Tron Goes Off the Grid

Almost 30 years ago, Disney brought a new standard to CGI special effects with the movie Tron. This year, the studio released the sequel. The original movie was a simple plot of good versus evil and a mortal man, Kevin Flynn played by Jeff Bridges, known as a ‘user’ trapped in a digital world of ‘programs’ trying to escape and release the digital world from the tyranny of the evil master control program. The plot was weak; the character development was lacking and the there were numerous plot holes that were never filled. The movie still became a cult classic for Sci-Fi geeks because of the new techniques in special effects. The effects these days had achieved photo-realistic quality long before Tron: Legacy was even written, so it does not have that going for it, and it could have used that gimmick.

Tron: Legacy tells the story of Flynn and his son 28 years after the original movie. Flynn achieved fame and fortune with the knowledge he gained in his foray into the digital world and was working on a way to bring that degree of order and perfection to the real world when he disappeared again. For 20 years, Flynn’s son Sam (Garrett Hedlund) waited for him to return when a cryptic message brings him to the arcade where Flynn originally worked.

Sam ends up digitized into the “grid” where he is immediately placed on the game grid and comes face to face with what appears to be his father. Instead, he finds out this is actually CLU—a program written by his father to make the grid perfect. What happens next is a lot like the original movie where the younger Flynn has to try to escape the grid and get back to reality, while trying to find and save his father.

The plot has very little movement and even less character development. Several plot points introduce interesting threads that do not develop or even wrap up at the end. The film could have been significant had the writers developed some of these threads or even refocused the main plot toward this different thread. There could have been an interesting statement on the nature of mankind and the significance of connections to each other and of redemption, but instead they went with the most action-oriented story.

The effects were good; nothing spectacular, but up to standard for the budget. Several of the elements from the original have been upgraded for the new film from the light cycles to the recognizers to the light train. Even the input/output portal is similar to the original, only better looking. The “program” light suits are thematically similar to the original, but updated for modern fashion sensibilities. There is one technical facet that is noteworthy however.

The character of CLU, the digital creation of Flynn, looks just like Jeff Bridges did 25 years ago. Of course, Jeff Bridges does not look like Jeff Bridges did 25 years ago, so this is obviously done with CGI. The effect is very realistic, although not perfect. Hollywood has been flirting with “virtual actors” since the first full-length all-CGI movie. At first, they couldn’t get the fall of fabric right, then the textures of the flesh were not realistic enough. They have fixed these faults, but they still cannot get the nuances of how a mouth works when speaking. It is passable, but it does still look like an animation.

Disney does try for one gimmick with this movie: it is released in 3D. The 3D craze has continued into the Christmas movie season with a bevy of films featuring the new technology. In this instance, it does not add anything to the movie experience. At no time does the viewer feel immersed in the grid of the digital world. In fact, most of the 3D films have little to offer with the new gimmick.

So in the end, Tron: Legacy is just a good story as the original, which isn’t saying much. Its effects, while good, do not rise to the same level as its predecessor and the film does not benefit from a 3D effect. With all these detractions, however, it is a good movie for an afternoon’s diversion, and Sci-Fi geeks will love the film as a sequel to the original.

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3 Comments

Filed under Media, Reviews

3 responses to “Tron Goes Off the Grid

  1. I remember when the original Tron came out, I was completely stoked. Of course, I was the only one, back then, sneaking out of Algebra 2 to head over to the computer “room” (we didn’t call it a lab yet) and play with the Apples. I don’t think that the Atari 2600 had come out yet, had it? So hard to remember that far back. I thought Jeff Bridges and Bruce Boxleitner in the same movie would cause me to explode. I may see the sequel someday… but not in the theatre with the iPhone generation awash in backlit phones.

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    • Atari 2600 was out when I was in high school I remember it was my junior year.
      I remember the computer lab too, full of Bell & Howell Apple II’s long before the IIe or even II+.

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  2. I’ve watched the original Tron several times and still don’t quite get the plot. Maybe because there isn’t one?

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