Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Legacy of 'Tron'

OK, let's be honest here. Tron was never a great movie.

Visually stunning for its time, yes, but not much else. The story had something to do with a video game geek (Jeff Bridges) getting back the game programs that the evil corporate hot shot (David Warner) stole from him.  The game geek hangs out with the computer geek (Bruce Boxleitner) and the lab geek (the hot chick from Caddyshack). Lame dialog, trite storyline. The game geek gets zapped into a computer grid. Complications ensue.

If Disney had made Tron ten years earlier, Kurt Russell would've starred as Kevin Flynn and Cesar Romero would've been Master Control. But, this was 1982 and computer animation was about to change everything you knew about movies. What do you remember about the first time you saw Tron? It sure as heck wasn't the story. It was all about super-cool special effects and light cycle races. Am I right?

But, 28 years later, it's still with you. And come December, if you're of a certain age, you're taking your kids--maybe even your grandkids--to geek out once again on the private lives of computer chips. And the special effects might have improved just a wee bit this time around. I took in the 23-minute preview of Tron: Legacy at Thursday's nationwide "Tron Night" presentation.  As a first impression, it did not disappoint. The movie's darker, even brooding at times, with young Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund) pulled into the same computer world where his father Kevin (Bridges) apparently disappeared 20 years ago. When we discover Kevin this time, though, he seems less a prisoner of the game grid and more its sullen Zen master. For now, let's just call him the Dude in the Machine.
To get to his father, Sam must fight his way through a series of games, throwing deadly lighted discs and, oh yes, racing light cycles. He's assisted by the chirpy but mysterious Quorra (Olivia Wilde), a cross between Trinity from The Matrix and Abby from NCIS.
Even in the preview, there are story elements that don't quite make sense--like why was the phone service turned off at Flynn's Arcade 20 years ago, but not the power?--but the purpose of the whole movie is to get you on the grid, and once you're there it looks fantastic. There's a sense of realism in Tron: Legacy that simply wasn't possible in 1982. The grid looks like a real place, not a day-glow computer effect. Credit director Joseph Kosinski for using real light whenever possible, even embedded in the characters' costumes. It's makes the CG enhancements that much more realistic.
Allow me to gripe about 3D again, however. It's superfluous and doesn't improve the look of Tron: Legacy. I'll be catching the final release in 2D, thank you very much.
Tron: Legacy opens December 17. I'll be the one in line with all the rabid fanboys. We've waited 28 years for this. That's an awfully long time to wait for a sequel to a mediocre movie.
But, geez, that light cycle race was cool.

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