End of line.
First a disclaimer - the original 1982 Tron is a favorite from my childhood. I appreciate the film for both the fantasy world it revealed to my imagination, and as a pioneering achievement - a landmark in the development of computer-generated special effects. But just like with the original Star Wars films, when effects were still expensive to produce, it still had to have a coherent story and decent acting.
But as we’ve seen with the new Star Wars flicks, you don’t even need that anymore.
With computers making anything possible onscreen, the new Star Wars flicks should have come with air-sickness bags for all the distracting, churning experiments of how many effects could be stuffed into each square inch. And as the number of effects went up, the attention spent on trivial matters like dialogue and acting went down.
A quick plot summary: The events in TRON: Legacy follow the original Tron. Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) is the head of Encom, Inc. and father to young Sam Flynn. One night Kevin goes off to work and disappears. Fast forward 20 years and Sam is a young man (Garrett Hedlund). A young, angry, misunderstood, very-rich-rebel-without-a-cause young man. Did I miss any cliches there? I can assure you the film didn’t. One night after a family friend receives a mysterious “page” Sam goes and checks his Dad’s old office and finds a secret computer lab hidden behind an arcade game. A computer lab he found in five minutes apparently went undetected in 20 years of searching for his father - we’ll talk a bit about the plot holes later. Sam messes with the computer and gets imported to the computer world where he finds the old man as well as the Villain - “Clu” - a program created by Kevin in his younger days, and the computer-enhanced 30-year old Jeff Bridges seems to be generating the most buzz about this flick. Father, son and a spunky tomboyish love interest for Sam, Quorra (Olivia Wilde) team up to free the grid from Clu’s tyranny.
TRON: Legacy manages to rip off, er, pay homage to a number of sci-fi classics, in particular Blade Runner, The Matrix, Star Wars and 2001 just to name a few. In trying to be all things to all people it develops no identity of its own, leaving no cliche unturned. Seriously, I lost count of how many times Clu bellows at his inept henchmen, “FIND THEM!” and Take her away!”
An indifferent plot line slows things down too. We know they’re on the run because they’re running, but it’s not entirely clear why they’re running, or what they’re running to. Clu supposedly has some evil plan to take over the world, but it was some generic “threat” - I don’t recall what the actual evil plan was. Clu could have been much more fun if he had been a bit more, well, EVIL. As a machine with no understanding of or respect for life, he could have been a savage, relentless cruel machine not unlike a Terminator, but with a bit of humor. This could have been a character you could have built the film around, like Alan Rickman’s fun rendition of the Sheriff on Nottingham. What an opportunity lost with this milquetoast Clu Here, we’re told he’s a bad guy, but other than chasing down our heroes he’s never really seen doing something bad, other than executing an obnoxious minion, which you’ve seen in pretty much every James Bond movie.
Gaping plot holes? We got ‘em! (SPOLIER ALERT!!!! - - - If Clu and his cronies could go search Kevin Flynn’s apartment anytime they wanted, why would they not have simply gone there before now to take the disc?). - - - SPOLIER ENDS There’s some sort of quasi-religious theme going on too, kind of like the Force, with Flynn as the wizened old Jedi Obi Wan Lubowski. It brings to mind the image of a tug-of-war among a circle of people - with everyone pulling in different directions, the center moves nowhere.
But what about the effects? The action? Well, there are some pretty cool scenes, but you’ve already seen most of them in the trailer. The film is so DARK for the sake of being dark (and not in a cool noirish style like Blade Runner) that sometimes it’s hard to see a lot of detail when cycles and gliders are racing by. About 45 minutes in, the whole thing just seems to meld into a monotone palette of greys, blacks and dark blues. The action is fine but there’s not enough of it to make this a bona fide “action” flick, and it just doesn’t seem to have heart. By “heart” I mean like the dogfight at the end of Star Wars, like the Raiders of the Lost Ark truck scene, like the lightcycles from the original Tron. The action here seems market-tested with nothing new - there should have been something pioneering, a real tribute to the original. Instead it reeks of “safe” and “formula.”
As a fan of the original, when I watched it I found myself trying to make excuses for it, asking myself what I liked about it. Well. Um. The soundtrack from Daft Punk IS pretty killer and atmospheric - it brought Vangelis’ score from Blade Runner to mind. And, uh, that’s about it. I’m a big Jeff Bridges fan but here it just seems like he’s phoning it in. I really couldn’t find anything redeeming about it, and I was really pulling for this to be a good one.
TRON: Legacy fails on a level close to that of the three newer “Star Wars” flicks. What these films have in common is not only the failure of the film itself, but the watering-down of the originals’ reputation. BTW, stand by for a marketing catastrophe as Disney has already committed to throwing good money after bad - a sequel and a TV series have already begun production without waiting to see how the first one was received. Jobs will be lost over this.
On my famous “These Go to 11” scale, I give it a 4.75.