I would have like d Joseph Kosinski‘s fan-placating “TRON: Legacy” a bit more had the rules been more clear. The original “TRON,” from 1982, was a pretty far-fetched concept to begin with (human beings are transformed into digital information, and stored in a computer, where they experience a well-constructed society of digital people, overseen by a wicked master control program), but it at least worked in that overblown fantasy musing fashion that was the word of the day. Everything looked flase, and it was never explained why programs took the form of humans; it was essentially a fun way to picture your video game avatars as real humans.
The new “TRON” doesn’t make these old rules any more clear, and then heaps all news kinds of details into this universe like so many lumps of mashed potatoes, and still doesn’t bother to explain the physics or the social structure of these digital humans. In this new “TRON,” vehicles seem to have real weight and wind blows freely through people’s hair. Everything is very realistic and Earthy. In the original “TRON,” everything looked digital and constructed, which is, I imagine, how life inside a computer would be. I think the improvement of the visuals is less a comment on the way computer technology has advanced, and more the film’s director playing with new SFX toys.
That’s another thing, the film’s director and screenwriter did not take any opportunities to explore the new computer ubiquity that has arisen since 1982. There is a single line of dialogue where Flynn (Jeff Bridges) asks what “wi-fi” is, but no comment on how computers are used. In 1982, few people had computers in their homes. As of today, an entire generation of teenagers is so well-wired, that they hardly ever close their Facebook.com profiles, and keep internet-ready telephones in their pockets. The idea of physically entering a computer has become a reality. “TRON: Legacy” had so much opportunity to explore the thin membrane between the “real” world and the digital one, but opted, instead, to execute the insufferably classic sequel fallacy, and assume it was the characters and small details of the original that got us interested.
We fall in love with a movie because of its strong story, originality and sense of adventure; we absorb the details and character as an afterthought. Stop making character-heavy sequels. I promise your sequels will improve.
The story of “TRON: Legacy.” Flynn disappeared in 1989, leaving his son Sam (Garrett Hedlund) a suffering orphan. Sam grew up watching his father’s electronics company grow from a little idealistic, free-information-for-everybody enterprise into a worldwide tyranny that is pulling the same Microsoftian tactics that even the most casual electronics consumer has become jaded by. Luckily, Sam knows how to break into his father’s company, and sabotage the things he disapproves of. Bruce Boxleitner still works for the company. David Warner is nowhere to be seen.
Sam is called to his father’s old arcade, where he discovers, in a secret vault, the same digitizing laser from the first film. Sam is digitized, and forced into the computer, called The Grid. The Grid has become an oppressive place, ruled over by a wicked program named Clu, which is the digitized clone of Flynn, and is played by a creepily animated younger version of Jeff Bridges. Clu doesn’t look quite right, but then, I suppose that was the point. Sam is forced to compete in Roman-style blood sports with other programs, and we see updated versions of the games from the original “TRON,” only now they are in 3-D, are faster and more tightly edited, feature more impressive special effects, and are underscored by Daft Punk‘s relentlessly trance-like digi-score. They look neat – indeed the entire digital world does at least have a unique aesthetic – but it’s all, strnegly, less interesting to watch. I think it’s because we expect it coming.
Eventually Sam is able to meet with his real father, who has been hiding out in The Grid since 1989, looking after a lady program named Quorra (Olivia Wilde), who dresses in glowing fetishistic rubber pants, has a cutesy pixie hairdo, and may hold the secret to defeating Clu and escaping The Grid. It’s also at this point that we are introduced to the idea of ISOs, that is; programs that grew naturally into the program.
If you’ll excuse a kind of brainy digression…
“TRON: Legacy” is probably one of the most poignant religious films to come out of Hollywood in a long time. We already have the obvious imagery of The Creator living on the world, and His Son coming to save the people, so the messianic thing is already in place. But “TRON: Legacy,” in a very subtle way, and by way of Douglas Hofstadter‘s Pulitzer Prize-winning book on artificial intelligence, Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Etertnal Golden Braid, seems to suggest something far more profound. Flynn (God) created the world. He created Clu to help. But then, independent of his direct meddling, the ISOs came into being. God created man, but society kind of came about on its own. God was then shunted into exile by Clu, who could easily be seen as an angelic figure, but more represents, I feel, the selfish priesthoods who misinterpreted God’s word. God then had to intervene, using his son, to restore order. God confronted the jealous priesthood, and the Christ figure escaped, but with the ISO character in tow.
God’s word is correct, and the misinterpretation of certain people may be detrimental to the world. Only when we take Christ’s word, paired with God’s original intent, can we escape into the real world. And face reality.
I don’t think the screenwriters had any of this in mind. It’s likely they didn’t read Hofstadter, nor did they have a theological agenda. It was just something that I saw in the fore as I watch “TRON: Legacy.” It was a fun little intellectual exercise I was playing with myself while a kind of underwhelming action flick unspooled in front of me.
The scenes in The Grid were in 3-D, and looked as muddy and unclear as most 3-D films do these days. You would think with a black palate, put into stark relief with the brightly colored neon dancefloor aesthetic of the foreground, that the 3-D would pop, but, sadly, with the digital smoke and use of “realistic” gravity, the 3-D becomes the usual gimmick.
There is one wonderful scene where “TON: Legacy” comes alive, and it’s a rather baffling scene in which a white-haired dominatrix type (Beau Garrett) leads Sam to a Grid nightclub, run by the flamboyant albino Castor (the scenery-chewing Michael Sheen). There is then a fight on the dancefloor, while the DJs (Daft Punk) spin happily away in the background, scoring the fight as it progresses. For these few moments, “TRON: Legacy” becomes something kind of fun and silly and on par with most action flicks of 1982. It becomes a dance film.
I’m a little late in the game on “TRON: Legacy,” so it’s likely you’ve already seen it. If you haven’t, though, I ask that you adjust your expectations down a bit, go in with the giddy need to over-analyze, and see it in 2-D. You might have a good time. If you’ve seen it already, well, you know how right I am.