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TRON: Legacy

Film Five Stars
I can't remember the last time that I did watch TRON, but I do remember a lot about that film, although I don't quite remember the number of times I watched it, I just know it was a few. I loved that film, and I loved the two leads, my first exposure to Jeff Bridges, and the film was exciting, fresh and unbelievable.

That was 1982 though, and films and technology have taken leaps and bounds since then, but fans still hold onto that image of the future that Disney created, and I'm proud to say that I'm one of those fans.

With everything that Hollywood has been churning out in the realm of remakes, restarts, re-imaginings, prequels and sequels, the thought of seeing a sequel to TRON made by a Hollywood studio was thoroughly repulsive.

However having seen some of the adverts and shorts from Joseph Kosinski I was intrigued, the new feature director definitely had the styling for it. Let's see how it turned out and if he could beat off the executives.

The original TRON from Steven Lisberger told the story of Kevin Flynn played by Jeff Bridges, a former employee of the software company ENCOM who has been fired after raising questions about possible corruption within the organisation and the theft of some computer games by the senior executive Ed Dillinger. Now he has out to prove it, but while he's hacking into the ENCOM mainframe to get the evidence, something amazing happens and through a new laser system he's digitised and pulled into the mainframe's world.

There he discovers that computer programs are people inhabiting a huge digital city, and in control of them all is the MCP, the Master Control program, played by David Warner. He reigns over the world without remorse and he makes the inferior programs in games to the death, or rather "derezed".

When Flynn arrives the MCP sees him as a threat to their existence and he and his programs set out to destroy him. Flynn gains the assistance of a security program called TRON, played by Bruce Boxleitner, and together they are out to destroy the MCP and free the computer world.

That was TRON, and a fantastic and amazingly imaginative film that gained a huge audience and fan base and became a cult film, indeed there's a huge audience out there for the re-release.

So, to the plot of TRON: Legacy, the sequel to the 1986 film TRON.


Plot.pngTronLegacy.jpgTRON: Legacy sees the son of Kevin Flynn, Sam played by Garrett Hedlund, grown up and now the largest shareholder in his father's company ENCOM. It seems that in the period between TRON and TRON: Legacy Kevin Flynn took control of ENCOM and built it up into something amazing, and at the core of the company was the idea of freedom of information and the furthering of humankind through the digital world. He also worked on developing the world he'd discovered inside the mainframe, making amazing discoveries, all this until one day he just disappeared.

His son has grown up without a father, without interest in the company, and without direction. His father's friend Alan Bradley, played by Bruce Boxleitner, has stuck with the company while the board took it over and ran it as a profit making corporation. The board are intent on selling the latest operating system, which is merely a re-badged version of the previous, to a worldwide audience.

Alan has looked after Sam since Kevin's disappeared and has tried to influence him in the right direction as well as trying to influence the company that Sam now owns but holds no interest in running.

Soon after the film begins, Alan receives a page from Kevin's old games arcade, a number that's been disconnected for a long time in a building that's remained empty since Kevin's disappearance. Sam is intrigued and heads there to see what he can find. Once the power is on and the memories return, he is drawn to the central arcade game of TRON, he drops a coin in for old time's sake. It falls out of the slot and onto the floor revealing grooves where the arcade machine has been repeatedly moved.

Sam moves the machine and finds a small entranceway to a hidden room, a room filled with his father's technology and personal systems, and a computer that has been running all this time. Investigating the system he discovers a laser program, and before he knows it he's inside the computer world.

Once he realises where he is he discovers that the idyllic world his father talked to him about when he was young is a reality, but it's been corrupted and controlled a computer program who has designs for the world, for Sam, and for his father.


TheFilm.pngIt's interesting re-reading the plot I've just written up. So often I write the blurb, sometimes just from the official blurb that's already out there and reworking it in my own words, but it's not very often I spend so long writing it from scratch. Here, with TRON Legacy, I did, and I enjoyed it. That's a huge sign of what I think of the film.

I think it's clear by now I had a host of fears and trepidations for TRON Legacy before I saw it, and that was even though I had watched the twenty-three minute preview of the film, a preview that had left me in two minds. I wasn't just concerned about what it might do to my memories of the classic TRON, but also what Hollywood would do to the new film. Would the ideas that TRON created manage to hold through the Hollywood studio executives? Then there was the question of the new director and if he could deal with such a big film and whether the 3D would over power the film as they focused on the games aspect and throwing things towards the screen.

There was a lot stacking up against it and to be quite frank the weight of doubt was far heavier than the positive of belief. How wrong I was.

Interestingly, like the twenty-three minute preview that we watched before, the film is actually mixed between 2D and 3D. It's a nice touch that the footage in the computer world is in 3D while that of our world is all in 2D. It's all been optimised for the 3D spectacles so you won't be taking them on and off.

This does give a different look and style to the world inside the computer, not that it needs any extra help because it has a fantastic style that stays true to the original and updates it without any hint of taking it too far. It looks like how we would like to remember TRON looked like when we first saw it, and there's not a single thing in the whole film that I felt even hinted at being out of place, from the costumes to the lightcycles, the discs to the new lightjets, everything looks like it's been designed by the original team at the time of the first film but with today's technology.

The effects were amazing, the CG wonderful, and despite the comments about the CG version of the young Jeff Bridges, taken in context it worked really well. When we saw him in the computer world it felt right, but it was in our world that they didn't quite feel as strong. It's perhaps for that reason that we didn't see too much of him in that real world, and when we did it was in often to the side or in low light. Back in the computer world it was rather fitting that he carried that CG feel, and you'll understand the reasons for it when you see the film. I do believe a lot of the concerns about the CG face were because in the trailers and preview footage it was seen out of the context of the story.

Okay, now I'm going to address the elephant in the room, 3D. I can absolutely and categorically state that there was no need for 3D in TRON: Legacy, and as with so many other films that are in 3D, I felt that it was a barrier to me seeing the true depth and beauty in some of the shots and scenes.

After the film I estimated that there was about thirty seconds worth of footage where I was actually looking at three dimensions coming through the scene on screen, and that's thirty seconds in the whole film. The rest of the film the picture just looks two dimensional and I forgot all about any suggestion of 3D. From there the film just seemed like those real world 2D scenes we watched before Sam entered the computer world. If you stopped looking at what was happening in the foreground and looked to some of the backdrops you could see some of that 3D element, but for ninety percent of the film there's just nothing that clicked with me it was 3D, and with those spectacles over my own, I just felt my view of the excellent visuals was hindered and blinkered.

The opening set the pace for the film, bringing forward a strong dramatic element that was never taken over by the effects or the set pieces, which let's face it would have been incredibly easy to do. The fact that the lightcycle or disc battles have become so big through the original film and the video games, it's not hard to see that those behind the film would want to focus on these areas and make the most of the marketing potentials there, and yet the film doesn't do this. While they are very prominent, they don't take it over, the film focuses on the story and the characters and not the big effects sequences.

That opening had a lot to do. It had to cover the story that TRON told, fill the connecting time period from there to the start of this film, and set the tone for TRON: Legacy while introducing the characters. That's a hell of a lot of work and responsibility for an opening and in itself it sounds like an entire film, but it's testament to the people behind it that they've managed to put so much into it without labouring the storytelling, you don't feel like you're in catch-up mode for everything that has come before just deep in the story.

As you can tell I was massively impressed by the opening, it did all of this with minimal fuss and merging it perfectly with the film, and that's a key aspect of the writing and directing from start to finish. There's a strong dramatic element to the script and it never overpowers itself with certain aspects or scenes and it continually pulls us along at a steady pace. That pace feels spot on and is never too fast or two slow, it's considered and does feel as though it's taking its time in places to give us something more.

During the opening we are introduced to another two strong aspects of the film, the cinematography and the soundtrack, both are prominent in TRON: Legacy but here it seems that there's a strong sell for the style from the first moment. The bike chase scene in the real world gives us the hint of what we're going to expect later and shows how Sam gains his capabilities for the games. It's a superbly filmed piece with some slightly different camera angles that manage to make the action flow and allow you to follow it unlike the staccato, close cropped and often far too fast action from the current action films. Coupled with the music there's a whole different feel to the film in our world, before we even get to the computer world. The whole section has strong lighting and framing that carries right through to the final scenes.

So let's move on from the opening. While the film looks great and sounds fantastic, what of the story? Well I thought they'd done really well in moving it on from the original and giving it enough space to be its own film. The film doesn't just continue on, but has developed the story outside that of the film and built something more, rather than just allowing Flynn's son to do the same story as his father did in the first film but with better effects, and that is something that you'd recognise in a lot of standard Hollywood sequels - "bigger and more".

The film opens strong with the story and once Sam appears in the computer world it turns into the games. It's here where I thought that the film would be dominated by the action and effects, but far from it, the games are actually cut short and we're introduced to the character played by Olivia Wilde in a nicely underplayed way.

There's a lovely scene when she is driving Sam away from the city, she giggles lightly when asked a question and the two go silent, but she takes a couple of short glances towards Sam, looking at him in an intrigued way. There's a lot told through these short moments which aren't rushed and allow the film to relax a little and slow the pace. No need to over explain the moment, pour lines of dialogue into the moment to make sure we got it all and so on.

There are some really nice touches in the story. The Castor/Zuse storyline is well thought out and played by those involved, particularly Michael Sheen, and the arrival of the creator in the room is a nice moment, there is a slight touch of the Matrix to it, but it is far removed and much less brashly visualised that it stands all on its own and feels much more, dare I say, realistic.

Again, what actually happens isn't spelled out and we're merely shown what happens and it is assumed that we understand. Of course it isn't an intellectually challenging thriller, but what this does do is allow us to fill in the blanks and allow each of us to provide our own understanding of what has happened in the background.

I really can't praise that way of storytelling enough, it's what I love about films and the opposite is exactly what I hate. I hate the over explaining moments for the dumb, I hate characters over using dialogue that we wouldn't do in real life, or characters that don't understand as quickly as we would, and overall I hate films that don't credit the audience with some intelligence, while I love the ones that allow us the room to use that brain.

Another aspect of the film that is left to us is that of why the program went the way it did, returning to the control and the games that we remember from the first TRON. Although we see some flashbacks to explain the origin of the program and why events began this way, there's not a need to flashback and explain his motivations step by step. We understand this through the discussions about perfection and the reveal of just how the program was made. There's no need to explain it all, and the film doesn't.

These aspects are surprising for a film such as this, for you do expect it to be far more Hollywood than it appears, and the very fact it isn't is an exciting surprise. It's more mature and intelligent than expected and these aspects give this new TRON film another layer, adding to the edge it already has through the slightly darker and harder feel. This isn't the TRON that you remember.

It isn't all praise though. The plot line about the other programs is somewhat confusing and for everything I've said about allowing the audience to make up their own mind this plot line most certainly required more from the film. For the whole idea about the programs appearing and their significance is far too weak and there's not much of a foundation on which to form an idea. You get the sense that this should be the core of the story, and we understand that these programs should be important to us and the in-film worlds, but we just don't understand how or why they are so important to the story, they just are.

If there was more understanding and weight to this thread then perhaps it would have added more dramatic weight to the events that happen later. As it is we know there's something important, but just not what and how much and it's something that remains a mystery right to the end of the film. While that might be good for a sequel, perhaps a little more would have made the ending of the film a lot stronger.

While the ultimate plan of the program sounds grand and exciting, it too feels a little flatter than expected with everyone seeming pretty relaxed about the program's plans, and about the ultimate ending itself.

However, these are small flaws in an otherwise fantastic film that really does deliver plenty to the TRON universe and does the original proud.


Overall.pngTRON: Legacy is a superb film that takes the story from TRON and pulls it forward into the future, not just effects wise but with a story that has been cleverly conceived. This isn't a cashing in type Hollywood sequel and it really does take into considering the original film and the fans.

At times the film is visually captivating and doesn't crowd the audience with concepts, effects and action sequences. It carries a superb pace and a degree of intelligence to the script, as well as bags of cinematic style and a fantastic soundtrack, to deliver a slightly darker and edgier world to the one we remember.

There's a solid sense of excitement from beginning to end and it will hold your attention right to the final moment, and while there are some stock moments on paper and some events that may not be ultimately surprising, you are still drawn to them and want to see the events play out to their conclusion.

TRON: Legacy has perfectly captured the feel of the original and given it a new story and a unique sense of itself without simply remaking the old story. An exciting and enjoyable sequel that shows Joseph Kosinski has plenty to bring to cinema. Better seen in 2D and without looking at the marketing posters, it's been one of my most enjoyable viewings of the year.



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Comments

Excellent thoughts. I mostly agree, and my differences are matters of opinion. I personally thought that the visuals were a little over emphasized. I would have liked to see less time spent in the cycles, jets and club scenes, and more time spent on storytelling.

I work with digital video for a living, went to see Legacy because of the visuals, and still left wanting more story. My general opinion as I walked out of the theater was, "This is Disney. They have near limitless resources, and a property that's perfectly positioned for success. I shouldn't walk away wanting anything."

I took my 11 year old daughter to the show with me. We had gone back and watched the original as a primer, and I highly recommend that to anyone thinking of going. If you haven't seen the original, you won't be crippled, but you will miss some cool drop-ins and nostalgia value.

One thing I told my daughter before seeing it was my hope that Legacy would be awesome, and that Disney would franchise it. I think it's a legitimate story arc that could go for a long time. I saw several moments where Disney clearly left themselves some future options. I'm glad for that, and I'm not typically one to root for more sequels.

It's unfortunate, but I do believe that Legacy had one major obstacle to overcome... The Matrix. Like it or not, there's a bar set which must be faced by all science fiction movies. I felt like Legacy all but cleared that bar, and then hooked an ankle on it as it jumped over. I thought the visual styling was wonderful. No problems there. I really enjoyed the mature Kevin Flynn. I was completely bought in to Sam, as well. The specters of Trinity and the Merovingian were too formidable, though, and I felt like their counterparts in Legacy faltered.

Another aspect that I particularly enjoyed, but wanted more substance from, was the villain's motivation. The "free and open" sentiment reflected back from a different angle was an unexpected treat that I felt like I was allowed to briefly glimpse from behind a window, but never allowed to truly enjoy.

I'd give Tron: Legacy 7 out of 10, and not because the movie was inferior. It's more because I expected and want more from Disney... one of the most formidable movie studios of all time. I feel justified in holding them to a higher standard.

Thanks for this, and all of your great reviews! I'm a devoted follower, if not a frequent contributor.

Murph, thanks for posting that. Superb thoughts and comments and it's great to know that you're reading them, it's good to get feedback!

I tend to agree that the could have spent more on the storytelling, although they did do well to not get totally caught up in all the games and effects.

You're right, it did have a lot to live up to with Matrix, but I think it did well to sidestep it.

What did you think of these new programs and how that story developed?

Cracking comments Murph. Would love to see more people leaving comments like these on the reviews.

Waiting for this to be released on blu ray so i can crank it up at home.

The plot is just as silly as the original movie. But, TRON Legacy is definitely the most exciting movie for quite a while, impressively updating the original concept with jaw-dropping special effects. Thing is: Jeff Bridges is all the interesting characters in the whole movie. How will the sequels survive without him?

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