatrical release, grossing just $33 million at the US box office at the time (although when viewed in contrast to its $17 million production budget the film could perhaps be viewed as a moderate success) and going on to become more of a cult hit than a commercial one, with the video game that followed it actually proving to be far more lucrative than the movie itself. You might wonder then, why Disney would even consider making a sequel to a film that itself was hardly considered to be successful – the $33 million gross still only equates to $89 million in today’s money when adjusted for inflation – and then why would they make one with a production budget in excess of $200 million (the fourth film released by Disney this year to carry a $200 million+ budget, or the fifth in the case of America), $13 million of that amount alone going on the wardrobe with one custom suit alone costing $60,000. The answer to this is simple – the cult following. Disney clearly believes that the film boasts a substantial enough fanbase to justify the creation of a Tron sequel and the reuniting of original stars Jeff Bridges and Bruce Boxleitner (although other original cast members are conspicuously absent from this sequel) seems like a pretty good indication that they want to deliver something that pleases the fans. Arriving twenty eight years after the original film, Tron Legacy has become one of the most hyped up, although perhaps not most eagerly anticipated movies of 2010, and seems poised to be this year’s answer to Avatar in terms of its 3D visuals, utilising the new F-35 Sony camera system, the latest generation in 3D cameras, one generation newer even than the ones used by James Cameron for that film, and perhaps being one of the films best suited to the 3D medium ever made. Some may perhaps be concerned about the presence of first time director Joseph Kosinski at the helm but fear not as his effects background – he previously produced several CGI television commercials including the “Starry Night” commercial for videogame Halo 3 and the “Mad World” commercial for another videogame, Gears of War – makes him a prime candidate to do justice to the unique visual style of the Tron world and Disney are so pleased with his work that they have already signed him to remake another of their classic live action sci-fi movies, The Black Hole. Is what Kosinski has made a truly worthy legacy to the original Tron though or, after twenty eight years of waiting, will fans feel cheated?
Twenty years ago, Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), one of the world’s leading videogame developers, disappeared, leaving behind his son Sam and a billion dollar business empire in the form of computer company Encom. In the following twenty years, Encom’s one time mission to share its creations freely with the world has been corrupted in favour of massive profits and, despite the pleas of Kevin’s long time friend, computer programmer Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner), for him to take over the running of the company, Sam (Garrett Hedlund) has stayed out of the company’s way aside from a yearly act of opposition to the corrupt policies of its board of directors. Everything changes for Sam, however, when Alan informs him that he has been paged by a phone number long disconnected – that of Kevin’s old amusement arcade, Flynn’s. Believing that the page may have originated from his father, Sam investigates, and his actions lead him to be pulled into The Grid, a digital world created by his father almost thirty years earlier, the same digital world where his father has been trapped for the last two decades. There, Sam discovers that the world has been taken over by sinister forces headed by Clu (Jeff Bridges), an artificial creation of Kevin’s that has turned bad in his pursuit for perfection and that if he is to make it to his father he must first survive a series of life challenging games. Eventually tracking down his father with the help of the fearless Quorra (Olivia Wilde), Sam learns that his father is being hunted by Clu for the knowledge he possesses, knowledge that would give Clu the means to cross over into the real world, and that his mere arrival in The Grid may well have given Clu the means to carry out his fiendish plan. Realising that it isn’t just his and his father’s lives that are in jeopardy but also the very existence of The Grid and even the real world, Sam tries to get himself, his father and Quorra back to the safety of the real world where dealing with the super powerful Clu will take little more than the push of a button. But to get there they must take on the full power of Clu’s army and deal with duplicitous programmes such as night club owner Castor (Michael Sheen) and his associate Gem (Beau Garrett). With the odds heavily against them their chances of survival of remote but perhaps the reappearance of an old ally of Kevin’s might turn the odds back in their favour.
Whether or not you hold any appreciation for Tron Legacy will very much depend on what it is that you look for in a film. If you seek complex plotlines, engaging characters and memorable dialogue it is fair to say this film will hold no appeal for you whatsoever. If, on the other hand, you crave an experience, something that will deliver a feast for your eyes and truly take your breath away then you will LOVE this movie. To get the negatives out of the way first, this is not a particularly well written film. The dialogue is clunky and often very clichéd, something that detracts notably from the performances on display although the acting still proves decent nonetheless – Jeff Bridges, playing both good guy Kevin and villain Clu, is adept at both roles, delivering a vibe of zen like cool as the former and being suitably smarmy as the latter; Michael Sheen is superbly camp and over the top as Castor; Olivia Wilde delivers a good balance of toughness and softness; and Garrett Hedlund proves to be a fairly capable leading man, although Bruce Boxleitner’s appearance sadly amounts to little more than a cameo, appearing briefly in the real world scenes as Adam and in some flashbacks as one time hero Tron – with the actors doing a pretty good job with rather weak material. What passes for exposition and character development comes largely in the real world scenes that briefly show us Sam’s childhood, the TV news reports – which look very authentic to the 80s period I might note – filling in the details about Kevin’s disappearance and the subsequent effects on Sam and Encom, and some flashback sequences that show us events preceding the film and explain why The Grid has come to be the way it is, things that fail to deliver much depth to the story or characters but prove passable in detailing the film’s plot. The storyline is neither here or there really, the plot being largely sufficient for the film’s needs but not substantial, delivering a rather predictable outcome and lacking any real depth, although all the depth that is really needed is supplied by the 3D visuals. This is a film about the visuals, after all, and the visuals do not disappoint. Just as was the case with Avatar last year this is a film that is all about providing us viewers with an experience and in this regard it is impossible to find any fault with it. These words have been thrown around a lot in the last couple of years but this film really does boast some of the best 3D effects seen to date. Rarely has there been a film that lends itself so perfectly to the 3D medium than this one and the effects here are applied effectively and stylishly, never being used in a particularly gimmicky fashion – i.e. nothing comes out of the screen – but rather to actually take us to the world of The Grid instead of just showing it to us, something that makes the experience all the more memorable (like Avatar the 3D takes us on a journey to an alien world, just different kind). This isn’t to say that the visuals don’t impress even in 2D, though, as the film still dazzles even without the extra dimension, The Grid being a breathtaking work of digital art, a beautifully realised and infinitely cool neon laden – neon style light is used to excellent effect here – world that is extremely spectacular in 2D, although obviously more so in 3D. In an interview director Joseph Kosinski said “I wanted to treat the screen like a window into another world” and this is exactly what he has done, with the film making it seem like we are looking through into a living, breathing world that exists beyond the frame of the cinema screen. A particularly effective way in which this film differs from other 3D movies is that the entire movie is not in 3D – some on screen text before the film states “The following 3D presentation contains several 2D scenes…” and while you may think wearing the 3D glasses during the 2D scenes will darken the image this is not the case at all, the effect of 3D clearly having been considered even in the scenes that aren’t 3D at all. Here only the scenes in the virtual world are presented with the extra dimension while the real world scenes are presented as old fashioned 2D, something that really provides a differentiation between the real and virtual worlds and that generally proves to be a rather effective touch, especially with regard to the seamless way that the film shifts between 2D and 3D and back again.
So many movies nowadays feature visual effects that it is all too easy to simply get used to what we are seeing, the fantastical seeming normal after a while but this film really does do something completely different with its effects and provides a sense of the fantastic that has been absent in many recent effects based movies. Boasting, in addition to great CGI, superb set design – while they may appear to be all computer generated environments, some actual sets feature in the virtual world as well – and excellent costumes, hair and make-up, this is a film that looks distinctive, original and unique, the world seen on the screen being completely unlike anything that anyone other than someone who’s seen the original Tron has seen and even then they are a true evolution of what was seen in that film, the visuals being state of the art like for now like the original film’s effects were for the early 1980s. The de-aging effects applied to Jeff Bridges to make him look twenty years younger are largely effective, almost proving completely convincing but still retaining a slightly artificial look – this is something that could perhaps be viewed as an issue in the film’s opening real world scene but is less of a problem in the case of Clu, as he is artificial and in essence the slight artificial look actually makes the character perhaps seem slightly more convincing in a fashion. Such is the strength of the visuals that even dialogue based sequences are made to be really spectacular and in a way that doesn’t diminish from what (little) is being said on screen. In addition to looking great, the film is also exciting and thrilling, boasting numerous action sequences that are not just hugely entertaining but also quite original, making terrific use of the potential that The Grid offers, delivering us disc fights, lightcycle chases, aerial battles and fight sequences that really get the pulse pumping and are enhanced significantly by a superb techno soundtrack produced by Daft Punk – who actually appear in the film as a couple of DJs at Castor’s nightclub. It isn’t just the virtual world that looks great but also the real world with the opening scenes also boasting great design – Flynn’s amusement arcade captures the look and feel of the 1980s perfectly, packed full of classic amusement arcades, each generating an authentic 80s sound – and some very good cinematography, as well as being quite exciting in their own right. So, if you go to the cinema for a truly spectacular experience, Tron Legacy is a film that will definitely satisfy you, whether you are an older viewer looking to go on a nostalgia trip or a younger viewer looking to have your mind blown. Visually stylish and unique, Tron Legacy is an incredible 3D spectacle and still quite awe inspiring in classic 2D. Without a doubt one of the most amazing things you will see on the big screen this year this is also undoubtedly the 3D movie of the year, making some of the best use of the effects to enhance the overall experience rather than just as a gimmick. This is a film that will dazzle you, a piece of super cool 80s retro with a 21st century twist and a film that leaves behind a legacy that Tron himself would be proud of. Another cult classic in the making, perhaps?
Review by Robert Mann BA (Hons)

© BRWC 2010.

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Alton loves film. He is founder and Editor In Chief of BRWC.  Some of the films he loves are Rear Window, Superman 2, The Man With The Two Brains, Clockwise, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, Trading Places, Stir Crazy and Punch-Drunk Love.



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