By Neil Schneider
I’m scared to ask: but how many of our readers saw the original Tron in the movie theaters in 1982? Hah! The joke’s on the you! I saw it on TV, so I’m younger…though not by much, I’m afraid.
As a ten year old kid, I remember being mesmerized by the first Tron movie. I was a huge fan of the Commodore Vic-20, and the whole idea of a bunch of programs fighting it out inside my machine with body slicing discs was…well…cool! The idea of someone getting sucked inside a computer system with a lay-zer (Dr. Evil accent, please) is a bit much – but it worked. While Tron was a moderate financial success, it made a name for itself in the cinema graphics world and arguably started the trend that brought us to the dominant CGI world we have today.
Nearly thirty years later…yes…thirty years later…Tron:Legacy aims to continue where its predecessor left off with a modernized story, over the top CGI experiences, and a stereoscopic 3D experience. Does 30 years later translate to 30 times better? Let’s see.
The movie begins with a young Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) telling the abbreviated story of the computer world called “The Grid” to his young son, Sam Flynn. Kevin is excited about this world and the potential behind it. Unfortunately, this would be the last time his now orphaned son would see his father because Flynn Sr. disappears without a trace that very evening.
Fast forward to modern day, and Sam has become a Bruce Wayne-like rebel without a cause. As majority shareholder of his father’s company ENCOM, he has all the power but refuses to seize it. Instead, he prefers to play annual pranks on the board of directors by playing cat burglar, thwarting ENCOM’s profitable plans and jumping from really high places and evading the authorities with his motorcycle.
After Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner), a close friend of Kevin Flynn, receives a page from Flynn Sr. (yes, he keeps an outdated pager under his pillow to this day!), he instructs Sam to go to his dad’s old arcade to check things out. After discovering a secret computer running for decades on end, he accidentally triggers the “lay-zer”, and gets sucked into “The Grid”.
“The Grid” is an unfriendly place. Sam’s first task is to fight in the digital arenas and survive the body slicing disc games. After being discovered as a “user”, Sam is brought to the world’s leader who has the same likeness as his father. Who is he, you ask? Sorry, no spoilers!
What Tron: Legacy did well, it did very well. The disc combat games were a lot more elaborate and tense than the original’s. The famed digital car races were also a lot of fun, and they added a few extra surprises that weren’t featured in the first movie.
The stereoscopic 3D component definitely added to Tron: Legacy’s effectiveness, though it was definitely too modest. The movie purposely rendered the real world in 2D, and transitioned to a 3D experience once Sam gets sucked into the computer world – but it wasn’t dramatic enough. There were some scenes which really stood out like when the movie’s villain stood over his army, or the characters had a vast digital landscape behind them – but I was left wanting more.
The original Tron’s legacy (no pun intended) was its contribution to CGI in film. The first movie is still cool looking, and it’s clear that Tron: Legacy has a tough act to follow – even nearly 30 years later! We have seen digital character recreations for years with modern examples including Beowulf’s rejuvinated Angelina Jolie, and Avatar’s lifelike N’avi. Tron: Legacy marks another step forward in replacing the real life actor with a digital likeness of a thiry-something Jeff Bridges. Jeff’s inflexible face suggests we aren’t quite there yet, but in one to two more technology generations, separating the real from the not so real is going to be very difficult.
While the movie did a great job with the special effects and coming up with a new glossy look for the Tron world, the story and dialogue was lacking. I just didn’t buy the whole hippy mentality of Flynn Sr., and Sam was too macho and in the groove to be believable. What experience did he have to be a floppy disc warrior 15 minutes into the movie? Rewinding myself back to the ten year old who could see past these things, the movie’s pacing was all wrong. It had well placed periods of action and tension, and then docile periods which made the movie longer than necessary. It just wasn’t as craftily put together as I wanted it to be.
So let me conclude by saying that whether your first computer ran on floppy disks or 3D Blu-Rays, Tron: Legacy’s imagery will awaken your senses and intrigue you. Unfortunately, while the film is rendered in stereoscopic 3D, the story and dialogue is a bit flat. While it’s not required to see the first Tron movie, it would be a good idea to find yourself a digital download or local video store to watch it. It will make Tron: Legacy more fun with familiar actors and characters getting revisited decades later, and it’s a great measuring stick to see just how far we have come.
How does the Tron: Legacy video game fare? We’ll soon find out!
MTBS movie score 7/10