Movie Review 18: Tron Legacy

On Saturday, The GF, her college roommate, and I went to see Tron Legacy in 3D.  I went in with low expecatations, and I think the movie met them.

This is not a good movie.  It's fun.  It's pretty.  It's entertaining. It has great music  But it's not good.

The problems with this 2+ hour movie are mainly script issues.

The story is a sequel to the orignal Tron from 1982.

In Tron Legacy, Sam Flynn is a goaless, wealthy 27 year old, reluctant to grow up and run the corporattion his is a major shareholder in.  He's disapointed in his father, Kevin Flynn (the main character of the original Tron), who disappeared years ago. He stumbles onto his father's old work station and gets zapped into "the grid." Now he is a program.  But not just a program; he's also a user.  He embarks on quest to survive, find his father, and get back to the real world.

That's when things start to fall apart. Flynn gets captured pretty quickly. Other programs outfit Flynn with the uniform he'll wear in the grid and the assign him a disk.  Is it unusual to have a new program show up with not uniform, lights, and disk?  It would seem likely, but there is no indication of that. Perhaps the nature of the digitla environment is that there is nothing "unusual" to an operting system.  There are just standard procedures.

That's part of the problem.  The film doesn't treat other programs as applications with specific tasks.  It treats them like people, but never clarifies was makes these collections of code individual applications.  It waffles on the fundamental nature of the characters.

Flynn's new outfit glows blues instead of yellow or red so we know he's a good guy. But they don't every tell us why things are those colors.  Is this a program-based decision?  Do they other programs see each others' colors? Is this just a convention to help the audience keep track of the characters?

After getting his new outift and told he must protect and keep his disk, Flynn is immediately sent to an arena to battle other programs for no apparent reason.  At that point, he is supposed to remove his disk and fling it at other programs in an effort to destroy them.  What happens when he takes his disk off?  Nothing, apparently.

The movie goes on and more random things happens.  Characters accomplish tasks that should be hard but just seem to happen.  Flynn meets his father who may or may not have god-like powers. There are plenty of biblical references, Star Wars references, and even a couple Lebowski references.

There is a fundamental problem with the rules of the universe on the grid.  There doens't appear to be an overriding prinicple or physics of the grid. Characters do things that are impossible in our world, which is fine, but we are never really told what is possible or real in the grid.  How do characters alter their environment?  Are there things they can't do?  How can the rules change?  What is the nature of Flynns?  How are users different from programs?  How do programs interact?

I'm not suggesting we need 15 minutes of exposition to tells us all of this.  We can pick it up from the characters' interactions if we know the foundation.  The problem is I don't get the sense that there is an over-riding rule book used in the creation of the world.

The lines in the script are often trite. The dialog isn't strong enough to make up for the confusion and missing plot elements.  It feels like it's full of short cuts.

Part of this may simply be timing.  In the past 30 years, a lot has happened that the original Tron script did not need to deal with.   Tron's style and design was revolutionary in 1982.  It dealt with concepts of data, avatars, and the desire of information to be free in a way the movie-going public had never seen before.  It was rare to have a computer at home and even rarer the have a way to connect it to other computers.  At the conecptual level it was mind-bendingly awesome.  In the time since then, computer technology has become part of mainstream culture.  While much of the culture remains suspicious of new technology, it also lives with it every day.

Those of us in the technology industry live even closer with the digital culture.  While the first Tron showed us a world that could be, Tron Legacy shows us a world that we know does not exist.  Reality has gotten in the way of the Tron world creation.

In addition to the changes in the real world, our movie culture changed, too.  In 1982 we were still dealing with the new Sci-Fi blockbuster format.  Sure, we had the first two Star Wars movies, and Tron came out the same year as Star Trek II and Blade Runner, but we still hadn't seen the movies that come to show us more about the possibilites of digital effects and digital integration with our lives.  War Games, Hackers, and The Matrix still had not some out.  William Gibson had not yet published Neuromancer and Neil Stephenson had not yet published Snow Crash. Tron was leaving its footprints in a field covered with fresh snow.

Tron Legacy tries to do the same thing, but the digital pop culture landscape is by now well trod.  Tron Legacy has to do more to tell us about how its digital landscape is different than the ones we have already seen and lived in.  In short, the bar is higher in 2011 than is would have been in 1984.

That said, this is an undeniably beautiful film  The production design is fantastic.  The updates to the original Tron look-and-feel are well done.  I really like the aesthetic of the simple neon lines on black.  The look if rife with possibilities and still looks futuristic, rather than dated.

The 3D effect is nice; the film is only 3D in the digital world.  Even then it's not necessary.  There aren't many 3D effects that are striking and you can easily enjoy the view in 2D.

Part of the buzz for the film was on the score, by Daft Punk.  The GF was initially sceptical, since the soundtrack does not sound like the traditional stuff Daft Punk does.  In the movie though, it's excellent.  The movie and sound is very well done.

The bottom line is that if you want a fun, entertaining, somewhat forgettable film, check out Tron Legacy.  It's good popcorn fare.  If you're looking for a picture that says something interesting or that has a good story, that's not Tron Legacy.

But it sure is pretty.


Sharkbytes said...

I agree pretty much completely with your assessment. I laughed out loud when they threw in 2001: Space Odyssey - The more scenes from other movies, the more it became like a spoof, and it just didn't make technological sense or fantasy. And... there was about one hour of story in a 2.5 hour movie

Jennifer said...

I've seen it too. Nice one!

Jennifer said...

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Cromely said...

@Sharkbytes: I missed the 2001 reference. I guess it's been too many years since I've seen that film. I'm not surprised they included it however.

@Jennifer: Thanks!