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I was a young kid when the first Tron movie came out, and it set my imagination alight. A PC at that stage was still technology out of the average person’s grasp, but the movie presented the processes and programs that resided inside computers in an exciting and, at the time, ground-breaking visual concept.
So here we are, 28 years later, with the sequel called Tron:Legacy, a movie that could have potentially addressed or referenced a lot of the technological and cultural developments happening right now – cloud-based operating systems, social networking, and artificial intelligence to name a few. Instead, I walked away from Tron:Legacy blown away by the visual effects, a benchmark-setting soundtrack, but no real sense of the journey that occurred between the opening scenes and the credits.
Most science fiction movies are in some way a thought experiment, reflecting today’s issues and approaching them in a futuristic or technologically advanced setting. Tron:Legacy doesn’t take the speculative approach, more content to take our breath away with brand new versions of light cycle races and Disk Arena competitions.
The simplicity of the story is probably its weakest point. The narrative seems to serve no purpose other than for exposition of events that bring us to a certain point in the film, or creating plot devices to take us to the next impressive stunt/race/battle sequence. That said, those giddy moments were well appreciated in Imax 3D, although the 3D glasses seemed to be very sensitive; you needed to be looking straight at the screen without any head movement, otherwise the dreaded double lines around people and objects would appear and the 3D effect would dissolve.
In other words, this is science fiction porn at its best, the many long periods of dialogue and explanation simply assisting to get to the next neon money shot. There is a lot to be dazzled by here – the light cycles, the flying vehicles, even Kevin Flynn’s younger digital double. If nothing else, it’s a showcase of how far filmmakers can push the boundaries in creating worlds and the characters that inhabit them.
There is a lot of head-nodding and referencing of science fiction films that have come before it – the internal decor of Flynn’s virtual hideaway resembled the Victorian-era/white minimalist setting near the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey, while the externals of his hidden residence seemed to be inspired by a charcoal version of Superman’s Ice Fortress from the original movies. I’m sure I saw the latest Batmobile racing across the digital desert at one point as well. One of the flying battle scenes was almost completely lifted from the first Star Wars movie with Sam Flynn moving to the back of the flying vehicle to operate a gun turret. I half expected Kevin Flynn to channel Han Solo and yell out “Don’t get cocky!”
Kevin Flynn himself is portrayed as a Buddhist-cum-Jedi Knight, spending his time meditating and speaking in laconic riddles until his son discovers his hideout and forces him into action. His ability to manipulate soldiers into providing needed equipment and vehicles harks back to the old Jedi mind tricks of Lucas lore.
You could tell this was a Disney movie, as much of the sexual chemistry between characters was toned way down and swearing was left out of the domain (sorry, bad pun) of the grid – it’s been a while since I heard the phrase “Son of a gun!”, but there it was in downtown Tronland.
The soundtrack is amazing. I have been listening to it in the car for a few days before tonight’s viewing, and its energy lifts the movie when the orchestra and electronica booms and flares. The Daft Punk compositions provide gravity and drama where the dialogue and action may not have been sufficient. I already regard it as pivotal and timeless, a work of audio art that can stand in isolation or accompanying the Tron:Legacy film.
My recommendation is to see this on the big screen in 3D if you enjoy sci-fi. There’s enough eye and ear candy to satisfy, even if the plot and overall story arc doesn’t really challenge the audience, or make any grand statements. It’s an unashamed and entertaining popcorn ride for the geek in all of us, especially those that grew up with Tron all those years ago.