Sunday, January 2, 2011

Tron: Legacy

It's strange how Disney chose to treat the rejuvenation of a nearly 30 year old franchise. The original film was released in 1982 to mediocre box-office success and largely forgotten by the general movie-going public as newer and more exciting special-effects extravaganzas were paraded out year after year.

It developed a small cult following, as most fringe-type films do.
A dvd was released first in 2000, then a 20th anniversary 2 disc edition in 2002. Buena Vista Interactive released a multi-platform video game, Tron 2.0 in 2003, presumably in hopes of jump-starting some renewed interest in the original film - older fans re-familiarizing themselves with it and drawing newer fans. This proved to have limited appeal to only a small portion of video game aficionados and did not take the world by storm as was hoped.
Work was begun on a script in 2005 for a sequel to Tron, but very little was done by the time the script was finished and production began on the film to introduce a new generation to the original to make sure there was a built-in audience for the sequel.

It just seems like somebody dropped the ball in making sure that Tron: Legacy had a fighting chance at the box-office, but considering it was released on December 17, 2010 and s, as of January 2, 2011 still holding the #3 spot on the North American charts, maybe this little lost movie didn't need the help.

The story starts in 1989, with Kevin Flynn, software pioneer and CEO of a leading software corporation disappears, leaving his young son behind...
Fast forward twenty years - son Sam Flynn is a restless and irresponsible heir to what is now a global software titan, wanting no part of the company that he feels stole his father from him.
On the eve of the launch of what they expect to be 'the next big thing' in consumer software, Sam receives a message from his father, coming from his father's old arcade, now abandoned and derelict.
When Sam flips the main power breaker at the old arcade, the audience is showered with the sounds of arcade games from long ago - games that fell out of popularity before most of the target audience was born -
and accompanying the retro noise festival come the intro keyboard strains of Journey's 'Separate Ways'. This is a brilliant set-up to establish the era that we're about to be thrown into.
Sam discovers a secret office in the back of the arcade and finds out where his Dad's been, by going there in pretty much the same fashion.
And that's really all you need to know.
What follows is a gorgeously stylized and lush visual spectacle. It's a feast for a couple of the senses, at least.
Much as the original Tron brought to the screen a world no one had ever seen before, Tron: Legacy takes us back to that world and has a great time showing off some of the amazing upgrades that have come in 30 years. A lot of the original flavour remains, especially in the vehicles like the Light-Cycles and the giant, towering Recognizers.

The rest of the story is spare and needs no explanation. It's simply a device to transport the audience through this new wilderness of light and sound.

The production design shines, creating an opulent, futuristic world. Kevin Flynn's apartment, for example, borrows heavily from the room at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey, and adds some flair to it. Digital blue flame fireplace, a small library contained selected greatest hits of world literature, and steel fruit. Very classy.

The arena games are an excellent display of 3D imagery. The action in the disc battle and light-cycle races benefits from impossible in-the-action camera angles that allow things to appear to envelope the audience. Throughout the rest of the film, the 3D effect lends a real sense of tangibility and actual depth.

The visuals are augmented by an incredible soundtrack and score that become more incredible when you consider that all the music in the film, with the exception of Journey and the Eurythmics, was programmed and composed by French electronica artists Daft Punk. The music compliments the dark atmosphere and from the swelling orchestrations to the thrumming bass and synthesizer highs, the music becomes another character of the film. There are moments where very obvious influences of other score composers like Hans Zimmer, Vangelis and Tangerine Dream. The score was written concurrently with production, so there's a very organic feel to this synthetic sound.
The duo also makes a cameo in the film.

Roger Ebert wrote that he anticipated people would react to this film the same way they reacted to 2001, sneaking in after the intermission, after possibly partaking of organic, experience-enhancing substances to enjoy the light-show at the end of the film. I can only assume that that would make this film, which is still a pretty great visual and aural experience even cooler.

There are some great technical elements at play here as well.
Jeff Bridges was digitally mapped and 're-generated' as a younger self to portray CLU, a digital representation of Flynn inside the grid. For the most part, it's very effective, and we believe we're looking at a younger Bridges playing opposite now-Jeff Bridges, but there are moments where the CG looks a little rushed and more like a pretty realistic video game than an actual person. But it still looks pretty decent.

And Bridges plays Kevin Flynn as a philosophical throw-back, a hippy left behind.
His dialogue recalls his performance as The Dude from The Big Lebowski, with a couple of 'far out's and a 'man' here and there. It's pretty neat to see The Dude surrounded by blue and yellow lights in a world where humans don't really belong.

Cillian Murphy makes a very brief cameo at the beginning of the film as a hipster computer company tester or engineer or something.. basically, he sits at a table and makes snide comments, so whatever that guy does..

There's also a very brief homage to Batman '89, and a bit of a Blade Runner ending, not to mention the interesting parallel to the whole Matrix deal, about being INSIDE the system..
So, if you're looking for a visual spectacle to check in and tune out with, this is a great pick.