Friday, December 17, 2010

"Tron Legacy" review: Eye-popping action and effects, killer music, wonderful connectivity to the original, good enough story

Expectations for "Tron Legacy" were through the roof for many fans of the original as tidbits, trailers, images and information rolled out by director and stars graced Comic-Con for three years in a row...a record in fact for any one film's promotion at that event. Now the movie is finally here. Does it live up to everything we've been hearing about since news first broke? For the most part I say YES!!

SPOILER ALERT!!! If you haven't seen the movie yet, please come back after you've done so! There are a number of plot details revealed here so BEWARE!!

As everyone whose been reading along here knows, I am a HUGE "Tron" fan, going back to the very beginning when I saw the movie in theaters in 1982. 28 years later, and after Disney made a number of attempts to find the right tone to pick up the story and concept once again, director Joseph Kosinski has brought his commercial sensibilities to the big screen for the first time and does not disappoint!

I've always been a strong believer that if you're going to make or remake something that must pay tribute to it's origins, you must sample the right chords in all the right ways. In "Tron Legacy", love for the original is very, very strong. The concept is fresh and easily accessible for the casual moviegoer, yet filled with wonderful little nuggets for worshipers of the 1982 classic. A few examples; listen carefully right before the first light cycle game begins in the movie. If you've ever played the "Tron" video game you'll recognize three familiar tones that signaled the start of the light cycle level. As Sam tries to break into Encom he approaches a rather large orange colored security door. As the door opens once the security code is broken, he glances at the size of it saying, 'now that's a big door', the same line Kevin Flynn utters while attempting a similar break-in during the first movie.

The method by which we're in new territory has been really well devised. The electronic world is not the server at Encom we saw in the original film. At some point after taking control of the company, Kevin Flynn copied data from Encom's server and brought it, along with the laser aparatice, to his basement office at Flynn's Arcade. So what we're seeing in the new movie is a offshoot world of that original landscape. This aspect allowed the writers and filmmakers to create a story that has a clear starting point after the events of "Tron" for people who are coming in for the first time, and an opportunity to change things up a bit more. Another smart move was to not make this server connect to our present day internet or server networks. Making references to things like Facebook, YouTube, or any other current applications used on devices like the iPhone would only date the movie even a year or two down the road. Keeping The Grid as a pure computer oriented, electronic device was absolutely the way to go.

The movie begins in 2D (a very nice "Wizard of Oz"-like touch) with Kevin Flynn telling his son Sam about the world he encountered in the first film and that they'll be heading to the arcade the next day. Unforunately, Kevin never returns and Sam presumes his father died or just left. Now 20 years later, Sam is told by Allen Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner) that he should check out a message which came from his father's old arcade. Sam finds the basement workstation and the laser which, of course, can and will transport him into the computer world he was told of as a boy. At this point the movie switches to 3D as Sam finds himself in the very digital world he'll learn his father disappeared into.

Here is where the film kicks into high gear as Sam finds himself transported to the game grid and fighting for his life in a disk tournament. These games are far more brutal than portrayed in the original "Tron". Crazily ellaborate with amazing fight choreography that's very, very cool! Suddenly I became aware of what would be one of the best aspects of the movie; sound design. Recognizers roar overhead as my my pant legs flutter. The sound of disks activated cut through the air like a knife. Light cycles hum beautifully as they glide along the grid. On a visual effects side, the first thing I noticed was how seamlessly the actors were integrated into this digital world. The arena scene is definitely one of the buzz clips of the movie, heightened that much more as the disk battle quickly turns into an incredible light cycle game and chase. This goes way beyond the hard rights and lefts the original light cycles took during those games in "Tron". Now we get tricks and turns and flips like never before! Whatever the rest of the movie brought, at this point I was so 'IN'!!!

Garrett Hedlund totally works as Sam, son of Kevin Flynn. Olivia Wilde brings the sexy Trinity angle very nicely as Flynn's right hand girl, and Jeff Bridges extends his gamer/hacker persona from the first movie into practically a God-like figure in the digital world. Yet he still retains a bit of the cockiness that made him so likable in the original "Tron". Bruce Boxleitner is, of course, back as well not only portraying real world Allen Bradley, but as his computer alter ego, Tron. And to round out the cast, Michael Sheen plays the questionable owner of the End of Line club, gleefully channeling Ziggy Stardust-era David Bowie.

I spoke about Daft Punk's score for the film at length in a previous post, but after having seen the music against the film I have absolutely doubled my appreciation for it. Since downloading the soundtrack on December 7, I've actually listened to it five times from start to finish. This is an extreme rarity for me because I usually check out only a bit of any movie's score prior to seeing it in theaters. After hearing some of the tracks, especially 'End of Line' at Comic-Con in 2009, I couldn't resist hitting play to take the whole thing in right away. Needless to say once again, Daft Punk have created a masterpiece that enhances and gives perfect signature to the incredible images that fly at and by you during the course of the movie. I'm also very glad that "Derezzed" was not just a stand alone piece intended for the end credits. It pops on with smile-inducing energy during a crucial fight scene at the End of Line Club. And of course it's very cool to see them as the DJ's at the establishment!

Here are my only two issues with the film. What, you didn't think I'd have any?

When I first saw the digital de-aging that had been done on Jeff Bridges for his portrayal of CLU and his younger self in the late 1980's, I felt like maybe we weren't seeing a completely finished version of the effect. Even though I'd seen months-early CG effects for films like "The Incredible Hulk" and "Iron Man" at Comic-Con realizing the same was true with those, I turned out to be wrong regarding "Tron Legacy". What we ultimately get in this movie is sometimes incredibly real-life accurate and sometimes just O.K. The lesser of the two tends to look a bit rubbery. But because the rest of the movie is just so damn cool, you kind of forgive a little here and there.

The other issue I had was in the amount of screen time the character of Tron actually gets, not to mention the lack of any major re-introduction I felt he should have received. We hear about Tron from Flynn telling his son Sam what he experienced in the computer world. In actuality, and not to give too much away, Tron is present much more than you initially suspect. A simple marking on one of the "Tron Legacy" character publicity stills online clued me in to how Tron might be involved in the story on a grander scale. And I think when I see the movie a second time this coming weekend, my qualms about wanting more of him visually may disappear.

A number of critics are berating the real lack of story. I recognized a lack of anything too weighty or more expanded over the course of the movie and understand some added story aspects were cut due to time constraints. That's not an excuse for some elements getting a little short changed, but when you watch this movie you realize the story doesn't have to be filled with multi-level subplots. There actually is an emotional core here and a moment during the climax that's touching and even sad in it's realization. Above all else, "Tron Legacy" is a ride just as the original was back in 1982. Future movies (and you know they're planning the next one as we speak) will certainly address larger story ideas, since this movie seemed to be designed to get the franchise back off the ground and re-introduce it to a whole new audience.

With that in mind, check out Cillian Murphy's uncredited role as Edward Dillinger, son of Ed Dillinger as played by David Warner in the original "Tron". He appears at the Encom board meeting right before the company's new software is released to the public. Rumors are that this is a villain set-up for the next film. I personally love Cillian Murphy and can't wait to see what he brings to this world, both real and digitized.

Yes, like many fans had lobbied for before and during the making of the film, I too missed the presence of Lora / Yori as played by Cindy Morgan in the first movie. I'm still kicking myself that we couldn't attend Wondercon in San Francisco this year because she appeared as her character alongside Bruce Boxleitner's Allen Bradley in a special promotional event staged outside the convention center. Boxleitner (as Allen) introduced her as his wife, so we know they did end up staying together after "Tron". Very nice touch! And yet I still wanted to see her somewhere, even just in the real world greeting Allen as he came home from work, in the new movie.

A couple of interesting questions arise as we roll towards the films climax and epilogue, and HERE'S WHERE THE SPOILERS REALLY FLY...!!!

What happens to Kevin Flynn when he merges with CLU and is he really gone forever? Does Sam hold what's left of the world his father created around his neck which also contains the now-revived and obviously still-active Tron?

Bottom line: "Tron Legacy" is an incredible ride with truly dazzling effects and sound, a seriously cool soundtrack by Daft Punk, and all the right elements we, the fans of the original "Tron", can connect to with joyful appreciation. Old characters that bring remembrances of a time when "Tron" was a groundbreaking movie experience. New characters that wonderfully expand how we hoped that world of 28 years ago would evolve into the 3D digital frontier of today.



At December 21, 2010 at 2:41 AM, Anonymous Allen Pinney said...

Great review, thank you! Of course I went full speed ahead, damn the spoilers!
Not sorry I read them either, they just make me want to see the movie more!

Question: Did they "de-age" Boxleitner as well?

At December 21, 2010 at 7:52 AM, Blogger LA Filmcutter said...

Yes, they did. Unfortunately you don't get to see him close up. Most of the time he's in a medium shot or over Jeff Bridges shoulder. But you can definitely tell they de-aged Bruce as well. He looks good!


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