James Helsby

LRE #40: Tron: Legacy

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Little Red Envelope

In my mailbox this week:
Tron: Legacy

Release Year: 2010

Staring: Jeff Bridges, Garrett Hedlund, Olivia Wilde, Bruce Boxleitner

A friend of mine just introduced me to a new word… Eyegasm.

First, a disclosure. Yes, the copy of Tron Legacy arrived via Netflix in my mailbox on Tuesday April 5th (the day it was released.) However, I had already gone out and bought a bluray copy of the film. The bluray was used for this review, but that shouldn’t make any difference.

We at WatchPlayRead have ranted and raved about Tron: Legacy for about a full year now (build-up, release, and home video release), so a little more glowing admiration would probably fall on deaf ears. But the truth of the matter is that this movie is a visual phenomena. There are special effects contained within the frames of celluloid that I never anticipated seeing. But if you step away from just how beautiful it is, you might be distracted by the fact that the story is rather simple.

It comes down to basically being 4 parts. Boy looses father, Boy searches for father, boy finds father and love, and boy fights fathers enemy. I know I have seen the story before, (think Finding Nemo in reverse, or even Star Wars), but if you are reviewing the film from a critical stand point, you’ve got to mention the fact that this movie isn’t ‘deep.’ But is that really it’s intention? Was the film supposed to be some super-liminal comment on the evolution of society, and our predisposition to ignoring the growth of life around us? Is it a comment on the rainforests, or global warming, or war in the middle east? Nope. It’s a freakin’ eyegasm.

The story is a continuation (in sorts) of the original 1982 Disney film, Tron. In the original, Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) is trying to gain evidence that Edward Dillenger stole some of his code, and pirated it as his own. Flynn with the help of Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner) and Lora Baines (Cindy Morgan), gains access to the Encom mainframe which is protected by the MCP (Master Control Program), an artificial intelligence program designed to keep the mainframe secure. Flynn releases a program Bradley developed into the mainframe, with the intention of granting Flynn the necessary permissions he needs in order to garner the proof he seeks. In the process, Flynn is zapped by a laser controlled by the MCP and brought into the ‘Grid.’ The Grid, or the cyber world within the mainframe, is essentially personified by a city. People are programs, and Tron is the personification of Bradley within the sphere. Programs are made to do battle with each other, in order to assert dominance or deletion, with the MCP (who looks exactly like Moses from South Park) rules the Grid.

Bradley, who for the 15 year period between Kevin’s disappearance, and some short period before the present, was the CEO of ENCOM before being ousted, stood in as Sam’s mentor and father figure. Bradley meets up with Sam after he is released from jail, and tells Sam that his pager (which he has carried since 1982) went off last night with a page from Kevin’s phone number. Same investigates and is transported into the Grid. Not the same grid, but a new updated one that has been redesigned by Kevin within a closed system for the last 15 years.In Tron Legacy, we start with Flynn saying goodbye to his son Sam. Flynn is now CEO and chief programmer for ENCOM, which has become a mega-corporation with a worldwide fan base for the many games released based off of Flynn’s experiences within the Grid. But Kevin Flynn never returns home that night. We flash forward some 15 years later, and Sam is all grown up. But while he is the majority share holder in ENCOM, he wants nothing to do with running the business. He would rather perform pranks on the corporation, and deal with responsibility some time later.

Adventure presents itself. Sam is forced into the same types of conflicts which his father faced back in the original Tron (updated for the 21st century.) In the process Sam is rescued by an important main character, Quorra (whom I am intentionally leaving ambiguous) and is reunited with his father Kevin. Together, Kevin and Sam must fight against the new MCP, CLU (Codified Likeness Utility) a program Kevin developed to help him continue to program the new grid even when Kevin wasn’t online.

Hopefully I haven’t given away too much of the plot. Sometimes it can be a little difficult to provide details while still adhearing to lack of details. The point is, that Tron: Legacy is a continuation of the story from the original Tron. That isn’t to say that seeing the original is essential to your enjoyment, but it does help to fill in the gaps. The important thing to remember, is that the original was a low budget Disney film from 28 years ago. And that evolution in special effects is totally the focus of the new movie.

The original Tron was amazing. I say this as someone who originally saw it back in the early 80’s. There wasn’t anything like it at the time. The seamless blending of CGI and live action, along with the use of digital backgrounds, was way ahead of its time. It may not have been the first of it’s kinda, but just like Star Wars it was critical to the evolution of digital cinema.

But we must focus on Tron Legacy (Tron2). Tron2 was more like little child saying ‘look what I can do!’ Than almost anything else. And while that might sound like I am panning it, it is actually the complete opposite. The sensation I got while watching it was that of a child, saying “WOW’ repeatedly through the course of the film. When I originally saw it on opening weekend back in December, I was lucky enough to see it on an IMAX 3D screen. Talk about encompassing. The 3d effects were seamless, and done in such a way that I really enjoyed. To compare with something just about everyone in the world has seen (literally?) Avatar; Avatar focused on having the 3D effects seem like they jump out at you. Dust balls would look and feel like they are between you and the screen. It was really cool. Well, Tron2 took a different approach. Instead of the 3D effect being in relief (jumping out from the screen) they would fall back. The 3D was seen as depth in the frame, and not as structure built on top of it.

But I don’t have a 3D tv, so discussing what I saw in the theaters isn’t really relavent other than to say that it just wasn’t the same. The translation was perfect, and seeing it on a flat screen rather than a big 3D screen, didn’t seem to loose any of its visual beauty. The colors are eye-shatteringly sharp. The camera work is perfect, and done with these extermely hard focuses, so that just a short distance behind the focal point, the field of vision drops into blur. And the effects were still just as amazing as ever.

But the real beauty of Tron2 for me, was always in the sound. OH MY GOD, THE SOUND. The bluray contained 7.1 audio, and while I only have a 5.1 system, I have NEVER heard my surround sound speakers distort from trying to push sound so hard. The mastering of the audio track for this release was probably the closest that I have ever seen anything done to perfect. I mean that, in the sense that someone finally has released a video that pushes the technology to it’s limits. Not new tech, like 3D. But real world stuff, that we all can have a genuine appreciation for. Sound is such an important part of a movie experience that it can be a huge shame when a production fails to take the correct advantage of it. I am not even going to discuss the amazing quality of the music score. I will leave that to other’s more qualified to gush than I. Let’s just say……. ear-gasm?

But visual and audio, a story do not make. They are just the means by which the story is told. And unfortunately, Tron2 isn’t such a great story. Honestly, it’s better than Avatar, but it isn’t as good as many other films. Like I mentioned before, it isn’t a deep film. It’s not made to be. It’s made to be watched. And the actors are definitely worth watching. With the exception of one. Garrett Hedlund.

I hesitate in saying it, but his portrayal of Sam was more like watching Jim Carrey acting as Ace Ventura than anything else. Maybe that was just his walk, and I am over stating it. But when Sam would walk away or towards the camera, he has this enormous bob from side to side that he does with his neck. I actually found it distracting. My wife found the ‘angry eyes’ that were painted on his rear-end distracting. I had to pause it to see what she meant, but it is definitely there.

Olivia Wilde (Quorra) was fantastic. Attractive, but presented the perfect execution of the character. It should be interesting to see what she does during her next few films, as she comes down from this role.

And then there is Jeff Bridges. The dude… can act. But he does bring alot of Big Lebowski with him to the part. Kevin Flynn in the first Tron, was a little relaxed. Somewhat surfer, somewhat nerd, and somewhat overly intelligent. But in Tron2 he seems more like he has been hanging out with his Coen Brother’s alter ego for a bit too long.

So glare over the story, watch the film for what it is; a visual masterpiece. Tron Legacy should be seen as a new baseline in film production. A chance to say, look how far we have come. I bought both the original and the new release on Bluray for that exact reason. Watch it and enjoy, just leave your thinking cap behind. Oh, and watch the bluray for the Tron3: End of Line teaser :-)

How painful was it:  Eyegasm is totally appropriate. Incredible movie visually, but yes, the plot is a little simple.

Rating: 8/10. I bought it, caused I loved it. But not as good at home as it was on IMAX 3D

The Wife’s Retort: I am SO glad I saw it in the theaters.

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