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.