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One of the best surprises of the year has been saved for an early Christmas gift for your ever-luvvin’ LMD.  Having never seen the original 1982 film, I had precious little reference about the world of Tron besides old clips of what was then state-of-the-art computer animation mixed with live action.  What kind of sequel could come out of a film that was famous for being a flop of the most expensive order?  A bloody good one is what, and one of the most entertaining rides of 2010.

Right off the bat, we’re given a continuation of Disney’s adherence to make all things Tron a showcase for their digital arts with a scene meant to take place twenty years prior of a father telling his small son what the child thinks is a bedtime story.  This father is played by an impossibly youthful Jeff Bridges.  The little boy cannot know that this is the last time he’ll see his dad, neither will he allow himself to believe the worst, so the worst becomes cowardice, and the son, now a young man, thinks his father simply ran away from the pressures of life as a sort of pre-Steve Jobs.  It’s this resentfulness that has Sam Flynn, heir to the ENCOM throne, avoiding anything to do with his old man’s beat; allowing well-paid board members, including his pop’s old running buddy, Alan Bradley, to take the reins, only making his presence known via extremely expensive occasional pranks.  A message in the night over Alan’s ancient beeper has Sam examining the hidden recesses of his dad’s lab, and in a laser blast he finally understands where exactly his father disappeared to.  The world inside the computer is all black, shiny and neon.  It’s The Grid, where every being is referred to as a programme and an unfortunate human unlucky enough to find themselves where they shouldn’t be is called a user and reviled by the programmes accordingly.  A glowing disk on each person’s back carries their entire history, every thought they’ve ever had and every place they’ve ever been.  Sam receives his after he is caught by sentries, dressed by some pulchritudinously-pixeled Thierry Mugler refugees, and sent into an arena to fight for his life like a Roman gladiator.  Always a bit of a roughneck, Sam very quickly learns the ways of combat whether by deadly, light-up Frisbee or pop-up motorcycle battles.  It’s clear that Sam is a special dude, so he’s brought to the de facto emperor of The Grid, a fellow who looks remarkably familiar.  After Clu, the man with his father’s face tries to kill him, Sam is saved by Quorra, a fetching young girl who really knows her way a mainframe and taken far from the shiny neon city.  For the second time in less than a half hour, Sam is face to face with the man he hasn’t seen in twenty years, but judging by the grey in his beard and abundance of wrinkles, this might be the right one.  Family reunion done, Sam’s priority to is get them both back to their world, but now that he’s provided a nice little trail back to the elder Flynn, Clu isn’t about to let his creator, who he’s wanted to capture for so long to make use of that juicy disc full of knowledge, depart without a proper goodbye.  Making their way through the underbelly of The Grid, Sam and Quorra attempt to find Castor, a shadowy figure that will get them to a portal out of their digital purgatory because he’s on the side of the good guys, right?  Right?

Good stuff this.  Tron: Legacy is beyond all a feast for the eyes (- And in a very special instance, for the ears as well, but we’ll get to that later.).  The visuals are utterly dazzling from the moment Sam finds himself in the midst of the dark, neon-lit metropolis with an enormous, arched patrol ship bearing down on him.  We share Sam’s awe at not only his situation, but by the impossibility of it.  Within moments of his arrival, Sam watches as a fellow prisoner would rather de-resolute rather than face the games.  We soon see why.  The arena battles aren’t just marvels because of their digital locations:  Director Joseph Kosinski is wise enough to bring in martial artists who look great whipping around in the sleek, skintight latex Tron wear, so when people are running away from a glowing Frisbee, the discs are wielded so artfully it looks like there’s a reason for the fear.  The big motorcycle set piece is gorgeous and thrilling.  Having only seen clips of the original, I finally get why this was such a big deal.  In a bit of video game brilliance, the luminescent vapour trails of the riders’ exhaust turn into solid, lethal barriers which cage and force opponents to crash in fiery explosions that light up the stadium.  Benign-looking sticks transform into slick, curvy bikes and race cars.  Later when Clu’s patrols pursue the Flynns, the guards careen through the air on the dragonfly-like wings that sprout out of their uniforms.  So handy is their gear that they can even turn again into heavily-armed fighter planes.  Cool stuff, all of it.

Cool as well is the not-quite-cameo appearance of Jeff Bridges as pappy Flynn.  When I spoke to Mr. Bridges in 2009 while he was promoting Crazy Heart, he told me the role he was playing in Tron: Legacy was very small.  I’d no idea he was such a camera hog. He’s all over this movie; as his younger self in the flashback, in his digital form, Clu, then as the real Kevin Flynn, who has exiled himself into the mountains away from The Grid, living a Buddha-like existence that’s thoroughly tested with the arrival of his son. Some of the film’s funniest moments occur when Flynn finds it hard to cope with Sam’s rashness, “You’re messin’ with my Zen thing, man”.  How awfully Lebowski of you, Mr. Bridges.  “Radical, man!” is another Flynn-ism from another time.  Garrett Hedlund does a serviceable job as Sam and is believable in the many action sequences.  He doesn’t exactly light up the screen, but is just fine.  The waifish, wide-eyed Olivia Wilde is Quorra, the ward of Flynn, Sr.; eager to see the world outside The Grid she’s learnt so much about.  Mulleted and dressed head to toe in neon white, Michael Sheen is a scream as a shady nightclub owner who clearly needs to start a Grid production of Cabaret so he can play the MC.  Sheen lets the camp floodgates loose; twirls a cane around and chews the scenery gloriously, as if he’s been telling Daft Punk what to play all their lives … which brings us to one of the coolest things of all about Tron: Legacy.

Daft Punk’s soundtrack. Yes, this needs its own paragraph because that’s how good the score was.  I protest that the “Music by” end credit didn’t roll until perhaps eight names in.  Who cares about the writers and producers?  The score is so superior and integral to the action and moods of this film that the composers should have had star billing.  Each song not only perfectly punctuates a given moment, but truly carries the action to a new level.  It’s not just what you see on screen that makes your heart pound, it’s the electrified pulse under it all masterfully arranged by those two French dudes in the helmets (- Who make a smooth cameo in the nightclub … maybe.).  “The Grid” features Jeff Bridges as guest vocalist, while “End of the Line” samples sounds from the original Tron video game.  With a score that varies from classical motifs {“Adagio for TRON”}, to tribal percussion {“Arena,” ”Disc Wars”}, this is Daft Punk with a passion like I’ve never heard, though the presence of high-powered synths and funkdafied beats on “Derezzed” indisputably reminds us who they are.  They absorbed the film perfectly, capturing its “the future is now” aesthetics and atmosphere while creating an audial landscape within the CGI world.  Tron: Legacy is the best score since Blade Runner.  I can’t imagine what the movie would have been without this music.

With so many things in the win column, one can forgive some incidentally hilarious continuity errors (- Wait, isn’t he not supposed to have his disc?) and some slight drags when the action stops, but they are few and the pacing generally works well.  However, although we are clearly seeing top-of-the-line digital special effects, the face of young Jeff Bridges/Clu is still creepy.  For some reason, his cheeks look hamster-puffy but hard and the skin just doesn’t move naturally.  I guess we’re still just short of being able to fully replicate the intricacies of the human visage.  My other qualm is with the narrative, with the inexplicable disguising of one character from the past.  The character is shown and explained during a flashback to the 1982 film, then never to be seen in full again.  As there is much riding on this person’s shoulders throughout the movie, it would have been nice to see them as something other than a dark helmet and some grunting noises, the presence of either is never made clear.  Considering all the CGI they used on Bridges, the same could’ve been done for this character and made a more rounded, fulfilling story.

Feh, enough nitpicking.  Tron: Legacy is such an enjoyable, totally visceral experience that these trifles amount of nothing in light of all the action and pure escapist fun.  I’m not sure if it was Disney’s plan to, but once again some twenty years later the name Tron – Legacy this time – represents a new height in digital cinema and pure entertainment.  It really is the eighties again.  Radical, man.

 

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

Dec. 10th, 2010

 

 

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Photos

(Courtesy of  Walt Disney Pictures)

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