****1/2 (out of 5)
December 17, 2010
Jeff Bridges as KEVIN FLYNN / CLU
Garrett Hedlund as SAM FLYNN
Olivia Wilde as QUORRA
Bruce Boxleitner as ALAN BRADLEY / TRON
James Frain as JARVIS
Beau Garrett as GEM
Michael Sheen as CASTOR / ZUSE
Directed by: Joseph Kosinski
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
Last year, before “Avatar” was released, there were plenty of people out there already complaining about the movie. We all remember the “Dances with Smurfs” comments and the digs at the plot, characters and story rehash from “Pocahontas.” But let’s face it… no one was seeing “Avatar” for an Oscar-winning script. People saw “Avatar” because it transported them to a whole new world and looked wicked-cool in IMAX 3D.
Of course, to a pretentious film snob, it’s not enough to like a movie for the cool visuals and digital 3D thrill ride. I’ve heard lots of people pooh-poohing “Tron: Legacy,” berating the story and dismissing the effects because that’s what you get when you make a film for $200 million.
To them, I say… “So what?” This movie is two hours of eye-popping beauty and immersive effects. Like “Avatar,” it takes you to a whole new world the likes of which you have never seen. However, unlike the organic look of “Avatar,” “Tron: Legacy” brings you into a darker, more angular universe. But that doesn’t make it any less cool.
I was eleven years old when the original “Tron” came out in 1982, and I was right there in the theater with my eyes glued to the screen and jaw on the floor. Now as a man on the eve of 40, the experience is the same for me. Sure, there’s a flimsy story, underdeveloped characters and a cumbersome block of exposition in the middle of the film, but watching “Tron: Legacy” brought me back to the fascination and wonder I had when I was a kid.
This film has virtually the same story as the first film. However, instead of Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) accidentally getting thrust into the computer world, it’s his son Sam (Garrett Hedlund) who takes the journey. Sam is looking for his father, who had disappeared in the late 1980s, and he’s trying to escape the grid before Clu (a younger, leaner Jeff Bridges,) who is Kevin Flynn’s program-gone-mad, before he brings legions of programs to the real world.
Yeah, all the issues that other critics are having with this movies are valid points. The script is a bit muddled. The acting isn’t top-notch. The pacing suffers a bit, especially in the middle. And the dialogue can be pretty flat. However, all of these were elements of the original “Tron,” but that didn’t stop it from becoming a cult classic.
When I was sitting in the theaters seeing “Tron” for the first time in the summer before my fifth grade year, I asked my mother if Hollywood would some day be able to use computers to make the actors like they did the light bikes and paranoids. Her response was a simple, “Maybe, but we’re a long way from that.” However, 28 years later, we can watch a digitally created young version of Jeff Bridges as the villain in that movie’s sequel.
This is why “Tron: Legacy” means so much to me. It serves not just as a big dose of awesome action and special effects entertainment. It’s a benchmark in films the way the first one was. “Tron” showed the world that full digital environments were possible. “Tron: Legacy” is the next step. I cannot imagine where we’ll be in the next 28 years.
But back to “Tron: Legacy” as a film, rather than a milestone in movie history. It’s simply a fun ride. The visuals are, of course, amazing. But this comes not just by throwing money at special effects (because if that were all it’d take, “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow” would have been the best movie of the decade). It’s a synchronization of effects, production design and execution. The digital environments in “Tron: Legacy” are as least as amazing to look at as the ones in “Avatar,” which for me makes this film the cinematic experience of 2010.
Beyond the visuals, there’s a fantastic soundtrack and sound design, supported by a cerebral, powerful and at times self-referential score by Daft Punk. Not only do they provide a support for the alien environment where “Tron: Legacy” takes place, there’s some nods to the children of the 80s with retro music elements, especially heard in the beginning of the film.
Finally, there’s the 3D experience. If you’re a 3D hater, you’re going to nit-pick. But then again, all those 3D haters from Roger Ebert to critic friends of mine crap on everything with a one-shot begrudging respect for “Avatar” (which seems more peer pressure than anything else, considering how beloved that film was).
But if you’re lucky enough to not be a 3D hater, you should get a lot from this experience. In IMAX, it feels like you could literally step into the grid. There’s depth and proper use of the effects that jump out at you. Shots are composed with depth and style, and the shot-for-3D look reminds us that this is how 3D should look.
I will fully admit that there are plenty of wrinkles in “Tron: Legacy.” But if you’re not hung up on them and pay the extra money for the IMAX 3D ticket, this will be one of the best experiences you’ll have in a movie theater this year.