Tron: Legacy

As the first post for 2011, a film review isn’t a bad way to kick things off. By now I would expect that a fair number of you have already seen this film (and if you haven’t – the end of this review will tell you do so immediately), so I’m happy to put my thoughts down.

Similarly to The Social Network, I was quite lucky to see this film quite a bit before general release; having been able to attend both the London and LA Premieres as well as attend a special private screening (with an introduction from the director and co-producer) a short while thereafter. Three times I’ve seen it now and, if you asked me if I wanted to see it again – I’d say yes.

Here’s why –

Tron: Legacy is not an action film.
Tron: Legacy is (probably) not the film you’re expecting it to be.
Tron: Legacy is not the next Matrix (or Avatar for that matter).

Tron: Legacy is in fact a beautiful piece of work that has the potential to be criminally overlooked as its reviewers label it too simple and too over-reliant on flash special effects/under-used 3D. This is wrong. Very wrong indeed.

The allegory of celebrating life and creation over that of man-made technology and machines has never been more clear and telling. The Father/Son/Clu three-way relationship that is placed at the heart of the piece is, when it finally plays its hand, probably one of the most powerful moments in the entire film.

Believe everything you read and you’ll go in thinking that the story is in fact the weakest part of the whole; “Sam goes into the Grid to find his Dad. 3D awesomeness ensues. Light cycles etc… Finale, the end.” is quite possibly the laziest way to look at this work. The second time I saw it, not only did I end up picking up several parts that I missed the first time ’round – Clu/Flynn’s similar sounding rousing speeches to the crowds being one example (and this happened again on the third viewing too), but I also came away with a  much deeper understanding of the film’s key message; the creation of life is the most beautiful and imperfect forms of perfection that man can ever strive for. Ignore it at your peril.

See it. Look harder at what the film’s trying to tell you and let it flow through you.
You’ll see.

What else can I cover off here?

The cast are great; Olivia Wilde in particular shines as she casts a sense of wonder and amazement across all that she surveys with a strength and beauty that I haven’t seen in anyone since Samantha Morton’s killer turn as Minority Report’s life-deprived pre-cog, Agatha. Michael Sheen, channelling Ziggy Stardust, only really shines when he’s forced to tone down the camp delivery (later scenes scenes with Clu proving better than his openers with Daft Punk) and show the face behind the mask.

Garrett Hedlund is believable as Flynn Jnr – his father’s drawl pouring out gently as if his own, lending nicely to the DNA of both the film’s history as well as that of his own make up. There’s also a sweet cameo from Cillian Murphy (potential for more in future instalments?) hanging out as Dillinger Jnr and of course, finally, there’s Jeff.

Hey! Jeff!

He’s almost perfect and probably, unlike Michael Sheen, at his best in his earlier scenes where he’s tasked with conveying this gifted, lost soul who’s been trapped on the grid, away form his family, his life – coming to terms with his fate, for all these years. It’s steeped in pathos and reeks of an actor at the top of his game, delivering loss, pain and sorrow in mere glances to his surroundings.

What definitely didn’t work for me was the the rather large nod to His Dudeness, The Big Lebowksi.

When Flynn says to his Son “You’re messin’ with my Zen thing man.” it comes across as both clunky and entirely unnecessary. I don’t know why or how the director left it in, it drops you back into the real world of ‘Oh, I’m watching Jeff Bridges here. He’s The Dude remember?’ and totally out of sync with the rest of the film. I would probably say that that is my only gripe with the entire picture actually. I mean, even Jeff’s other turn as a CGI’d ageless version of himself, Clu, is better than this knowing wink; rubbery chin aside (in places), Clu proves to be breathtaking and, in certain areas, mind-blowing. The Dude is not welcome here.

So what about the 3D then? Is it worth paying that little bit extra to see it in this format? I’ve spoken with a couple of folk about this issue and I guess it depends on what it is you go in expecting. 3D in the traditional sense is that you go in, throw on your plastic specs and then, for the rest of the movie, things are thrown out of the screen – into your eyes – with enough vigour to make you start moving your hands around in front of your face (just in case you can actually touch them).

Modern day 3D not so much. 3D today is a lot about depth and making you believe that you’re actually in the picture you’re experiencing. Avatar achieved this (so much so that, post-Pandora, many Avatar viewers experienced depression after discovering that the world they experienced was in fact only fictitious and was not actually a viable choice for their next holiday adventure) and Tron: Legacy does the same – with the 3D effect adding a sharp and enticing sheen to an already futuristic vision. To my mind at least, it works.

Finally, one simply cannot put pen to paper when talking about Tron: Legacy without mentioning the frickin’ awesome soundtrack.

Yes I moaned that Daft Punk’s appearance in the film is slightly fudged and, under Michael Sheen’s stewardship, seemed shoehorned at best. But that’s just talking about their appearance. If you look past that, that car crash of a cameo, and look for their presence in the film then – from the moment the lights go down – the soundtrack hits you like a cricket bat to the face.

It is nothing short of superb. 2010 was an awesome year for OSTs with Scott Pilgrim and The Social Network putting forward awesome contributions but, for sheer electrifying amazement, Tron: Legacy nabs the number one spot. If you use Spotify, then listen to it right now. If not, then go buy it/download it… It is nothing short of awesome.

In closing, Tron: Legacy is a beautiful, beautiful film. If you’re going to see it, see it big and see it loud (the IMAX offers probably the best experience in this case).

Until next time.

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16 thoughts on “Tron: Legacy”

  1. I couldn’t agree more, James. The critical swipes against the story (most notably the second act) came out of nowhere for me – I found it to be quite lovely in its pacing and delivery of some really awesome ideas.

    That being said, I actually disagree with you on the “dude” moments — in particular, the “zen” line you mentioned. I think it was an *intentional* laugh on the director’s part, to lighten the mood after a rather intense minute prior. It’s not out of character with the Flynn character, IMHO — he’s rather joking and “loose” in the first film, so some of that poking through the dark, embittered exterior was quite welcome, at least to this admitted fanboy. 🙂

    The part that fell short for me was the notion of Clu amassing an army — the image of thousands of glowing soldiers pouring out of the doors of Flynn’s back in the real world was a bit *too* preposterous for me (in an already preposterous scenario), and I would have preferred his motives and actions to be more personal, more out of spite for his maker than world domination. I liked the parallel between his speech to the troops, though — and how it mirrored the Encom speech — it just felt like a “studio note” to make the stakes as ridiculously high as possible. If saddled with that studio note, I would have addressed it with a line or two exploring what Clu’s actions would accomplish — a bemused Sam could have wondered what would happen on the other end, to lighten the mood (and address exactly what the audience, or at least me, was thinking), and Kevin could respond with something like “all of those programs are energy — he’s going to send an enormous amount of energy through a portal that wasn’t designed for it and create a cataclysmic event” blah blah blah something something. Just something to address the inherent *physicality* of the quantum teleportation issue — to do it with one person, I can make the logistical jump in believability. A whole army? Bent on world destruction? Hrmmm.

    But I digress — overall, I really find more and more to like and think about this film every time I’ve seen it. For those that have seen it once and dismissed it as nothing more than visuals, I’d give it another try.

    Thanks for the lovely thoughts (and for kicking off my habit back on December 11th). 🙂

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  2. Great write up chap. Watched it yesterday at the IMAX, agree storyline wasn’t fantastic but it WAS visually stunning. Bought the album on iTunes earlier, going to listen to it on the way to work tomorrow and relive it 🙂

    Mike

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  3. Interesting. I’ve (tragically) only seen it once (my job’s not nearly as cool as yours, Mr. Whatley), but I’m definitely looking forward to my next viewing(s).

    1. I rather enjoyed Michael Sheen’s part. It was flamboyant in a way that the rest of the film wasn’t – seemingly placed for pure entertainment, as opposed to the rather somber mood of everything else. I have also only seen him in one other film – Frost/Nixon – so I don’t know if he’s normally like that or what, but I enjoyed it.

    2. I haven’t seen The Big Lebowski (I know – shock, gasp, etc), but the ‘dudeness’ bothered me, too – until I rewatched the original, and was reminded of how that was part of Flynn’s original persona – he is very much a ‘dude’ kinda guy.

    3. My biggest complaint, honestly, is that they wasted several opportunities for lightcycles. For one, they very clearly set the stage early on when the other player says to Sam Flynn ‘theirs are faster than ours’, and then when Sam enters Flynn’s……..white house……he sees the white lightcycle and is immediately told ‘it’s the fastest thing on the grid’ (or something like that). I was expecting some hard-core action after that, but he only drives it back to the grid, and then gives it to a homeless dude and we never see it again. What a complete waste.

    4. I *really* enjoyed the references to the original that were sprinkled throughout the movie. The ginormous door (complete with actor comment), the fact that Sam’s apartment said ‘DUMONT’, etc.

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  4. Oh, also, I *totally* agree about your thoughts on the 3D aspect. In fact, even while walking to the car from the theatre, I had trouble remembering which parts of the movie were 3D (whereas Avatar, I can tell you specific scenes that were 3D, such as him running through the garden or whatever when he first….joins his avatar). I like how you positioned it – not necessarily just throwing objects at us from the screen, or things leaping out at us (ala Back To The Future II (yeah, I did)), but rather to help immerse us in the world before us.

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  5. James,

    I heard the Avatar depression thing was just a PR gimmick, although quite a few people bought it by the sound of things.

    Tron Legacy was great. Typing kill -9 in a board meeting and then saying “It’s fixed” will have made most Unix techies laugh. But it happens!

    I was surprised by the change in Clu from the first film to the second, but you can just about see it working. Thought he change in Tron was harder to believe, though.

    Paul.

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  6. Nice words Ricky. I was expecting to be disappoint, but came out of the cinema extremely pleased with how it worked.

    I enjoy stories that think this deeply about the idea of what ‘life’ is, what and how intelligence, both logical and emotional, are developed. Totally fascinating…

    Of course, as someone with an interest in future technologies, any film that presents such rich worlds that are largely of manmade digital origin is of interest to me.

    Anyone watching films like Tron and Avatar should also consider that video games (for want of a better phrase) of the future, perhaps even just 15 years from now, will have the visual richness and clarity of these pre-rendered worlds. Imagine these worlds rendered at the back of your retina in immersive 3D, being controlled by natural gestures, body movements, speech and facial recognition…

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  7. I agree. Except for the part about 3D. 3D is a waste of time, a fad that will soon disappear again, as it has each time it has reared its ugly head. As for Avatar, well, we’ll have that debate another time. Don’t get me started.

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