Monday, December 20, 2010

Tron Legacy

"In there, is a new world. In there, is our future. In there, is our destiny!"

Tron Legacy is a spectacular cinematic achievement, complete with fantastic visuals, an inspired soundtrack and a fun, exciting story. The reviews of the movie thus far have been extremely mixed, and I believe I understand why. I loved the movie, had a great time watching it, but I can accept that this movie probably doesn't have mass appeal. Additionally, if viewers have not previously seen Tron, the experience may not be quite as enthralling as it is for old Tron fans. None the less I feel that the movie should at least be in the 70%-80% range on RT as opposed to the rather meager 49% score that is has currently received.

Tron Legacy continues the story of Kevin Flynn, the hero of the original 80's classic. Twenty years after Flynn's mysterious disappearance, his son Sam Flynn (with the help of Kevin's old friend Alan Bradley) discovers what happened to his father all those years ago. Kevin was trapped in The Grid, a digital realm that Flynn was pioneering secretly in 1989 when he vanished. Sam inadvertently finds himself sucked into the same realm during his search for Kevin. What follows is Sam's desperate attempt to escape from The Grid and save his father in the process.

That is about as succinct as I can make my plot synopsis, hopefully it makes sense to those who have never heard of Tron and have no prior knowledge of how that particular universe works.

A critical part of what makes this movie work is the inclusion of original actors Jeff Bridges and Bruce Boxleitner as Flynn/CLU and Bradly/Tron. The presence of these guys on screen really ties everything together with the original movie. Bridges shoulders a tough job in this movie, playing both a hero and villian in the characters of Flynn and CLU. I'm happy to report he carries it off brilliantly, you will really believe that these are two different characters on screen. CLU, as you may know, is portrayed by Bridges but with the special digital de-aging to make him look like he did back in the cult 80's classic, more on that in a moment. Relative newcomer Garrett Hedlund was very convincing as Sam Flynn. The scenes he shares with Bridges were extremely well written and acted. The two actors really sold the father and son dynamic between Kevin and Sam. Olivia Wilde, best known for her role of Thirteen in House, also raised the bar for her acting ability in this movie. Her character, more than any other in the movie, has a real arc in the story, her character grows significantly from the time we meet her to the end credits. Certainly there is an 'eye-candy' aspect to her role, and there is no arguing she is nice to look at on screen, but I think she did a good job of portraying both a capable, deadly warrior and an innocent, somewhat naive child. I think the father role of Kevin Flynn applies just as much to Quorra as it does to Sam.

The visuals in this movie are spectacular, any one who has seen the trailers wont find that surprising. What is more important to me is that while the visuals are stunning, they are not overdone. I don't want to digress too much here, but one of my (many, many) complaints about Avatar is that there is too much on screen, too much color and spectacle. Tron Legacy wisely sticks to a constant aesthetic, black, white, blue and orange. Those are pretty much the only colors you see on screen - and I think the more reserved color palette improves the quality of the digital effects. The most visible effect in the movie is, naturally, the character of CLU. CLU is created by digitally de-aging Jeff Bridges to create the illusion that the character is the same age Bridges would have been in 89. About 99% of the time it works great, but there is always that feeling that it's not quite right... in the world of The Grid this is acceptable, but during a brief prologue in the real world at the movies opening it is a stark contrast to the real people he is interacting with. Overall though I think it works quite well, and combined with the other great visual effects, light cycles, light jets and even The Grid itself, Tron Legacy is without doubt a very impressive movie to watch.  

Finally I want to talk about the score. The music in the movie takes what would already be a good movie, and cranks it up to a great movie. Daft Punk penned and performed all the music for the movie, and even had a short cameo in a night club scene. The beat and tempo is controlled precisely to add to the content of the movie. The music becomes a great emotional boost to the scenes, ranging from hopeful to somber and exciting to mellow... Daft Punk clearly had a firm grasp of what each scene required, and boy did they deliver. Full disclosure: I did purchase the soundtrack the day after I saw the movie.. I liked it THAT MUCH!

So how will I sum up the movie? I admitted up front that a) I loved it and b) it's not for everyone. So let me try to expand on that. If I'm honest, and I do try to be, the story is probably the weakest part of the movie. Not to say that it's a bad story, but it does represent your typical Disney theme... which is the prince has to jump through hoops to rescue the princess. Cliche? You bet, but still when you couple that with the pulse pounding soundtrack and eye-popping special effects, it actually works quite well. Well... it does for me, but your mileage may vary. I think the thing that may put a lot of potential moviegoers off Tron Legacy is that they will misconceive it as a nerd/geek Sci-Fi movie. Let me assure it is not. This movie is a classic Disney fantasy tale wrapped up in the guise of a Sci-Fi flick.. so don't let that idea put you off from seeing it.

One more addendum before I close the book on Tron Legacy... if you are going to go see this one in theaters, see it in IMAX. I know I'm usually the one that says, IMAX isn't worth the money and 3D is just a fad, but if there is one movie that is well suited to the format... that movie is Tron Legacy - the visuals lend themselves well to the IMAX experience and the score/sound effects will never sound better than they do in an IMAX theater. Just my 2 cents - but as a guy who usually argues against such things, this is high praise indeed.

Final Verdict on Tron Legacy: