Monday, December 20, 2010

TRON: Legacy

TRON: Legacy is a sequel to the 28-year-old cult classic, TRON (1982), and it’s bound to become a cult classic in its own right. It’s a visually sophisticated action picture, but while anyone can enjoy the visuals, the plot isn’t very accessible to average viewers. My wife and I re-watched the original TRON an hour before going to see TRON: Legacy, and because of that, I have a feeling that we may have been the only people in the room who understood what the heck was going on. Still, I like the original TRON, and I like this sequel just as much. It’s a fun ride.

Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) was the head of ENCOM, a major corporation, before mysteriously disappearing in 1989. His son, Sam (Garrett Hedlund), has long wondered what happened to his father. Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner), Kevin Flynn’s oldest friend and business partner, encourages Sam to go to his father’s abandoned arcade after Alan receives a page from Flynn’s office. “Alan,” Sam says, “you’re acting like I’m gonna find him sitting there, working.” Sam arrives at his father’s office, and after messing around on his dad’s old computer, Sam gets shot by an energy beam and finds himself inside The Grid, a digital world existing inside a computer system.

In the original TRON, the computerized world within the mainframe was marked by a cutting-edge combination of live action footage, backlit animation, and computer animation. Vast darkness was speckled with bright colors and rudimentary computer graphics; audiences had never seen anything like it. TRON: Legacy may not be as radically new, but its sophisticated design retains the spirit of its predecessor. The Grid is still marked by mostly empty space, and neon lights still shine out of the vast darkness. The light cycles were among the most iconic elements from the original film, and they make a glorious return in TRON: Legacy. These bikes leave trails of solid light behind them and are used in gladiatorial games where players attempt to box each other in using walls of light. The new light cycles look just right; you can see how the original light cycles, left to their own devices in a mainframe for 20 years, would evolve into these newer models.

TRON had a somewhat convoluted plot back in 1982. TRON: Legacy does too, only it’s even more complex, because it assumes you understand the first movie. If you haven’t seen TRON recently, you’ll be in the dark on a few things, including who exactly the character of Tron is. I was surprised by how small a role the character of Tron played this time around (he should have been given far more significance towards the movie’s end), and I was equally surprised by how much was left unexplained for viewers who missed the first film (or were born after its release, for that matter). However, it’s true of both films that the visual experience matters more than the story, and the visuals of TRON: Legacy do not disappoint.

The most controversial visual effect is in the character of CLU, Kevin Flynn’s virtual alter ego. In the original TRON, Jeff Bridges played both Flynn and CLU, as they looked identical. In TRON: Legacy, Jeff Bridges reprises his role as Kevin Flynn, but being a computer program, CLU hasn’t aged at all. To achieve this, the visual effects team uses CGI to give CLU Jeff Bridges’ younger face from the first movie. All in all, this is a very impressive effect. There are times when he looks absolutely real, and he doesn’t have the infamous “dead eyes” that often plagues CGI depictions of humans. The problem still lies in the mouth. Whenever CLU speaks, you can sense that he’s just not quite real, and it’s a bit off-putting. Still, I can safely say that the effect works overall, and this marks the most impressive of similar attempts to date.

The acting is suitable for the material. Returning actors do well, and Garrett Hedlund performs admirably as Sam. Olivia Wilde plays Quorra, a computer program, and she brings appropriate “PG level” sex appeal with her black bob haircut and tight leather suit. There’s a fun, familiar sci-fi sexiness to almost all of the costumes, really, and most characters (though especially Quorra) would look right at home in the world of The Matrix. The costumes definitely mark a vast improvement over the clunkier suits from the classic TRON.

I would have tweaked the ending, and I’ll say it again: the character of Tron should have played a much bigger part. The movie is called TRON: Legacy, dang it! Still, I had fun, and I think you will, too. It was good to be back on The Grid, and if another sequel rolls around (preferably before 2038), you can count me in.

Note: I saw TRON: Legacy in 3-D, and the effect is very tasteful. Only the portions of the film that transpire inside the computer are 3-D; the rest unfold in a traditional 2-D format. The action sequences look great in 3-D, though when I pulled my 3-D glasses down a few times, I noticed the stark difference in color; 3-D glasses significantly dim bright colors every time (Avatar is the only 3-D movie I’ve ever seen that somehow avoided this). So, if you see it in 3-D, you’ll enjoy the effect, and if you see it in 2-D, you’ll save a few bucks and get the brighter colors; it’s a tradeoff.

Click here to view the trailer.

For the Parents:

MPAA Rating: PG for sequences of sci-fi action violence and brief mild language.

The violence isn’t at all graphic; most characters are computer programs, and they simply burst into pixels and disappear when “killed.” Anytime there’s an injury, you see pixels instead of blood or gore. While there are plenty of women wearing skin-tight leather suits, there’s no more sexuality than that. The action gets intense at times, but I think most kids will find it very entertaining. They probably won’t understand the ins and outs of the story, but again, that’s not too important with this movie.

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