Friday, December 17, 2010

Tron: Legacy

I should have have loved Tron: Legacy. The original remains one of my favorite films of my childhood. It's unique look and style (which has never even been attempted to be recaptured over years) was the type of eye candy and simple yet heartfelt and far-reaching message of a near future digital frontier blew my seven year-old mind.

Although Legacy has a distinctly different visual style, it still creates a beautiful world you want to get lost in for a couple of hours. The new version also throws in lightcylces, a modern take on the effects, and plenty of action. It also lifts story elements from several movies than I enjoy (which come off much better than its original ideas) some of which feel like courteous nods and homages and some of which feel like not-so-subtle rip-offs. So what went wrong?

For its faults the original Tron spent quite a bit of time thinking out the digital world in which Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) became trapped. There were rules, some of which he could bend as a user, and a distinct message for the film about freedom of information and the free access and flow of data. And, not completely unimportant, it was fun!

The sequel's vision is murkier. The storyline here revolves around a Nazi-like duplicate of Flynn named Clu (a rubbery-faced CGI Jeff Bridges) and special spontaneously generated programs who hold the answer to all of humanity's woes. This script also includes bars and digital winos (who knew programs couldn't hold their liquor?), organic food (grown in a digital world?), and very little of the character known as Tron. Sadly, the writing is reminiscent of the same kind of muddy thinking that gave us midichlorians and aliens with crystal skeletons.

After receiving a page from his friend years after Flynn's disappearance, Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner) visits Flynn's son Sam (Garrett Hedlund). Although he feigns disinterest, Sam returns to the Flynn arcade and uncovers his father's secret workshop. Playing around on daddy's computer the young hacker accidently activates the wrong program and soon finds himself inside the digital world his father designed.

Rescued by his father's friend Quorra (Olivia Wilde) from the gladiatorial games run by Flynn's doppelganger Clu, Sam is finally reunited with his father. Together the three set out to stop Clu's plan to take his army of brainwashed programs into the real world in an attempt to sterilize the imperfections out of our world as he's done in this one.

The film makes some subtle, yet important, changes to the original Tron. These are done in part to explain the differences of how the two films look and partially to build-up Flynn's God-like stature. This isn't the same grid on which Flynn defeated the Master Control Program. This is a new grid created by Flynn. This is an important distinction because it elevates Flynn from a 'User' to his new role as the "Creator."

One of my biggest complaints is how Tron: Legacy deals with the concepts of what it means to be human and what it means to be a program. The script can never decide how human Sam and Flynn are once inside the digital world. Flynn has obviously aged over time, and Sam actually bleeds when he's first thrown into the games. Unlike the first film where the characters simply imbibe water-like energy for substance, here the characters actually sit down for dinner with food and drink. Where did the food come from, and do they really need to eat it? Are they still human, or only digital representations?

The same inconstancy can be found in the various programs Sam crosses paths with over his time in the digital world. The programs shown here are much more human than those in the first film. Whether these programs were created by Flynn or came with him from the old grid is never made clear. If they were created elsewhere they should not feel so human, yet f they were created by Flynn inside the grid there would be some justification for their more human behavior but not for their extremely odd characteristics and design. It's a paradox.

Also troubling is the inconstancy of Flynn's powers within the system. As the creator he is responsible for creating the world and its various aspects including old novels, a chandelier, a retro-style lightcycle and various other trinkets, but can't conjure up a gun to simply shoot Clu? Or make some bombs the type Clu uses with such effectiveness. Or, as the grid's God-like being, simply think Clu out of existence? The problem is the film never firmly defines the limitations of Flynn's control which seems to vary wildly depending on what's called for in a specific scene. At times he's little more than a washed-up guru, but at others he steps up to kick some serious ass.

Sam's character also has similar flaws. When introduced he's a free spirited hacker with plenty of skill. Although he struggles in his early matches on the grid, he soon finds his feet only to fade immediately into the background once reunited with his father. When the two are on-screen together Sam becomes little more than his father's sidekick.

Even though the look of the film is impressive the 3D is not. I viewed the 3D IMAX version on what very may be the smallest IMAX screen ever created. The world does pull you in but the 3D sequences (only select scenes from the film get the 3D treatment) are largely forgettable and completely unnecessary. There's simply no reason to pay a higher price to see Tron: Legacy in IMAX 3D.

Tron: Legacy isn't an awful film, but compared to the original it comes off like a dimwitted stepchild. Despite its flair this new version feels confused, unsure about itself and its message, and over-reliant on the film's impressive look to hide the script's many, many flaws. Is it worth a look? Maybe. But a better question is does the sequel ever justify its existence. Sadly, the answer is no.

End of Line.


Kal said...

This is about the best review on any film I have so wanted to see all year but was unsure of. Like you, the original TRON is an important IDEA film that left me thinking long after I saw it. It disappointing to hear that the sequel didn't keep up with me. I can happily wait for the movie to come to the cheap theatre in town before I make for the ultraplex like the masses. Again, very well written synopsis.

Cap'n Carrot said...

I'm surprised by how many people dismiss the original as nothing more than a kid's film or video game movie. And I'm always glad to find people that appreciate that it had more going for it, if you were willing to pay attention.

I was disappointed in the sequel, which is a forgettable action flick set in a very cool looking world. Although it's worth seeing you certainly don't need to rush out and see it.