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.
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!