TRON Legacy is a spectacular sequel!

There are spoilers below the cut on this, so if you don’t want me ruining anything for you about TRON Legacy, don’t click! Suffice to say that it was a wonderfully entertaining spectacle of a film, gorgeously rendered. The 3D on this was even better than what I experienced with Avatar, and the connection to the first film is as strong as it should be for a true sequel. But TRON Legacy is also its own film enough so that if you’d never seen the original, you could grasp the salient details via pieces of well-placed backstory. Thus I think the new movie has excellent portability between fans of the original film, and people who just want a wonderful holiday thrill ride.

Now, to the meat of it.

I’ve said many times on this blog that I am an ardent, died-in-the-wool fan of the original TRON from 1982. I saw it in the theater when it first came out, rented it endlessly on VHS cassette, have purchased it on VHS and again on DVD, and generally regard TRON as a highly important movie for my childhood. Most Americans have a few movies from their kid years which have left deep, lasting impressions on them. Movies which astound and delight, and energize the imagination. For me, the top movie in this regard, above all others, was Disney’s TRON. I’d never seen anything like it, and fell in love instantly with the cyber-universe that Steve Lisberger imagined — and which Disney helped bring to life. It was, in 1982, a film truly ahead of its era.

But TRON never reached people in 1982 the way Star Trek or Star Wars were reaching people. Thus the potential franchise became something of a joke. Visually stylistic, it was a box office disappointment in the theater and lots of people regarded it as weird, silly, shallow, or otherwise dismissed it as one of those experimental science fiction films that doesn’t hit the target.

Yet…

Enough people liked it to turn it into a cult movie. Its imagery did become part of the cultural fabric of the emerging computer era — enough so that TRON’s look has been imported and even satirized numerous times by various different parties. No film since 1982 has been able to explore the concept of cyperspace without tipping its hat to TRON — such as the Matrix movies — and the deeper we got into the Web Generation the more apparent it became that the themes and motifs of the movie were becoming graspable by a greater and greater number of people.

So it was with equal parts elation and raw fear that I greeted news that TRON was finally going to have a sequel. Since the 90s there had been hints and suggestions, forever quashed because nobody could ever see TRON performing at the box office — at least enough to justify production expense, as audiences would demand that TRON’s signature picturism be updated with modern technology. Also, key actor participation was questionable. Jeff Bridges was on record as saying he wouldn’t be in until he was shown a script that he liked — a script which could explore Kevin Flynn as a character immersed in his own “Heart of Darkness” as it were.

Suddenly it’s 2008 and the TR2N concept trailer hit the internet. Oh wow, could it be? I remember watching the trailer and being shocked at the updates given to the TRON universe. Things had definitely changed. Which was to be expected, but my brain had been used to “seeing” the cyber-world a different way, and the TR2N concept trailer was taking elements of that world and blending them into a new, more sophisticated, and in many ways slicker and much darker panorama.

But after the first few times on replay, I started to groove on it. Certainly I hadn’t expected the imagery to stay static, and as for plot, it was intruiging to see Jeff Bridges rendered young again — the hint being more than obvious, that it wasn’t Jeff’s character Flynn, but more probably his alter-ego CLU, who had been shown to us as a Flynn-scripted doppelganger-program in the first movie. Yet unlike the first film, CLU seemed like he might have something sinister about him — and oh boy, does he ever!

Successive releases of new trailers and material through 2009 and earlier this year only made me salivate more. I couldn’t quite believe it! The TRON sequel was not only alive, but getting major studio backing at Disney. When it became clear that Disney was banking major bucks on TRON Legacy as the Christmas franchise movie of 2010, I sort of had to contain myself because it just didn’t seem possible. What curious process of events had brought such an unlikely thing to pass? My favorite little movie of all time — the ugly runt of the science fiction film universe — was finally getting its due!

And let me tell you, honestly, from a fan among fans, TRON Legacy did not disappoint me at all. It builds excellently on the events of the first film, and has such brilliantly stunning visuals that I quickly lost myself in the new vision — which Steve Lisberger is on record as saying is closer to his original concepts from the 80s than the actual 1982 movie, which was limited by the CGI and special effects of its time.

The light cycles and disc battle sequences were better than the first film, being multi-dimensional and dizzying. The costumes were crazy-good looking — and not just because they flattered the shapely female actors. Incorporating actual light-emitting devices into the fabric of what the actors wore made the film both more clean than the original, and less distracting. And there was plot going on too — plot which both mirrored the original and complimented it. Thus TRON Legacy echoes strongly its roots without being dominated so much by them that the new movie feels like a repeat. It doesn’t.

Perhaps most importantly, the film neatly ties up events from/since the original, while clearly laying out groundwork for potential sequels — assuming TRON Legacy performs well enough at the box office to satisfy Disney execs that they have a bona fide cash cow on their hands.

Quorra, as the last and only Isomorphic Algorithm life form — ISO in TRON lingo, sort of a digitally-evolved independent artificial intelligence — and the very first program to be taken from the digital world back into the real world, poses the question: just how will the ISO prove radically revelatory to 21st century science, art, medicine, and religion; as predicted by Kevin Flynn? The ISO as a creature-concept is something that will have to be explored more fully in future iterations, assuming those iterations intend to capitalize on the plot progress of TRON Legacy the way TRON Legacy capitalized on 1982’s TRON.

Moreover, will the digitization technology used by both Kevin and Sam Flynn to enter the computer world be taken out of Kevin Flynn’s workshop and introduced to the public on a wider scale? It’s hard to believe the technology from 1982 slumbered in Flynn’s office for 27 years — somebody else should have also discovered it, or at least now that Sam Flynn has seen what’s possible, he’ll begin to tinker. Would corporate competitors try to steal such technology? How would humans let loose on the cyber-universe behave, interact, and so forth?

TRON Legacy happens on a single, closed server system. With the world linked by countless servers across fiber-optics and broadband, how much ‘bigger’ and more wild could the setting get, if sequels are developed?

I leave that as a thought exercise for the future. Right now, I’m just enormously pleased with the new film. It didn’t let me down. In fact, it was better than I could have hoped for. I am quite sure I will go see it again in the theater a couple more times before it goes to DVD — I liked it that much and want to go back and experience it a second or third time, especially with those outrageous 3D effects and the cosmic visuals.

I’ve often said lately that the only thing that gets me out to a movie in the theater these days, is raw, dazzling, bigger-than-life scenery: things and events I couldn’t possibly imagine, or at least which demand the size and scope of the wall-sized theater screen. TRON Legacy uses every inch, every millimeter, to good effect. Jaw-dropping and delicious.

Oh, one more thing. My daughter was with me for the midnight showing at the IMAX in Salt Lake City, and I was having a good time sitting there watching her be amazed — because I was only one year older than she is now when I sat through TRON in 1982 and had a similar experience. And my daughter loves the original, through no prompting on my part. She found my DVD when she was 2 and demanded we watch it, and has seen it dozens of times since.

Ah, a chip off the old block. How can you not love it?

Edit To Add: I thought this opinion from NPR summed up my feelings exactly, where critics are concerned. Ever since I’ve gotten published, I’ve come to regard all manner of critique and criticism with a wry smile — because all critics are doing is offering opinions, based on individual taste. And the truth is, what critics like or dislike is often going to have no application whatsoever to whether or not a film or book or other creative project achieves popular success. In fact, sometimes I think critics go out of their way to bash or harp on a thing, if they detect in the wind that a thing has popular potential. And TRON got a lot of underground buzz leading up to last night’s release. Hmmm, coincidence? TRON über alles!

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13 thoughts on “TRON Legacy is a spectacular sequel!

  1. Yeh, loved it. Saw it tonight… can’t sleep… have to go to work tomorrow but too excited to sleep. This is bad. LOL!

  2. Glad to hear you enjoyed the movie. If you can find it–it’s apparently not that easy to find now–you may try to find the PC game TRON 2.0. It was released several years ago and I would consider it a “must have” for the TRON aficionado. It may explain why the digitization technology remained “secret” (assuming the franchise even recognizes the game’s existence).

    Note: If you decide to try the game, I would patch it first (updates are good!) due to some tweaks and compatibility issues with modern PC hardware. Hmm, I guess it can be found on Amazon so I guess not that hard to find after all.

  3. Hah, way ahead of you Matt. I got TRON 2.0 as a christmas gift in 2004 and think it’s an excellent POV adventure/shooter. I’ve played it all the way through several times, at various levels of difficulty. I thought they did a great job making that game and it was a delicious way to finally “be inside the computer” in a first-person manner. I can’t help but think that TRON Legacy borrowed at least some elements from the game, especially since Sam and Jett are pretty much the same kind of young adult, although Bradley in the game isn’t a company owner the way Kevin Flynn is in the movie. Otherwise, the two have a lot in common. I will be curious to see what the new TRON game looks like, as 2.0 holds up well, even 7 years after it came out.

  4. Really enjoyed the film. Haven’t seen the original, but will probably seek it out after loving the sequel so much. All of the actors did a phenomenal job (often mediocre acting is what makes film SF bad, IMO), especially the fantastic Jeff Bridges.

    Will probably riff on your comment — about every child having a favorite early-childhood SF film that made them into the geek they are today — for a short blog post.

    I was a HUGE fan of Transformers, Star Wars, and Robotech at an extremely early age. My mom let me rent the 1986 animated The Transformers: The Movie on VHS all the time, and when I was seven I saw the Special Edition releases of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi at the (now-defunct, dilapidated — *tear*) local theater. Was never quite the same after that. The geek told hold. And I got to go through adolescence while Lucas was churning out the Prequel Trilogy, too, so it’s a disease I’ve never quite been able to treat with any measure of effectiveness.

    Minority Report is perhaps my all-time favorite SF movie. Blade Runner is another favorite.

  5. Utterly spectacular, it was. Mind-blowing, even.

    I am NOT a fan of 3D. Far too often, 3D is being used to sell a movie that’s so horrendously bad that it just never should’ve been made. (I reference the other movie that came out this weekend. Yogi the Bear? REALLY?) I, personally, would prefer to have seen this in IMAX non-3D. That was not an option, however, and I doubt it will be an option for many movies going forward.

    Now, that being said, the 3D usage in Tron was utterly masterful. It was done for EXACTLY the same reasons that blacklights were used in the first film: To set the world inside apart from the world outside. It was not over the top. It was in fact a simple reminder that the world wasn’t “real” – and there were many points where it simply faded into the background, the way 3D really should if it’s going to be taken seriously.

    The one false note to me, for some reason, was the interaction with Zuse. I’ve seen that sort of manic wildness before and it just felt ripped wholesale from somewhere else. It was minor enough, I suppose, but it just seemed so out of place for some reason.

  6. I never saw Bladerunner in the theater. I grew to love that movie when I pirated a copy — shame, shame! — in 1989 and watched it a lot that summer. Like the original TRON it ushered in the whole cyberpunk genre, before there was even a word for cyberpunk. Thankfully people caught on to how good Bladerunner is, because it thudded at the box office. I think it was just too different from the galactic opera of Star Wars and Star Trek to catch on with mainstream fans and movie goers.

  7. I agree about the 3D and how they employed it. In many ways it was as if the neon world inside the server was “more real than real” and it helped to make the distinction, both before and after Sam enters Flynn’s grid down in his workshop. Overall they used the 3D just enough to make it eye-catching, without driving it home in every last shot — look gang, 3D! THREEEE DEEEEEEEEEE…..

  8. Finally got to see the movie over the weekend, and we both enjoyed it immensely. I felt some parts were a little derivative of Star Wars (seriously, the robes and Sam taking the gunner seat? Come on!), but it was fun. I loved the music from Daft Punk. Very swank and well done. However, my biggest issue was the cheesy CGI they did for Jeff Bridges’ younger self and Clu. You could tell it was a complete CGI rendering rather than the cell shading they did with Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan in the third X-men movie. The movements were jerky and cartoonish. It creeped me out. Other than that, fantastic movie!

  9. I think Disney gambled with the facial replication stuff, and it only worked about 65%, which is not good enough for current audiences. Honestly, I’d have liked it if they let Clu age right along with Flynn. Have them both be old and tired of each other and tired of the circular battle. But, that’s my back-seat writer talking. And I agree, the turret thing was basically Luke climbing into the gunnery seat on the Falcon. I’d have preferred it if the flying vehicles had to slam each other into their jet walls, like the light bikes. Guns that shoot lasers or bullets never seem appropriate for the world of TRON. But these are minor piques on my part.

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