Monday, January 17, 2011

TRON: Legacy, reviewed by David vun Kannon

I saw the original TRON in 1982, motivated mostly by a desire to see computer graphics on the big screen. The story was secondary, and the plot device that actually transported the action from the real world to the virtual world was less believable than the twister from the Wizard of Oz. I didn't care, I still wanted to see computer graphics on the big screen. This was because I was a computer science grad with an interest in computer graphics.
I went to see TRON: Legacy motivated by pretty much the same thing.
TRON: Legacy chose to cast many of the same stars as the original TRON into reprises of their roles. Jeff Bridges is Kevin FLynn and Clu, a program that has taken over The Grid, the virtual world of TRON. Bruce Boxleitner is Allen Bradley, Flynn's friend, and the voice of Tron. Other characters are new. Michael Sheen is fun as flamboyant bar owner, Zuse. (The name is homage to Konrad Zuse, creator of one of the earliest electrical computers.)
Since I mentioned the Wizard of Oz, I should say that the plot of TRON: Legacy uses the same trope - how to get back home from an alternate world? But that plot is subsidiary to a series of set piece scenes the display the wonders of CG. I did not see the movie in 3D, though you can. Here, the movie is caught on the horns of a dilemma. It really really wants to go back and show light cycles and solar sailers, the state-of-the-art of 1982 computer graphics that fanboys demand. It also wants to show of its own cutting edge chops, so the clean room perfection of The Grid is rendered in 3D, blurred with smoke and the haze of digital memory.
This doesn't evoke the "sense of wonder" that the producers were aiming at. In the post-Avatar world, computer graphics has crossed over the 'uncanny valley' that caught Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (the first full CG feature film). The original TRON did not aspire to having its digital world be mistaken for the real. It couldn't, with that technology, so it didn't try. TRON: Legacy does try, and comes up short as a result. The homages are so close that the modern CG of smoke, explosions, and flame seems inappropriate. Only the work on Jeff Bridges, letting him play a much younger face as Clu, is so good you don't know how they did it.
TRON: Legacy ends happily, and set up for a sequel. Nobody important dies on-screen. That's too bad, since it is just another way life is sapped from the plot.
Bottom line - limited appeal to anyone outside its core audience.
PS - the trailers!
Cowboys and Aliens - this looks fun. Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford together, woot. From the trailer, it would seem that Craig is a bad guy, was abducted by aliens, escaped or was released, and now must join forces with Sherriff Ford who wants to hang him, in order to save a western town from flying saucers. Or something.
Green Lanten - nice visuals, but might suffer as do all superhero origin stories.
Born to be Wild - baby orangutans and baby elephants! OMG can you get any cuter! Based on the First Looks segment shown in the theater before the movie, the 'making of' feature on the DVD for this film will be awesomely funny.
Real Steel - giant robo fight movie. Very "Transformers" feel to the robots. I'm hoping for a Rock-em-Sock-em Robots tie in, becuase that is all this movie is.