Just like Lucifer betraying God his creator, a personified computer program named Clu has overthrown his creator, the human programmer (know as a user) Kevin Flynn. While Kevin was striving to create a perfect Utopian virtual world, Clu only sees perfection in totalitarian rule where anomalies, however glorious they may be, are to be digitally cleansed. Prophetically the original 1982 film TRON was about the need for pieces of computer software to fight for their freedom in order to remain unique rather than being homogenised and absorbed into the giant monopolistic Master Control Program. This 2010 sequel is more ambitiously about absent fathers, rebellious offspring and the dangers of trying to create paradise. Yet, for a film that seems to have so much in it, TRON: Legacy feels strangely empty.
The film starts promisingly with a flashback to Kevin telling his son Sam about his adventures inside the grid (not exactly a virtual reality world but a physical representation of the digital world found inside computers). The scene establishes the father/son bond, recaps the essential information from the original film and efficiently provides the required new back-story information. It’s a clever and effective piece of exposition. The problem is that additional moments of exposition then continually infiltrate the rest of the film, constantly dragging the narrative to a halt. TRON: Legacy is a stunningly designed film but the visuals often simply exist as backdrops for the characters to reminisce in front of.
Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund) and Quorra (Olivia Wilde)
The combination of computer animation, back-lit drawn animation and live action in the original TRON is by today’s standards simplistic but it still looks impressive and more importantly every visual element was designed to either drive the story, flesh out a concept or provide engaging spectacle. In TRON: Legacy there are some terrific moments that boldly stand out and just like The Wizard of Oz switching from black-and-white to colour, TRON: Legacy cleverly switches from 2D to 3D to indicate the adult Sam’s entry into the glorious world of the grid when he goes looking for his father. However, it is a world that all too often becomes subservient to the film’s plodding exposition. Furthermore, while there was an internal logic to the way the computer world functioned in the 1982 film, in TRON: Legacy it is an unrestrained fantasy world. So instead, this new film focuses on presenting novel ways in which everyday activities and items are represented digitally, making it the electronic equivalent of The Jetsons.
Reprising his role as Kevin Flynn, Jeff Bridges now plays the character as a techno-age Timothy Leary type figure who channels both The Dude from The Big Lebowski and the sort of quasi-spiritualism that plagued the Matrix sequels. Bridges also plays Clu, the rebellious computer program created in Flynn’s image and made to appear younger with distractingly artificial CGI technology that just isn’t up to speed. The adult Sam, played by Garrett Hedlund, takes centre stage as the film’s protagonist but he’s more of a generic action hero rather than a scruffy but loveable computer wizz like Kevin was in the original film. In TRON Kevin’s proficiency at programming meant that he became physically adept once inside the computer world while Sam in this new film is introduced almost immediately as an action hero in the outside world who is already capable of stunt motorbike riding and base-jumping.
Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges)
TRON: Legacy does not deserve to be written off as empty spectacle but it really does miss the magic of the original film. In many ways it retreads the original TRON by possessing roughly the same narrative progression with a number of keys scenes being more elaborate versions of scenes from the original film. Feature film debut director Joseph Kosinski cannot be faulted for making TRON: Legacy as an updated homage to the original film and every element does have a suitably futuristic/retro feel to it. The music score by Daft Punk is in particular extremely impressive and frequently drives the film forward in the absence of plot development. However, the combination of high expectations, convoluted storytelling, heavy doses of exposition, faux spirituality with the occasional genuinely spectacular action sequence makes the experience of seeing TRON: Legacy not unlike seeing The Matrix Reloaded for the first time. It is bigger and more expansive than the original film but it ultimately becomes lost in its own attempts at mythmaking to result in a very disappointing film.
© Thomas Caldwell, 2010
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