TRON is a very iconic film of the 80s where, for the first time, audiences saw the potential that extensive use of CGI held. It involved a programmer Flynn (Jeff Bridges) who takes on a Master Control Programme, which has plans for world domination, and is digitised and transferred from the real world to the digital world (known as the Grid). There he meets some other programmes, including TRON, a programme which was specifically created to control the MCP and launches a massive attack against it. Shot in a videogame format (the kind we played in arcades as kids), visually, nothing like this film has ever been seen before, or after. Its greatest strength was to employ action movie conventions very creatively in the digital world, thereby offering a unique experience. Although as a story, it was riddled with more than a few holes, it was easy to forgive such misgivings and enjoy the experience. Today, it may look a little tacky. But, in the context of its times, despite its meagre returns, it was nothing short of revolutionary. Over time, it has gathered a considerable following not only for its stylistic visuals but also its prescient content. The term “ahead of its time” has rarely found a more appropriate example.
Now, 28 years later, Disney decided to provide a sequel to the film. As such, sequels are usually judged in comparison to the original. But here, it would be almost pointless to do so as many of the target audience of TRON: Legacy will not have seen the original (which doesn’t enjoy the mainstream popularity of, say, the Star Wars series). Hence, the lengthy background to the original film by way of an introduction. Through its trailers, the one thing that TRON: Legacy promises, both to the fans of the first and new entrants, are eye popping visuals. In the last 3 decades, CGI has undergone a sea change from new to generic technology. Today, the emphasis is not so much on the quality of the effects per se as much as it is on the imagination gone into creating them. Therefore, TRON: Legacy has a new challenge before it: can it offer something new and groundbreaking like its predecessor after all that has followed?
The premise: Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) disappeared 20 years ago. Some think he is dead; others think he has run away from his responsibilities towards his company, Encom, and its shareholders. Left behind is his son Sam (Garrett Hedlund) who believes in his father’s causes (namely free access to technology) while Encom’s new management believes in making them pay as high a price as possible despite the efforts of Kevin’s best friend Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner). A mysterious message from his father’s old videogame arcade leads Sam to discover his father’s old office. He soon finds himself also in the Grid, reunited with his father with a new ally, Quorra (Olivia Wilde) and a new villain, Clu (also, Jeff Bridges), a programme created by Kevin in his own image who has gone rogue and taken over the Grid.
T:L cost a sizable fortune to make (a cool $200 mil) and it shows. The special effects are spectacular and beautifully build on the world created by the original film. This is one of the few movies that is, at least visually, worth watching in 3D. The set design, the programmes, the games etc. are brilliantly realised, even if they are a little short in terms of ideas. There is nothing new here per se from Tron, at least nothing good. The new bits look like they were rejected designs for Lady Gaga videos. However, they do take the ideas from the original and use modern technology to provide some truly mind blowing visuals. The soundtrack by Daft Punk is especially good maintaining a cool, yet menacing tone throughout the film and making good use of electronic pop to provide that metallic, steely, atmosphere to the proceedings, much like the Grid itself.
Unfortunately for T:L though, it falls apart in terms of story in the second hour. The premise, that starts out promisingly is destroyed under the weight of some bad ideas, terrible clichés, cringe-inducing dialogues and bad acting. It is just painful to watch the film especially in the penultimate reels because the potential here was immense. They could have taken a film that was visually iconic, but weak in content and improved it to make it something extraordinary. But instead of going anywhere near there, it creates plot holes so many and so large that it has to be seen to be believed. It falls into the trap of providing conventional action set pieces and the story itself suffers on account of that. Actually, “suffers” doesn’t even begin to describe it. The film looses any sense of coherence or originality. The character of TRON himself is just butchered. The plot makes no sense whatsoever. Every idea there has been done better in some other film. The direction is aimless and the emphasis is more on the look of a scene than its content. The dialogues are so laughably bad that the script writer(s) deserves to be shot. On the emotional front, neither the relationship between Sam and Kevin, nor that between Sam and Quorra has been properly developed. Their relationships look more lifeless and metallic than the Grid itself.
In terms of acting, Garrett Hedlund desperately needs some acting lessons. His only expressions here are stone face and constipated. The film rests to a large extent on his shoulders, and he disappoints. Olivia Wilde has to deal with a very badly written character. Jeff Bridges is excellent, both as Kevin Flynn and as Clu. The use of CGI to create a younger version of him was, I think, inspired and he essays both parts effortlessly. Michael Sheen is brilliant in a small role as a Chaplin-esque over the top, loud Zuse, an act which borders on caricature.
Ultimately, T:L is a beautiful body without a soul. It has a good first hour and an abominable second hour. It is a wasted opportunity considering the potential the premise held. It plays like a bad videogame and is just not worth the price of admission.