Monday, December 20, 2010

Tron: Legacy - Enter The Grid...

Have you ever watched a movie and wondered where did all the millions of dollars go? With Tron:Legacy (T:L), every single dollar of the budget is visible on the screen. The original movie had a visual style that remains distinct and original even today. T:L took that style and transformed it into a sleeker, smoother version of itself that was new and entirely its own. The best revamp was done to the single most famous icon of the Tron universe: The LightCycle. Gone are the ninety-degree turns and rectangular jet walls, replaced by the grace of curves and the multi-level Cycle Course. Even watching those beautiful machines crash and shatter like so much glass was gorgeous (if a bit painful) to see.

Overall, the director Joe Kosinski did an excellent job balancing the necessary artificial aesthetic of The Grid with the essential grounding in reality it needed to have to in order to be taken seriously as a world in and of itself. And while doing all that, he managed to still make it reminiscent of the original style, giving the digital world a look that felt like it evolved from the first film, like software evolves from its previously written versions. My "fanboy" eyes almost melted due the sheer awesomeness of how the Grid looked.

The other big visual achievement that T:L got was the "Benjamin Buttons" style CGI that allowed them to show a youthful Jeff Bridges in a beginning flashback and as C.L.U., his digital alter-ego. And for the most part it worked really well! I found it a little off putting during the real world scenes, but once in the Grid, it added a fantastic visual creepiness to C.L.U. that perfectly complimented the character. In fact, the only place the effect broke down at all was in the mouth. And that was only in two places in film.

While we're on the subject, let's talk Jeff Bridges and the actors. First off, I have to tip my hat to Mr. Bridges. He has never EVER failed to deliver anything less than a fantastic performance in any of his movies (and I am SO looking forward to seeing him in True Grit) and Tron:Legacy is no exception. Bridges plays both Flynn and C.L.U. with absolute perfection. Even after being in the system for 20 years, Flynn still has a sense of awe & wonder about the world he built, and Bridges conveys that child like love effortlessly, and then takes Flynn on an emotional arc, catalyzed by the appearance of his son, that is amazing to watch. For any other actor, I think the temptation to make C.L.U. an over-the-top villain would be to great to resist. Yet, Bridges plays C.L.U. with a level of honesty and sincerity that fully fleshes out the characer, making him into a believable antagonist. By the end of the film, I found myself actually feeling for C.L.U. and the anguish he felt.

As tricky as Flynn & C.L.U. were to play, I think that Sam Flynn (the son on Kevin Flynn) was also a very difficult role to play, and Garrett Hedlund aced the role. The reason Sam is such an difficult role is because of the opposing goals for the character. As the audience's gateway into the Grid (and the film), Sam should just be a reactionary character, never initiating anything or having any other motives except for what's happening to him. Yet, there's also the drive to find out about his father, the anger of being abandoned, the amazement at this digital world his father created, the surprise that the stories his father told him as a child were all true. All these emotions boil under the surface of Sam Flynn and Hedlund touched upon all of them, yet never lost the openness that was needed to keep the audience anchored and invested in his character and consequently, the film.   

When it was announced that Daft Punk would be working on the music for T:L, the world was overjoyed! Then people heard the soundtrack and complained because it wasn't club dance/electronic music. It was, in fact, an actual musical score. I stayed away from the music (except for the single, Derezzed, which was impossible to avoid) until I watched the movie. But, watching the movie, I can understand why Daft Punk made the music the way they did. And as awesome as the visuals were, the movie jumped to the next level of awesomeness with the sound.

Daft Punk really showcased their mastery of music with this score. Just like the visuals paid homage to the original while being distinct yet realistic to itself, the music lives in that intersection of typical electronic beats, atmospheric orchestral pieces (the violins in "Nocturne" and "Adagio for TRON were amazing!!), and old synthesized sound (mostly on the "End Of Line" track) that flows seamlessly with the visuals. I have to admit, this soundtrack has given me much more respect for Daft Punk. It would have been easy to just create some typical (but still fantastic) techno beats for this movie and call it a day. But, listening to the soundtrack after the movie, you can hear the care that went into this album. It's so complete and whole that it stands on its own as a work of art. I do admit to wishing for a "Music Inspired By" album from Daft Punk, where they cut loose and let their signature style come pounding through, but even if they don't, this soundtrack is a testament to their skill. (I LOVED their cameo in the movie, too. It was a fun tribute to them.)

Now, being a fully fledged movie buff, I do have to admit there were some flaws with Tron: Legacy. And they fell pretty much in the same slot as the first one: the story. First, like in the original, they didn't really do much with Tron, the character the movie is named after. Secondly, (also like in the original) the script seemed to bite off a little more than it could process, trying to be too many things at once. A touching emotional story of a son looking for his father, a hopeful story of how the hidden wonders of technology could save us from the problems we seem unable to solve, an exploration of the philosophies of life, of self, and of the promise and pitfalls of both action & inaction. All of these themes and more make appearances in the story line, but despite the (impressive for a Disney movie) two hour duration, there simply wasn't enough time to cover all of that in a single movie.

The only other flaw in the film has to do with the restrained tone of the film. Being a Disney film, there are themes that T:L couldn't get into, like sexuality or violence, and other themes embedded into the film (such as not too subtle Christian religious references) that keep Tron:Legacy from fully reaching the potential of the storyline it created.

I watched this movie in the theaters on opening night, and despite its flaws, Tron: Legacy held up pretty well. As I watched the film, I noticed that it had it's audience in rapture. There was no chatter, no whispering. Everyone was just caught up in what was going on. It was amazing to see, considering that the theater was absolutely PACKED with people. 

Overall, I loved this film. I walked in expecting an epic movie, and that's exactly what I got. It was an amazing ride. It surpassed its predecessor with flying colors, and I would recommend this film to anyone who wants to have a good time for a couple of hours. As for me, I will be watching it again!

End of Line 


  1. cant wait to see it! More importantly, I wonder if I am related to the actor playing Sam. Hedlund cant be THAT common of a last name!


  2. I have a confession to make: I actually do like the original movie! All that griping I've been doing on FB was just me playing the devil's advocate. :)

    No, it's true. While the original is still silly in many respects (that matter digitization laser, for instance), if you disregard them and focus on what the movie was trying to accomplish, it really was quite remarkable for its time. I would only fault that it feels more like a fantasy movie fitted with a sleek, cool sci-fi sleeve to try and fool the computer geeks and arcade junkies.

    Anyway, I have to ask: do you think someone who has never seen the first movie, but who is pretty clued-in to sci-fi and fantasy movies (e.g., my wife) would be able to watch Legacy going into it cold? I don't think I'll get the chance to screen the original for Lisa before we hit the theater later this week.

  3. Kris, if you are related, get hooked up for some of those Hollywood parties!!

    David, I'm the first to admit that the original has its flaws. Just like every sci-fi movie Disney ever makes comes across as some type of fantasy (say, Flight of The Navigator, for instance) movie. That's what makes it true admiration as opposed to fanatic obsession. Recognizing the flaws in the film and still saying "It's a great movie".

    As to your question, yes. The only thing someone going into it cold will miss is one or two small dialogue references to the original, and they may not be able to spot Tron when he first appears. (I hope you can, David.) This movie is tailor made for people who haven't seen the original. After the screening I went to, I heard people saying they hadn't seen the original and still loved the movie.

  4. Thanks! That's good to know.

    And I just rewatched Tron a few days ago, so of course I'm sure I'll be able to spot him. Plus, I'm a big Bruce Boxleitner fan thanks to Babylon 5.