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By Elias Savada | December 17, 2010

As Disney’s new 3-D film “Tron: Legacy” begins, the trademark Disney castle morphs into a menacing steel-blue lit structure set against a darkened, foreboding sky, reflecting atop the crossroads of the digital grid where the audience will be taken for most of this extension of the original “Tron.” While this will tickle the already excited nerve endings of those fan boys who have been anxiously awaiting this high-octane, high-styled, high-decibled, and high-priced ($160 million+)  journey of first-time director Joseph Kosinski, what actually unreels over the next two hours is a soulless, albeit stunning, journey into an overhyped video game. The money is up there on the screen, but apparently the creators couldn’t afford the film’s soul. Did George Lucas write this thing?

For those of us who remember back a quarter-century, the ground-breaking Disney special effects effort barely blipped at the box office, even if the new art of computer generated effects made it an interesting hiccup in the summer of 1982. Cult status ensued courtesy of the home video generation. Jeff Bridges and Bruce Boxleitner starred, and both return to the current effort in the same roles, although Bridges plays two characters this time. His original self, Kevin Flynn, a brilliant game programmer who invented The Grid (don’t ask if you don’t know) and is taken prisoner by it, and Clu, a younger, twenty-something purely electronic version that is created within the digital realm. Clu’s the evil one, the result of corrupted coding. (Microsoft, better get your act together!) And while “he” talks like Bridges and walks like Bridges, his waxy appearance lacks any emotional facial tics that approach the real, older Flynn character. The few laughs, probably not intentionally, in this mirthless “Blade Runner” wannabe (even the music sounds lifted from the Ridley Scott classic) are at the expense of Flynn’s character when he says to his son “Sam, you’re messing with my zen thing,” and you feel, maybe, Bridges will rift into his character from “The Big Lebowski” but, alas, The Dude is nowhere to be found.

As the story begins, Kevin and his youngster (Owen Best) are in the boy’s 1989 bedroom—that’s an ancient Macintosh computer on the desk—where Kevin is chatting up a pending miracle involving Tron’s world and the human one. But the smiling storyteller and ENCOM C.E.O. heads out the door and disappears. Twenty years pass, hunky computer geek Sam (now played by Garrett “Friday Night Lights” Hedlund) is the freewheeling, Ducati-riding, majority stockholder of the very profitable ENCOM, a company he disdains for its greedy nature. After his annual prank against its board of directors pisses off the snooty executives, all except Kevin’s old friend and shelved exec Alan Bradley a.k.a. Tron (Bruce Boxleitner), want the kid out of their hair. When Sam gets a message on a 20-year-old pager, he wanders down to his dad’s old amusement hall, plays a little Journey and Eurythmics on the jukebox and coincidentally (but not because of) lands in The Grid. It’s a pure game world filled with “programs” of varying menace and sensuality, ranging from the bald-headed Jarvis (James Frain), Clu’s main henchman, the the wet dream Gem, a siren played by Beau Garrett. For people unfamiliar with the story, the easiest way to figure out the good guys from the bad is the costume colors. Clu’s minions are decked in black suits lighted with oranges and reds, although Clu himself has a regal yellow glow. The Grid-dwellers have cool whites, blues, and silver. Kevin’s white robes are hand-me-downs from the Jedi Knight collection.

Anyway, it seems the Grid exists for people to battle each other with glowing discs, rushing around on weirdly illuminated structures, and racing NASCAR-style lightcycles around the glowing ribbons that form the metropolis’ infrastructure. Sam, the transistor-out-of-the-water, is a quick study of the ‘game,’ which catches the attention of Clu, who he believes is his father. That bubble bursts very quickly.

Sam, reunited with his dad, naturally just wants to get him back into the real world, a challenge because of the closing portal (a blue star) that is up in the heavens. The interminable journey allows Sam to bond with the drool-worthy Quorra (Olivia “House” Wilde), whose isomorphic hotness, surprisingly, does not melt the Grid’s circuit boards. She’s been Kevin’s lone confidante for two decades, and is quite the spunky warrior.

Bridges seems to bear up best under the intense visual style of the film, while everyone else seems to be outfitted in costumes so over-the-top as to be near laughable. Michael Sheen, one of Britain’s most accomplished actors (“Frost/Nixon,” “The Damned United”), but also known to “Twilight” and “Underworld” fans, here plays a pale-skinned, yellow-eyed, platinum blonde wigged dandy who runs a club of debauchery. He’s a comic figure that only emphasizes the film’s overwrought production design at the cost of character development and story.

Like the effects, everything seems to be put up on screen for you to ooh and aah at with a grand sense of wonder. Yeah, ok, but if the narrative is lacking and confusing and all the main characters take themselves way too seriously with more than a tad of gravitas (hubris here, hubris there, hubris everywhere!), you’re forced to settle for a less than stellar picture.

Like the original, I think this will be a kitsch entry this holiday season. It’ll be embraced by the video/digital game generation and probably make a ton of moolah as Disney mulls dusting off its 1979 turkey “The Black Hole.” For all its visual snap, there’s no crackle to the story or pop to the characters.

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  1. eyeresist says:

    P.S. Don, I’m not sure how you found the very simple plot “baffling”. Possibly sleep deprivation was the culprit!

    P.P.S. I’m surprised no-one has mentioned the obvious 2001 Space Odyssey reference in the design of Flynn’s virtual Hollywood Hills abode.

  2. eyeresist says:

    I have to confess that, now I’ve actually seen this movie, I would probably give it a solid 3.5 stars. I like the unusual, defiantly linear story structure, and the characters being little more than Jungian archetypes. As with the original, the notion of being captive in a vast virtual world caught and held my interest.

    The story isn’t really defensible from a feminist perspective, its two female characters (more like one and a bit) being merely constructs and tools of the male characters.
    Even more so than in the original, Tron himself is a peripheral, nothing character, his appearances reduced to other characters saying “Hey, that guy in middle distance wearing a motorcycle helmet is Tron.”
    Flynn’s relationship with his son was not as strong as it should have been; the big emotional moment in the film is actually Flynn confronted by Clu, his virtual self: “I did everything you asked!” (Though the last shot with Cora is also very effective.)
    Finally, I have to say I think the musical score is the biggest letdown. It works in some scenes where no specific emotion is required, but elsewhere it is banal and distracting, undermining rather than supporting the emotions of the story, and it makes the nightclub scene seem to last forever. A better score would be worth at least another half-star.

  3. Don R. Lewis says:

    I saw this today on probably one of the best movie screens around (George Lucas’ guinea pig theater in Nor Cal) and I fell asleep. It had zero pacing and I was baffled as to WTF was going on and just ended up tuning out and dozing off.

    I agree with eyeresist completely and before I nodded off, I wondered why video director Chris Cunningham who did a Bjork music vid that Tron:Legacy totally ripped off as well as some other very cool, avant-garde stuff that would have made this film better all around. Or even Michel Gondry.

    There was some cool stuff visually and idea-wise but overall, what a mess.

  4. eyeresist says:

    Why do they keep giving big budget FX-heavy films to first-time directors? I don’t get it.

  5. Peter John Ross aka Sonnyboo says:

    Eh, the movie was okay. It’s basically a remake with far too many parallel scenes from the original making this somewhat dull for me. Jeff Bridges had some interesting choices where he wavered back and forth between Zen and The Dude (less Flynn). I hated the 3D. Either my glasses fogged up or it just wasn’t that spectacular to look at in 3D.

    I think if this guy does do THE BACK HOLE, at least that had some great characters in it and I would love to see that updated.

  6. SCOUNRNOY says:

    I agree with the reviewer – the original Tron was better at drawing you into the tron-iverse and you were more aligned with Jeff Bridge’s Flynn. Not because he was “cool”, but because he was more human and aspirational than any other character in the film – headstrong, humorous and able to see a solution to anything thrown at him. My main problem was Sam and his undeveloped/unresolved relationship with his dad. He didn’t seem to keep the traits that made the original Flynn so admired and likable. I can understand wanting him to be his own person, but he just seems as empty as the avatars in the tron universe. I think the style overtook the film, though some sequences benefited (I could watch the lightcycle battle over and over and would love to see more of the tron-world), but the thuddingly-monotonous Daft Punk soundtrack (HUGE disappointment) and the constant technical one-upmanship of the film just kept everything plodding along at a pointlessly chaotic pace. Jeff Bridges and Bruce B (TRON) were good, but seemed they wanted to do more, and Olivia Wilde was the best aspect of the film – any other actress would be overwhelmed by the film, but her scenes with Sam were great and she was a convincing warrior and naive explorer. AND she looked great in any scene. Though, I don’t know how Quorra could live or exist in our world…

    I did go in expecting more considering the people involved, but I think they bowed to the Disney bean-counters and test screenings and neutered the film. Hope they make a director’s cut on Blu-Ray release.

  7. Elias Savada says:

    I guess you know a lot of critics?

  8. Barney Hall says:

    You’re on crack. Just like most critics. The movie was pure escapist fun.

  9. Napoleon Dynamite Van Guy says:

    Are you sure you saw the same movie I did? Deep religious allegorical context, philosophical waxing, and… you were looking for characters to crackle or pop (whatever that means — your words not mine). Maybe you were hungry for cereal when you wrote this. Speechless.

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