Thursday, December 30, 2010

REVIEW: TRON: Legacy (2010)

Twenty-eight years ago a motion picture came out that was so far ahead of it’s time, audiences of the day couldn’t even comprehend what was going on in the basic plot of good versus evil. That movie was Walt Disney Pictures, TRON (1982). Written and directed by Steven Lisberger and starring Jeff Bridges, Bruce Boxleitner, David Warner, Cindy Morgan, and Barnard Hughes, the film quickly light-cycled its way into cult obscurity. Given the technical advancements in digital effects over the last twenty years, it was only a matter of time before Disney went back to the well for a watered down re-visit to the game grid with TRON: Legacy (2010).

It’s taken a quarter century and we’re only now beginning to catch up to the ideas, concepts, and vernacular posed in the original film. With a script that was so dense with terminology it’s no mystery why audiences couldn’t wrap their heads around what the original TRON had to offer. TRON: Legacy plays to the strengths of common understanding in our contemporary cyber-world and adheres to the technical boundaries crossed by the original film. At no time will the average theatergoer feel bogged down or lost in a verbal onslaught of technical jargon. That being said, part of the enchantment of the original TRON was the then foreign concepts explored both in the dialogue and setting of the film. It gave the story a futuristic fantasy edge while still playing to that basic plot of good versus evil. Now that society, in general, has caught up to the concepts of TRON it somehow makes it less impressive.

The only area that has managed to surpass the limitations of the original film are the visual effects, which by all accounts almost make the original TRON look like a documentary because of the tangible realism and practicality of their design and execution. The effects showcased in TRON: Legacy are so clearly a product of their time and evolution that there is no mystery as to how they were created. In this regard TRON: Legacy aids in the full realization of what the original aspired to achieve.

The film did manage to convey a certain amount of respect, that is often overlooked, to both the audience and technology by not filming the entire picture in 3-D. This decision only enhanced the sequences set on the game grid, providing depth to the functionality of the environment. The scenes that were not shot in 3-D only strengthened the sequences that were, and showed the best understanding and use of that technology to date.
Surprisingly the most powerful element of the film is not the visual effects, but the electronic score, appropriately composed by the French Electro-Duo, Daft Punk. Following the tradition set forth by Wendy Carlos’ electronic score in the original TRON, Daft Punk brings a compelling aural sensation to the film by combining strong electronic themes with a traditional orchestral underscoring. The two even make a cameo in the film, which is the highlight of arguably the most dissatisfying part of the film.

If anything should have been cut, next to the ultra-bland heart to heart between father and son on the sailing train during the third act of the film. or at the very least re-thought, it is Michael Sheen’s forced Bowie-esque over-acting as the character, Castor/Zuse. In the middle of the movie he comes out of nowhere, completely pisses you off by camping up the tone of the film, and then gets blown up by CLU ten minutes later. This abrupt ending for the character only proves how completely useless and unnecessary he is to the advancement of the story.

The other gleaming absence of competent thought masquerading in TRON: Legacy is the lack of the character, TRON. In the first film, TRON, the character isn’t the main character, but he is the hero who saves the day. In this sequel, which bears his name, they downgrade him to a Darth Maul like assassin, ironically ruining his legacy. Fans of the original will be left feeling cheated, while new viewers will just be confused by Tron’s presence and lack of impact on the story, especially given the history presented in the film, not to mention, that title.

The one thing you can absolutely count on in TRON: Legacy is Jeff Bridges’ performance as both Kevin Flynn and CLU. Bridges manages to transcend time, thanks to those technological advancements, and appear twenty years younger as CLU and then as an aged up to date Flynn. Cosmetically they haven’t perfected digital de-aging, the tell is always around the mouth, but there are some shots when the youthful mask is very convincing. As Flynn, Bridges seems to be channeling his inner “Dude,” from time to time. Garrett Hedlund does a good job playing Flynn’s son, Sam and Olivia Wilde delivers a satisfactory performance as his savior and companion. Bruce Boxleitner also returns as Alan Bradley/TRON.

Joseph Kosinski makes the most out of inferior writing and too many producers. All of those voices trying to have their say deafens TRON: Legacy. The film is salvaged by amazing visuals effects, elegant production design, a mind blowing score, and reliable acting in an under developed story. If you expect anything other than to be entertained and visually stunned, “you’re entering a world of pain.”

End of line.

*******    7/10

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