Friday, December 17, 2010

TRON: Legacy

TRON.  Wow.  TRON!

I remember being thirteen when I saw TRON for the first time.  I loved it.  It was an 80s cheesefest, sure, but it was captivating in the way that it blended the colorful whimsy of Disney fantasy, the technical detail of computing, the fun of arcade gaming, and the style of 80s filmmaking.  In many ways, TRON taps into something highly personal within those of a certain generation.
TRON has been somewhat relegated to the hardcore geek crowd for the last decade or two, and no one ever really believed that a sequel would ever be made.  Now, 28 years later, seemingly out of nowhere, comes TRON: Legacy.

Essentially, the gist of the original TRON was that Kevin Flynn (played by Jeff Bridges), computer programming genius, accidentally became "digitized" into a computer. There, he discovered a neon-colored world much like our own, where "programs" are individuals in the form of people. Kevin meets a security program named TRON, and helps him defeat the evil Master Control Program. In TRON: Legacy, Kevin Flynn has mysteriously disappeared, leaving his only son, Sam, to grow up alone. Now, after being without his father (or the answers behind his disappearance) for twenty years, Sam stumbles upon the world inside the computer and discovers that his father has been trapped inside the system by a malevolent program called CLU, who is created in Kevin's exact image. Sam, Kevin, and a female program named Quorra must fight CLU and escape from the digital world.

So that's about it. Lots of electroluminescent sci-fi action adventure.

Here's an interesting thing about Legacy: in contrast to the first movie, which was very bright, colorful, and fun, Legacy is rather dark and subdued. The tone is (for the most part) very serious. It works out alright, but I can't help feeling that the film would have been better-served by a faster pace and more "fun" vibe. As it is, it's okay, but it borders on being actually boring at times, which is something you never want to see in a movie about neon-colored people throwing laser-edged frisbees and riding digital motorcycles.

An unusual trait of the TRON films is that the visual effects, while not entirely flawless, feel somehow perfect. Because these events take place inside a computer world, it only makes sense that they should look computerized. After all, they are computer-generated.

The look of the TRON world in general is very different from the original film. While the original film had bright colors and characters that glowed as though made of light itself (and showed the programs to be actual beings of energy), Legacy alters this considerably. Legacy's world is dark—fitting, for this darker story—and its characters are shown to look like regular humans who merely wear clothing with a few glowing stripes. While I like the sleeker nature of the suits—especially the lack of the dorky helmets—the character designs in Legacy are almost boring by comparison to the first film. It's a fundamental change to the TRON universe, and I'm not sure I like it.



The action scenes, while perhaps sparse, are generally well-done, and highly unique. They challenge the audience to wrap their heads around ideas of physics and energy that contradict real-world norms, much like The Matrix did in 1999.

The music of TRON: Legacy, composed primarily by Daft Punk, the world-renowned electronic music duo—is merely adequate at some times, but astonishing at others. Whether with electronic beats or orchestral swells, the soundtrack of Legacy is, overall, an amazing work of art. Some have said that the entire focus of Legacy is the sound, and I'm not inclined to disagree.

The characters of Legacy—Sam, Kevin, Quorra, and CLU—are all very well-acted. None of them really grip the audience the way that Kevin did in the first film, mostly due to the movie's subdued tone. One rather unique aspect of Legacy is the way that a younger version of Jeff Bridges is recreated through the use of extensive facial motion-capture and digital animation. The "young Jeff Bridges" looks astoundingly realistic in still photos, but in motion looks very obviously fake. At the same time, however, Jeff Bridges' acting manages to shine through in his motion-captured performance, giving the CG character a kind of emotional depth that counteracts the fakeness of the digital model.

One interesting note: the character of TRON from the first film does not factor into this film's story in any major way. In fact, the small ways that TRON is referenced in Legacy feel almost confusing to fans of the first film, since he's put in a position to have a much bigger role in the film than he does. It's almost definitely certain that he will return in a sequel (if such a sequel is made), but until then, this is just confusing.

All in all, TRON: Legacy is a rather mixed bag, yet is still quite remarkable. There's a sizable amount of depth in the film and its story, concluding with a curveball surprise at the end. While there's a part of me that loves TRON and wants to love TRON: Legacy, in the end I can only say that I like it.