By Don Simpson | December 16, 2010
Director: Joseph Kosinski
Writer(s): Edward Kitsis (screenplay & story), Adam Horowitz (screenplay & story), Brian Klugman (story), Lee Sternthal (story), Steven Lisberger (characters), Bonnie MacBird (characters)
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Garrett Hedlund, Olivia Wilde, Bruce Boxleitner, James Frain, Beau Garrett, Michael Sheen
I remember the summer of 1982 quite fondly. That was a very good summer for cinema, well at least for a 9-year old boy. Because my parents rarely ventured to the cinema — that was an event saved for New Years Eve and Summer vacation — I can easily list the eleven films that I watched in movie theaters prior to that summer: Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, The Elephant Man, The Black Hole, Raiders of the Lost Arc, Chariots of Fire, Popeye, Superman, Superman II, Moonraker, and The Muppet Movie. I saw every one of those films with my parents (or at least my mother). The summer of 1982 marked when I started going to the cinema with friends (though usually with a parental chaperon) — which was a different viewing experience altogether! As I remember it, I was in the local movie theater every week that summer; though that is probably an exaggeration, I do remember seeing five films in particular: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Blade Runner, The Secret of NIMH, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial and Tron. To be perfectly honest, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Blade Runner were too mature for my 9-year old mind (The Secret of NIMH and E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial were more my speed); it was a few years before I began to appreciate either film. Tron was somewhat borderline for me. I definitely did not “get” it, but as a product of the Atari 2600 age (yes, I owned Pong too), I was enamored by the concept of physically entering the world of a video game. I definitely “got” that. And I thought it looked neat. Or was it cool? Or maybe it was awesome? Well, Tron was whatever I was saying as a 9-year old boy to my grade school friends to express my excitement and acceptance…
Nonetheless, I liked Tron, but I did not love Tron, well at least not until I was a few years older…let’s say 11 or 12-years old. By then, cable television and VHS (and Betamax) tapes were accepted fixtures of the American lexicon — and I was able to watch movies such as Tron over and over and over and over again. More importantly, I had upgraded from an Atari 2600 to a Commodore 64 — which was more than just a gaming console, it was an 8-bit home computer! I wholeheartedly believe that learning how to program in BASIC 2.0 on my Commodore 64 increased my appreciation and understanding of Tron tenfold. (Looking back, Tron seems so incredibly basic — mind the pun — yet at the time it seemed as philosophically complex as 2001: A Space Odyssey.)
Film critics are often criticized for having preexisting prejudices, so I want to make it clear that my 9-year old and 12-year old selves were fully present during the screening of Tron: Legacy. If you have never seen Tron, or if you do not like Tron, then you are obviously going to approach Tron: Legacy from a different perspective. I do not think it is necessary to know and understand Tron in order to enjoy Tron: Legacy — especially if you are a 12-year old, in which case Tron (which was made on a computer with 2 MB of memory and 330 MB of storage) probably would not look much different to you than Chaplin’s Modern Times. I strongly believe there is a generational cut-off for enjoying Tron — I do not see how the youth of today could have the patience for its special effects, narrative pacing or dialogue. Of course there are probably some 12-year-olds who are exceptions to that rule…
So, basically, most 12-year-old’s should skip Tron and proceed directly to Tron: Legacy; and, do not worry, an early scene is chock full of expository dialogue between Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges’ circa-1982 face superimposed on a stand-in’s body) and his 7-year-old son Sam (Owen Best) which explains the gist of Tron for the virgins in the audience. That scene also marks the last time Sam sees his father… Well, that is until a much older Sam (Garrett Hedlund) finds his way into the fantastically fluorescent world of Tron (a.k.a. “on the grid”).
Kevin has been stranded in the world of Tron for a couple decades. As the creator of this world, Kevin is for all intents and purposes their god — a god who is equal parts Obi-Wan Kenobi and the Dude. There is another version of Kevin in Tron — Clu (Bridges’ circa-1982 face superimposed on a stand-in’s body) — who is for all intents and purposes the evil tyrannical dictator obsessed with perfection (a blatant reference to Triumph of the Will reinforces the Hitler analogy). Tron: Legacy is a classic saga of good versus evil, nothing more and nothing less.
At some point, the godly Kevin’s original program began spontaneously producing humanoid “isomorphic algorithms.” Clu eventually exterminated all of the ISOs from the cyber-world, save one, the fetishly vinyl-clothed Quorra (Olivia Wilde). Quorra is Kevin’s only friend, comrade and student (there is even an analogy to her being Kevin’s pet) — you might even say she is like a daughter to Kevin. (It is therefore natural — in homage to Leigha and Luke of Star Wars — that there would be an overtly apparent but never consummated attraction between Quorra and Sam.) If you happen to have a certain fetish for women in vinyl catsuits, Quorra is not the only object of desire to tickle your fancy. There is also Gem (Beau Garrett), a femme fatale who helps lead Sam to Zuse (Michael Sheen), a cyber-androgynous Aladdin Sane (who morphs into an absurd Chaplin reference) who can presumably assist Sam across the Sea of Simulation and back to the real world. It is also worth noting that Zuse owns a nightclub where the clandestinely masked duo known as Daft Punk — the composers of the Tron: Legacy soundtrack — deejay.
Joseph Kosinski’s (who is currently “re-imagining” The Black Hole) Tron: Legacy is surprisingly true to the look and feel of Tron (he even finds a clever excuse to sneak a few early 1980s hits — “Separate Ways” by Journey and “Sweet Dreams [Are Made of This]” by The Eurythmics — onto the soundtrack) albeit with more crisply rendered graphics and special effects. As seems to be the trend in modern 3-D, Kosinski (who is also an adjunct assistant professor of architecture) utilizes the technology merely to add depth to the scenes; he only takes a couple of opportunities to catapult objects towards the audience.
Visually, Tron: Legacy is pretty darn amazing — well, at least to a longtime fan of Tron such as myself. (Oddly enough, Tron: Legacy is exactly how I imagine Tron in my mind, though I know that Tron does not look nearly as crisp and flawless.) Kosinski’s midnight black, deep blue, and electric orange world of Tron is near perfect as far as I am concerned. My only criticism is regarding the superimposing of Bridges’ circa-1982 face on the stand-in’s body. OK, given that Clu is a digital “program” — and a copy at that — superimposing Bridges’ much younger face makes some sense within the framework of the film (though since he is the only character in the world of Tron whose face is not “real”, it still seems odd to me), but Kosinski uses the same effect during the 1980s flashbacks in the real world. So when the younger Kevin is talking with his 7-year-old son Sam, Kevin looks more like an animated character from Avatar than a real human (Bridges’ voice also sounds too old and grizzled for such a young character).
Tron: Legacy is fairly one-dimensional when it comes to plot and dialogue. Other than some classic pop philosophical dialogue from Bridges — the writers reveal a true fluency in Bridges-speak (“You’re messing with my Zen thing, man”) — most lines fall completely flat. Sheen is the only other actor who is given a chance to have any fun with the words he is uttering. I cannot decide if Hedlund was given crappy dialogue or if he is a crappy actor (or both); nonetheless, he came very close to single-handedly ruining Tron: Legacy for me. Also, the narrative borrows so heavily from other films (namely Star Wars and The Empire Strike Back) that it loses its own personality. And, when it comes down to it, the plot is way too black and white for my liking. Yes, these are all faults that can be found in Tron as well — and, as with Tron, I was able to temporarily overlook most of the flaws in Tron: Legacy by chilling-out and enjoying the totally visual trip.
There are probably a few different readings of Tron: Legacy, but when it comes down to it Kevin is a godlike figure who has lost complete control of his creation. In fact, his creation has turned against and exiled him. The godless society now worships an evil tyrant whose goal is to build an army of perfect beings. The god’s son tries to help save the world, but the only real way to defeat this godless society is to destroy the world of Tron. (Tron: Legacy was produced by Walt Disney Pictures, so if you notice any parallels to the Christian Bible you are probably not too far off.)