TRON: LEGACY— 4 STARS
Hollywood has tried for years to tap into massive popularity of video games as a well for unique movie projects since they achieved their mainstay popularity in the 1980’s. Producers, studios, and directors have tried to use the engaging characters and unique visuals from video games with mostly bad results. Everyone has seen the list of failures: Super Mario Bros., Street Fighter, Doom, Max Payne, Mortal Kombat, Wing Commander, Final Fantasy, and the Tomb Raider and Resident Evil series. Most of the time, they fall into the same category of acceptance as comic book films. The die-hard fans of both are protective (and even a little narrow-minded) and need to see their heroes and favorites portrayed and done a certain way, and just see Hollywood screwing them up with ham and cheese.
Two of the very few who got it right, 1982’s Tron and this year’s Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World, used video games as a backdrop and didn’t try to adapt a popular game or character. With being pulled into a fictional video game in Tron and a love life becoming a video game in Scott Pilgrim, they were wise to create their own world and still have the dynamics, flair, and fun of video games. Both were modest performers at the box office and have gained fringe cult popularity instead. The new Tron: Legacy hopes to change that trend.
Tron: Legacy is the long-distance sequel to the 1982 original, known for being the first computer-generated film. In that film, Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges, now an Academy Award winner) is an ambitious young software engineer and wallowing arcade owner who is trying to expose the ENCOM corporation for stealing his game ideas. When trying to hack into the ENCOM mainframe, he is digitized and transported inside to a digital world called The Grid. There, as the “User” Clu, Flynn teams up up with “Programs” that are embodiments of his ENCOM employee friends from the outside, Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner, later of Babylon 5 TV fame) and Laura Baines (Cindy Morgan, who most of us remember from Caddyshack), who have the names Tron and Yori. Together, they fight against the Master Control Program, or MCP, in gladiatorial-style games for control of The Grid. Upon its defeat, the truth is exposed and Kevin Flynn returns to become the new CEO of ENCOM.
Twenty-eight years have passed when Tron: Legacy begins. Kevin Flynn has been missing since 1989, leaving an orphaned young son, Sam, and a company that has gone a different direction since his departure. Sam (Garret Hedlund, from Four Brothers and the upcoming Country Strong), now 27, is a thrill-seeking renegade who doesn’t want the future in ENCOM his father left him. When Alan Bradley (a returning Boxleitner), who still works for the company, receives a cryptic page from Kevin’s old arcade, he encourages the reluctant Sam to go there to investigate, hoping Sam may find answers about his father he’s been seeking for years. Soon enough, Sam is accidentally transported to The Grid himself.
This new Grid has evolved greatly since 1982 (creating dazzling reincarnations of the vehicles and games of the original), becoming larger, faster, and more dangerous than the stories his father told him about. Sam is quickly forced into the competitions. When it is revealed that he’s the son of Kevin Flynn, it is also revealed that the controller of this current Grid is Clu (a computer-generated double of a young Bridges), the power-hungry Program incarnation of his father. After a light-cycle duel with Clu that he nearly wins, Sam is rescued by Quorra (Olivia Wilde of TV’s House and The O.C.) and taken “off-Grid” for his safety.
It is then that he is reunited with his real father (the returning and older Bridges), who, sure enough, has been trapped in The Grid since his disappearance, obsessively seeking ways to improve the world with the technology he has developed and learned from the inside. However, he has long lost control of things with Clu’s rise to power over him, forcing him to live in exile and seclusion for years. Sam becomes driven to rescue his father and return him to the real world using the portal that opened with his arrival. However, Kevin cannot leave the Grid in Clu’s control. He has to be defeated first. Together, Sam, Quorra, and Kevin try to make that happen.
Tron: Legacy dazzles from start to finish with the same revolutionary level of production design and visual effects that its original first brought to the world nearly 30 years ago. Everything you could dream of from the original is bigger, brighter, and better. Never before have video games, or even science-fiction itself, looked as good or as sharply designed as this. Disney spared no expense and it shows. For example, the costume department budget alone was rumored to be around $13 million. Also, the electronic-and-orchestra fusion soundtrack created by Daft Punk adds another layer to that design and dazzle. Their rhythmic bass beats merged with an 85-piece orchestra richly fills the surround sound and, like the booming and breathing Hans Zimmer score of Inception, it becomes its own character and entity in the film.
Sure, the script and acting isn’t going to win any awards (other than Razzies) or be mistaken for the work of Woody Allen, but you’re not going to this movie for that. To it’s credit, Hedlund is a strong lead you come to root for and bringing the old cast members back really makes the story they are trying to tell work. If you can handle 12-foot tall blue alien cats that faintly look like Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, and Sigourney Weaver, then you can handle the sometimes odd-looking young Jeff Bridges creation of Clu.
The otherworldly Grid created here is as good as, if not better, than anything veiled as the “real world” in The Matrix (and a lot more family friendly with a PG rating and easier to understand). Tron: Legacy was also shot in the trendy medium of 3D. Unlike most 3D movies lately that use it for shock value and a moneymaker, Tron: Legacy uses it the way last year’s mega-hit Avatar did, as a way of adding depth to large scenery and scale. Just as it completely worked for created the vastness and size of Pandora in Avatar, it does an amazing job here of adding layers and speed to the neon, translucent, and geometric creations of The Grid. The visuals alone are worth the price of admission and also the extra bump paying to see it in 3D. Do it. It’s worth it.
LESSON #1: THE UNDENIABLY UNIQUE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN A FATHER AND A SON— You can start by saying that the apple doesn’t far from the tree, but in the case of many fathers and sons, it’s more than that. Because of the predominant masculine nature to not show or shower affection, the relationship between a father and son is as close as any other, but still has a tension and distance. Nevertheless, whether they say it or not, both will do anything for each other and Kevin and Sam in Tron: Legacy are no different.
LESSON #2: HOLDING ONTO THE CONTROL OF YOUR CREATIONS— Whether it’s Dr. Frankenstein and his monster, endless stories of futuristic robots replacing man, the missile defense computers in WarGames, HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey, or even the Greek myth of Prometheus, there have been many fictional examples where the creations of technology have taken over power from their creators. In many cases, the creation is almost a reflection of the inner self of the creator. The circumstances of the Grid and Kevin Flynn fit into that. In every example, it’s a fascinating story and reminder that man should also maintain control over the things they create.
LESSON #3: MAN ASSUMING HIS FULL POTENTIAL— There are several instances in a great many areas of talent being wasted due to a lack of desire, initiative, example, or direction. You can say that about a lot of current and former pro athletes who have been blessed with all the talent in the world and waste it. Sometimes, those talented individuals have tough acts to follow too, which doesn’t help. Sam is that wayward talent at the beginning of this movie who is always in the shadow of his father’s greatness, giving him a little dash of Bruce Wayne. Once those talented individuals find that spark of desire, initiative, example or direction, their full potential starts to become more realized.
Showtimes can be found at your local west side Chicago theaters. Advance tickets can be purchased at many of those locations through Fandango.com and MovieTickets.com.