THE SCREENING ROOM
By Bill KallayThe story of "Tron: Legacy" is a story of redemption.
"Tron: Legacy" is now available on Blu-ray.
After the release of "Tron" in 1982, writer/director Steven Lisberger stepped away from the director's chair after "Hot Pursuit" (1987) and "Slipstream" (1989).
"There was no reason for me to direct live action movies if I didn’t have a passion and appeal for the material," says Lisberger. "I really sort of pulled back. I just worked on writing."
Like Jeff Bridges' character of Kevin Flynn in "Tron: Legacy," Lisberger seemed to disappear into another world away from the public eye. The film he wrote and directed was a landmark in cinema, having broken the barriers of computer simulation in visual effects and animation. The team he led of animators and artists created one of the most breathtaking and influential films of all time. Nearly every person who worked on the original film is proud of it. The film has gained cult status over the years. It is now considered a classic.
Lisberger wrote a sequel and pitched it to Disney for years. Computer simulation, now called CGI, grew into a multibillion dollar behemoth as a result of "Tron." Now it is possible to do nearly anything possible in visual effects and animation from a computer. He knew it was possible to create "The Electronic World" of "Tron" entirely in computer. Finally Disney saw the light and Lisberger was back in the game as a producer on the new film.
"Tron: Legacy" roars on to the screen with a lot potential, yet ultimately left me a bit perplexed. In some ways, the strengths and weaknesses of "Tron" fell into place in "Tron: Legacy." Both films start off promising, then are bogged down with slowly paced sections, only to rev up again toward the ending. I came away from the sequel with mixed emotions, as "Tron" has always been a favorite film of mine. But the original also left me with mixed emotions, only to grow on me over the years.
Kevin Flynn has been missing since 1989 and his son, Sam (Garrett Hedlund) is a rich kid bent on being a rebel. He has daddy issues and it is not until Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner) shows with an electronic page from Flynn. Sam goes back down to his dad's shuttered arcade and while messing around in the basement, he is beamed into the "Electronic World." This world is far more advanced and populated since Flynn was beamed in there in 1982. Sam then goes on a quest to find his father, only to run up against the evil and corrupt Clu (Jeff Bridges).
Jeff Bridges is at the top of his prime. Seeing him again as Flynn is a whole lot of fun. He is great as Clu, too. Bruce Boxleitner adds a quiet force to the film as Alan, and it's great to see him again, too. Too bad Cindy Morgan and Dan Shor were not brought back to reprise their roles.
Garrett Hedlund received flack for his role as Sam. I read or heard somewhere that he was as deep as Hayden Christensen was in the "Star Wars" prequels. That's pretty harsh. Hedlund does a good job in the role, but I did not feel that he was really the offspring of Flynn. Bridges created such an iconic character in Flynn, it would be tough for almost any actor to top his performance and mannerisms. I did not feel that I was watching Flynn's crazy, yet brilliant, son. In some ways, Sam might have been Alan's son because Alan was more straight-laced, and that is how Hedlund portrays him.
Olivia Wilde is a revelation in her role as Quorra. Not only is she stunning, but she's sweet and endearing. Like Ram (Dan Shor) in "Tron," you actually root for her character.
Michael Sheen also got some flack for his portrayal as nightclub owner, Castor/Zuse. His role was entertaining and like Wilde, adds some fun to the film.
The film's production design and visual effects are top-notch. This is a wildly impressive looking film. The odes to "2001: A Space Odyssey" (1968) and the original "Tron" are evident. The visual effects are mostly flawless. Seeing the Light Cycles careen through the "Electronic World" is a lot fun. The hard turns the Light Cycles made in the original film made those scenes more dangerous. The action sequences, though, are well done and exciting to watch. My only issue was the digital young Flynn/Clu. The technology used to scan Bridges' facial expressions into a computer is astonishing. However, I found that Clu looked a bit too unnatural in how his mouth moved. Yes, he is a computer character. But those same mouth movements and appearance show up on young Flynn in the film's opening.
Joseph Kosinski's direction is visually impressive. I did like the opening scene with young Flynn and Sam (Owen Best). The references to "The Black Hole" (1979) and "Tron" were sweet. The action sequences are handled well and Kosinski clearly has an eye for visual detail.
Lisberger was striving for a more serious and avant-garde film in "Tron." But Bridges infused the film with life in his role as Flynn. It turned out to be a good choice. In the new film, there is not that sense of playfulness. I guess I was hoping for more young Kevin Flynn than more mature Kevin Flynn. But it does seem reasonable that within the storyline of "Tron: Legacy," Flynn would have become more mature over the years. I did enjoy hearing Flynn's brilliant Zen line of dialog, though.
Flynn and Sam have a bond in the opening of the film that works well. But grown-up Sam's reaction to being beamed into the "Electronic World" is surprisingly low key. I think if I were beamed into my computer and that world was new, dangerous and breathtaking, I would be excited! I would be scared! I would try to find my father immediately, no matter what.
I felt that the film runs best during its action sequences, but slows down in the middle act. The opening of the film establishes Kevin Flynn, what he did, and his son perfectly well. As the film progresses, more backstory is introduced about Kevin Flynn and Clu. I am not sure if this was really necessary since we already know the characters in the beginning of the film. I wanted to see more action in this fantastic "Electronic World."
The Blu-ray picture is excellent. As a demo Blu-ray disc, "Tron: Legacy" is the one to beat this year. The picture quality is flawless and very detailed. I reviewed the 2-D version because I do not have a 3-D television and I do not care for 3-D. In 2-D, the Blu-ray is breathtaking. I did not see the IMAX 3-D (film) version of "Tron: Legacy." But this Blu-ray allegedly mimics, in some scenes, the IMAX theatrical presentation (the official IMAX aspect ratio is 1.44:1). The scenes go from 2.39:1 to 1.78:1 without any issues. I honestly did not notice the changes. Very smooth presentation.
The DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is excellent. Bridges' voice over in the opening takes over the room with force and conviction. Daft Punk's score pulsates and grabs you by the collar and does not let go. This film is loud and will rattle walls, bones, teeth and fillings. There is a lot of bass. This is a killer sound presentation.
Twenty-nine years is a long time between an original film and its sequel. "Tron: Legacy" is not without flaws, but when it gets up to speed, it is an entertaining film. In many ways, it is a tribute to the groundbreaking original film and artists who made it. Lisberger worked for a long time to bring "Tron" back to the screen. Redemption indeed.
Special thanks to Click Communications
Photos: © Disney. All rights reserved.
Lisberger quote: June 26, 2006 (interview conducted by Bill Kallay)