The original TRON was a visual and auditory feast first and an introspective tale second. TRON: Legacy continues that tradition by focusing heavily on its true 3D, motion capture and digital renderings, with Daft Punk’s soundtrack adding an additional driving force.Like a steep and twisting waterslide, it’s not terribly deep, but it is one helluva ride.
Few film-goers have seen the original TRON in recent memory, as it’s been taken from shelves and movie queues, ostensibly in anticipation of a special edition. Nor could I discuss the latest reviews from critics like Roger Ebert while waiting for the film to begin, because at the advance screening I attended, patrons had been required to turn in their cell phones before they could enter the theater. It was an immediate object lesson in how skillfully technology has been inserted into our lives, how ubiquitous the pre-film text and tweet have become, how we can no longer even tell time without our phones. Without technology, humans are as imprecise and as flawed as nature. A part of us hates that, though we hesitate to admit it.
For those who know little more than what you’ve seen in the F/X-heavy trailers, here’s a speedy recap of both films: In the first TRON, Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) attempts to remove a key section of code from the digital mainframe of his former employer, ENCOM. In the process, he is digitized into the electronic Grid by a new piece of hardware ENCOM is developing. He spends the rest of the film trying to survive in the darkly oppressive digital world, remove the corrupt program that has infested ENCOM’s CPU, and get home again. In the 2010 sequel, Flynn disappears again, this time for good. When Flynn’s now-adult son, Sam (Garrett Hedlund), receives a message that his dad is alive, he, too, must enter the Grid, save his father, and stop Kevin Flynn’s renegade avatar, CLU, from climbing back out into the real world.
The film actually begins in 2D and doesn’t switch over until a few seconds before Sam Flynn is sucked into the Grid. Patrons are asked to keep their glasses on throughout the film, but I found the lighting to be clearer without the eyewear. The transition to 3D is obvious enough that I knew when to gear-up and I felt the transition between “real” and “Grid” was more intense, that way.
Countless actors have noted the difficulty of acting within a soundstage that doesn’t contain much in the way of furniture or props. In creating the digital world of TRON: Legacy, Director Michael Sheen (who plays Castor) at this summer’s Comic Con, “It’s actually a 4D film because Jeff Bridges brings an extra dimension of awesomeness.”
His alter-ego, CLU, however, lacks some of that charisma. Despite filming Bridges using the latest motion capture techniques, the rendering of his face is still “off” enough to look creepy (his lips are too smooth and their musculature isn’t tight, and the odd, tic-like facial twitches are distracting). He looks like the moving-just-a-little-too-slow-to-be-real kids from The Polar Express. While the body and vocalizations were great, that face kept reminding me this was a visual trick. I didn’t want to be reminded of, you know…imperfection.
Still, Bridges brings such joy and dedication to his craft that you can’t help but feel embraced by the bearded, elder Flynn as he hugs his son for the first time in 20 years. And Hedlund holds his own quite well, opposite such a heavy-hitter, especially during that same, tearful reunion.
I have always been bothered by dysfunctional relationships between parents and children in films. It’s as if we’ve decided as a culture that the only way to tell a good story is to turn family members against one another and make their struggles to bond well-nigh impossible. Here, however, rather than distract the characters with petty squabbles that ignore the greater goal at hand (and the fact that the two haven’t seen each other in 20 years), the chemistry between the adult Sam and his father develops from what appears to be an already deeply-felt trust in one another. Even when they’re at odds over the best course of action, Sam’s father works visibly to remain calm. “You’re messing with my Zen thing, man,” he admonishes his son.