I saw Tron: Legacy a couple of weeks ago and never got around to reviewing it. I’ve been really busy filming the new season of Amazing Race. Me and Leonard Maltin were the film critic team. It was a blast, although I found out today our footage wasn’t used due to some controversial sexual material. Did we win the race? I’m not at liberty to say.
People always assume I’m a big fan of the original Tron. An understandable assumption, given my proclivity for most such endeavors. But in this case, not accurate. I barely even remember the original. Laser bikes and disks were about all I could recall. There were also some vague recollections of a scene in a cave. I may respect Tron fans, but I myself am not a Tron fan. I was going in with a clean slate, for better or worse.
I’m guessing the plot was never really what the love of the original was all about. It was about visuals and a glimpse of the future (I assume).
An early problem Tron: Legacy encounters is how to handle the technology from the original. In a sense, Tron predicted the direction computers would take our society. Its predictions didn’t come true. I’m not talking about 1984 here, but the original was all about how this digital universe was going to change the world. Then the sequel is set in the present day. So…..how did it change the world exactly?
The attempts to rectify this quandary are vague, but do the job if you’re willing to suspend your disbelief. ENCOM still exists, and it sells some sort of operating system or network or some such. They never say exactly what it does, but everyone needs it. One problem: solved.
Now what to do about that pesky Grid? The one that was supposed to change everything? POOF! It disappeared, along with Jeff Bridges, in 1989. Now we’re ready to make a movie.
Bridges’ son, played by the not-that-likable Garrett Hedlund, is a motorcyclin’ prankster. He’s the leading shareholder of ENCOM, yet lives in some sort of converted garage in the slums. Not your average billionaire orphan, right? He gumptions his way into The Grid via secret passage and laser beam, and it’s off to the races.
Once on the grid, father and son are quickly re-united. Bridges’ explanation of The Grid is an odd mixture of techno-babble and mysticism. It sort of works. He carries it well, anyway. Its best not to think too much about what The Grid is or why it exists. You’re there. Try to enjoy it. It’s not going to take your breath away, but there are some really cool visuals.
I’m not a huge fan of the return to 3D. I’ve seen it work and not work, but I’m naturally suspicious of anything the theaters can justify charging more for. Some of these movies are shown in 3D without actually having been shot for 3D. Before the start of Tron: Legacy a screen flashed admitting some scenes were shot in 2D, but that they would be shown as originally shot and not in 3D. So parts of the movie were in 3D and other parts wasn’t. Each scene, apparently, is shown the way it was meant to be shown. Hmm.
Was this a sign of integrity by the filmmakers? I wanted to think so, and I’m sure that was the design. But this is Disney we’re talking about here. If the movie was always intended to be shown in 3D, why did they shoot any 2D scenes to begin with? It’s pretty clear the switch to 3D was a profit-grab just like it has been for most of the movies that have done it. Shrewd gamesmanship, Disneycorp. I guess its our move.
The good news is both the 3D and 2D scenes really did look excellent. Words like sharp and crisp come to mind although I couldn’t necessarily explain why. It wasn’t so sweeping as Avatar or so colorful as Alice In Wonderland. Definitely a little more understated. I enjoyed that.
I think the key to this movie’s look was combining darkness with light. A dark atmosphere lends credibility to any drama or action movie. Ominous, tragic, foreboding, these are traits that will help an audience take a movie seriously. The problem is, you can’t just make everything dark literally, because then the audience can’t see. Sounds elementary, but directors still make that mistake ALL THE TIME.
What directors need to strive for, and what Tron: Legacy succeeds somewhat in creating, is an aesthetic that feels dark no matter how bright the colors. This particular film doesn’t use many colors, most of it is either simply light or dark, with the classic reds and blues from the original. But the light and darkness always contrast beautifully. The apartment where Bridges and the mysterious Quora (Olivia Wilde) are in hiding was a simple yet aesthetically pleasing afffair. And the slow space-ride up towards the homeward portal near the end of the film was downright beautiful. One of the best scenes of the year in my stoney opinion. In both of these cases, the atmosphere was undeniably dark, yet everything was crystal clear. I applaud that.
What keeps Tron: Legacy from being a legit movie, unfortunately, is the acting. We know Bridges can hang, but he is all alone in this one. Neither Wilde nor Hedlund bring much to the table other than a good body for spandex. There are no cool cameos or respectable character actors. The small role that begged for someone interesting, the flamboyant double-agent Zeus, was instead played by the unbelievably annoying Michael Sheen.
There are other flaws, as well. The original Kevin Flynn (Bridges) may have aged, but his program copy, Clu, has not. So the villain is also Bridges, but in young makeup that looks totally stupid, just like young makeup always does. The difference is normally its only used for a scene. This movie leans on it for the entirety.
And this may be nitpicking, but the title character, Tron, is largely ignored until the very end. At that point we’re supposed to remember and care about him, but we’ve just watched a 2-hour movie in which he doesn’t say a word or even show his face. It falls flat.
When it comes down to it, this is a PG Disney movie with only one actor you could possibly give a shit about. It won’t be winning any oscars. But I think it can be enjoyed with the right attitude. Suspend your disbelief. Don’t think too hard about anything anyone asserts. When Bridges says Quora, some sort of spontaneously created program, will “change the world” don’t ask any questions. Just take it at face value. Don’t think. Watch and feel. If you do that, and you get supe to the dupe beforehand, you will have a good time.