TRON: Legacy Review
A quick word, as always with cinema reviews, about the circumstances that I viewed Tron : Legacy in. Tron : Legacy was viewed on my local IMAX screen, which is housed inside my local Odeon Cinema. It was, of course, viewed in 3D.
A further note – I do strongly advise a quick read of the plot of Tron before approaching this review or watching the film. There are plenty of sites that will give you a detailed summary and I suggest you read one. This review, and the film, will make much more sense once you have done so.
To you and most of the cinema enthusiasts of today, Jeff Bridges is eternally The Dude. But he isn’t that to me. That little part of me that still desperately clings on to my youth, the part of me that will be eternally twelve years old will always think of him as Flynn. To the 12 year old Andrew Mogford, he was a hero. He made computer games, those objects of pre-adolescent lust that stood in the corner of brightly coloured rooms and persuaded far too many 10p pieces from my pocket. But he was also COOL! I liked video games, therefore I was a nerd. But he had an attitude that gave out an incredible **** you to the world. He also had these moral values which I always aspired too. And that arcade he owned! That deceptively small room behind the tiny door, the large neon sign flashing above. The cool office above. It didn’t matter that Dillinger had shafted him. I always felt Flynn would get the upper hand one day. Flynn was Ice.
But you know what? It is all about expectation – and the flack that Tron : Evolution is receiving from critics is almost venomous. It has no soul they cry. It has no story! It is all dumb action and trippy visuals. The actor who plays Sam can’t act!
But I don’t care what they say because I was THERE. 1982. I saw the original and I watched it again just a few weeks ago in preparation for this. I may have adored Flynn with my 12 year old eyes, I may have dreamed of having the reflexes to compete on the grid, hurling those lethal discs at an opponent, speeding around on a light cycle. But my 40 year old self recognises Tron for what it was. It may have broken new ground in its use of computers, but it really didn’t have that much substance to it when all is said and done. It may have had cool characters and light cycles but I suspect that if I was 40 in 1982 then I probably would have looked at it with jaundiced eyes.
So yes – it is indeed all about expectation. I may have been excited when I heard Tron : Legacy was on the horizon, but I certainly didn’t geek out over it. I was expecting a weak film with some visually impressive scenes, and I hoped an older Flynn would remind this rather jaded reviewer who is having a bit of trouble with his age to look at the world for a moment with younger eyes. I was expecting wooden acting. I was expecting poor character development and a weak storyline. I was expecting to be pretty scathing with this review.
In some areas I got exactly what I was expecting. In others I absolutely didn’t.
A brief prologue gives us some back story. Flynn disappeared in 1989 – some saying he was dead, others that he had just run away. Sam, his son, was too young to take over Encom, so the company was taken in a direction far away from Flynn’s original ideals. In a nice little side swipe against Microsoft – a scene shows the Encom Board celebrating the release of OS 12, the latest version which differs from the last by having the number 12 on the box. It is also “the most secure OS” that has ever been released. But at the same time every year Sam Flynn causes disruption to the launch in one way or another year, and the same happens this year. As he arrives home after the launch, Sam is greeted by Alan Bradley his father’s old wingman. Alan has received a message on his pager from Kevin and urges Sam to go to his father’s old arcade. He does so, and ends up inside the grid where he soon realises that CLU is now running things and has a sinister aim. Kevin Flynn is still inside this world, trapped and living a quiet life on the outskirts of the grid. He has stopped fighting because the more he does so, the stronger CLU gets. However, CLU sent the page that brought Sam into the grid because he figures that Sam will try and rescue his father. CLU figures that father and son will try to escape back to the real world, and when they do he plans to steal Kevin’s disc which give him the knowledge and the ability to take his army into the real world and conquer it.
When reading it back, the plot does sound rather silly, it is true – but to me if in any film the plot is secondary it is this one. Let me explain. For some reason, I have absolutely no problem with humans entering the grid and interacting with programs. I am not sure why, but my suspension of disbelief doesn’t have a problem with that. What I do have a problem with is the idea that the programs can somehow cross to the real world and exist there. A bit like the mobile phone inside the dinosaur in Jurassic Park III this concept is taking things a little bit too far. And that is a great shame, because I don’t have a problem with the rest of the film at all. The concept of Flynn and his Dad trying to make it across the grid in order to escape back to reality itself is really not a problem to me. Perhaps if the makers kept the film a little more simple then it may have been more palatable to some. However, the concept of CLU trying to make it to the real world is only one that becomes clear in the last twenty minutes or so, so it is not a deal breaker to me – but is a tiny step too far.
I am not sure if others missed it or not (I am certainly not proclaiming myself to be the only one to spot this), but the rest of the story makes perfect sense to me. People are criticising Kevin Flynn for not being true to himself, and for being too passive but I see this as essential to the story. The way I see it, Kevin has been beaten by age. He is the only human being in the grid, and has had thirty years of the purest form of loneliness one can imagine. Isolation in extremis. In addition to this, he has got old. He is a man who is fed up with fighting, fed up with raging (literally) against the machine. He is a man who against the advice of the poets is going gently into that good night. It takes the arrival of his son to give him a sense of urgency and purpose – to make him start raging against the dying of the light. He has no motivation left for himself, but when it comes to saving his son – the old passions are brought to the surface. And why should anyone have any problem with this? This is not meant to be the Kevin Flynn from the original Tron and it would do the film a great disservice if he way. The filmmakers have to take account of the passage of time and what it has done to this man and they have done this. I don’t see Bridges as channelling the Dude. He is not laid back. He has been broken.
When you see the character like this, you see just what a great job Bridges does with the role. Gradually as the film progresses he allows more of the 1982 Kevin Flynn to break through the surface, but the emotional repression he shows at the beginning of the film is brilliantly portrayed. Bridges has long been one of my favourite actors, and he delivers his usual reliable performance here. The difference here, of course, is that he also plays CLU – who is Bridges as he was in the original film. Again, I have seen many criticisms of this effect and again I do not see where they are coming from. There are two moments in the film where the character looks fake. The first part is in Sam’s room at the beginning, when Kevin is sitting on his bed, and the second is right at the end (I wont mention the scene for fear of spoiling the story) when we get an extreme close-up on him. The rest of the time I found it easy to accept that a thirty years younger Bridges was really there – and that is a testament to the best use of the technology yet.
More criticism has come the way of Garrett Hedlund as Sam Flynn and again I have a problem working out why. He may not be Laurence Olivier but this is a mega blockbuster and I don’t go to see these films for great acting. He does a perfectly good job though – and I have no criticisms at all. Likewise for the other actors. Olivia Wilde is absolutely stunning in many ways (those eyes!) and Michael Sheen is fantastic as Caster – camping things up brilliantly.
I've seen no reviews criticise how the film looks, and quite rightly too! The visuals presented here are like nothing you have ever seen before – and it is absolutely stunning. Last year’s visual benchmark was Avatar and to my mind Tron : Legacy beats even that in the terms of the world that is imagined. The Grid is a fully recognised landscape and the imagination shown in creating it just takes the breath away. Everything from the original film is ramped up an extra notch. The light cycle battles, for example, now take place in a multi-layered environment with cycles streaking above and below each other. The whole thing looks absolutely stunning from start to finish, and the whole environment managed to feel real to me – even if it is all CGI. The characters all fit beautifully into the 3D environment and even the costume design is fantastic - bright streaks of light on limbs adding much needed colour into an intensionally drab world.
The sound is also a complete experience from start to finish. In fact, I have never seen a film in the cinema that uses sound in the way that this one does. I shall mention more in the specific section on sound – so I strongly recommend that you do refer to that section, as sound is a crucial part of this movie.
I did, of course, watch the 3D version and the effect was rather like Avatar in that the film gave a much better sense of depth than it did in terms of gimmicky things flying out of the screen at you. It adds a lot to the world of the grid having it in 3D – with parts of the landscape stretching out endlessly in front of you. This is one of the rare films where if you have the chance to see it in 3D then you should.
I also need to take a second to commend the IMAX version to you as well. Not everyone is lucky enough to have access to an IMAX cinema but if you do, then it is absolutely worth swallowing the cost of seeing this on that awesome screen. Tron : Legacy is about immersion and this effect can only be enhanced by seeing it on such a screen if you can.
So, at the end of the day what is Tron : Legacy? Well, it is a mega blockbuster that delivers on many levels. It looks and sounds absolutely fantastic, it delivers a far better story than you may imagine (apart from one key part that doesn’t make much sense), the acting is good, and it has a little bit to say about getting old and giving in to fate. It is all this, but it is also a lot more. It is just about the perfect sequel to the original. It shows the original respect, and follows on from the story in a perfect way.
In a world where an empty, derivative, soulless experience like Avatar can do so well – it would be travesty if Tron : Legacy didn’t receive decent recognition. Just don’t go in there with unrealistic expectations. If you go in with your eyes open as to what Tron : Legacy is aiming to deliver then I think you will enjoy it very much. I certainly cannot think of a more enjoyable two hours in a cinema this year that I have had.
And if you are still unconvinced then let me tell you this. The last time I saw the same film in a cinema twice was Star Trek. I will be back to see this again over Christmas. I can pay it no higher recommendation than that.
As already mentioned, I watched the 3D IMAX version of the film. As this film was shot specifically for 3D (unlike the shoddy upconverts we have been seeing recently) I was expecting a film on the scale of Avatar which is the benchmark so far for cinematic 3D. Surprisingly, though, this never reaches the scale of that benchmark.
Right at the beginning, a message comes up on screen informing the viewer that some scenes are shot in 2D, and some in 3D. It tells us it was meant to be this way, and we should keep the glasses on at all times. Of course, if you opt for the IMAX version your normal 3D specs wont work – giving the cinema a good chance to charge you a bit extra. However, the IMAX glasses are much better than the standard 3D ones, covering the whole eye and these should give you a much better experience.
Sadly, the film falls between two stalls. It is not interested in throwing things out of the screen at you (apart from one notable scene involving Caster which saw an involuntary ducking motion from me). It is more interested in providing the viewer with the true depth of the grid and it is a little inconsistent in achieving this goal. There are some scenes where you really do get an amazing sense of depth – feeling you could step into the screen and straight into the grid. At other times, however, you wish for a little bit more of this – some scenes seem strangely flat and uninvolving. As this is shot specifically for 3D, you never get that distracting effect where things seem somewhat “layered”. Instead the effect is always smooth from front to back.
However, this does suffer from the (seemingly unavoidable) problem where the polarisation of the glasses does dull the colours on screen. The flash colours on the side of the programs uniforms are bright and vivid, but the rest of the palette is rather dull and uninsipiring. This does work well for this particular film, as this is the way the Grid should look – but those who like a colourful palette are likely to be disappointed with this.
Oh my word! In forty years of cinema going, I have NEVER heard a film that sounds like Tron : Legacy. From beginning to end, this film is just a complete treat for the ears.
From the very start you get the impression that the sound designers intend to make full use of every speaker available to them. As the opening beats of the Daft Punk soundtrack begin, the ambient reverb bounces from left to right behind you – and you just know that you are in for something special! This is absolutely a bombastic sound mix, but it fits the film perfectly.
The first thing to note is that the mix is perfect. The soundtrack is never too loud and never too soft, perfectly balanced within the mix and the dialogue is beautifully steered and always clear and precise. The vastness of the front sound field is often emphasised, with characters exiting to the left or right off screen, and their footsteps echoing for a few seconds to the correct side of the screen.
I have already mentioned the surround use, and I will do so again for this is simply the best use I have heard. When the announcer is doing his thing in the games, the ambient echoes of his voice reverberate around the back of the sound field, and the sound of the audience’s cheers can be heard even further back.
And the LFE is just astounding. The first time you REALLY notice it is when Sam first enters the grid. A transporter hovers overhead, and the LFE was actually making my jeans flap around my boots, my insides turned to jelly, and my seat shook. I know this is an IMAX screen, but I have seriously never heard bass this deep and with no hint of distortion to be heard.
I also cannot leave the sound section without mentioning the score. I am conservative in my music listening and had thus never heard a Daft Punk song, although I was aware of them. In the few weeks before the film was released, I downloaded the soundtrack after hearing a sample in the iGizmo magazine for the iPad. I just love the music and it fits the film absolutely perfectly. I have two favourite soundtracks in my mind – Jerry Goldsmith’s Star Trek : The Motion Picture score, and Morricone’s Once Upon A Time In America. The greatest complement I can pay this score is that I suspect in time it will be as classic as these are, at least to me.
I am not sure why I loved Tron : Legacy so much, but I think it must be down to expectation. I wasn’t expecting it to be a classic anyway, and the early reviews really prepared me for an absolute turkey. But it really isn’t one in any shape or form. I have held off on publishing this review until Sunday, even though it was written on Friday night, after my first viewing. The reason for this was to see whether 48 hours would change my opinion on what I witnessed. It hasn’t.
To me, Tron : Legacy is twice the film Avatar was last year. It treats the originaly film with respect, but ups the ante in every way. It may be a feast for the eyes, but the story is just not the disaster the critics would have you believe. I have mentioned expectation several times during this review, and I think it is all about the attitude you go in to the screening with. This is a big Christmas blockbuster, nothing more and nothing less. Yet it also has much to say about the passage of time, and the effect that can have on a man. The script and plot is far deeper than one may imagine.
On top of this you have some of the most amazing visuals and sound that have yet been seen in the cinema. Certainly in IMAX this raised the bar for anything I have seen before. I can do nothing but recommend this highly, and the best complement I can pay this is by saying that I will be returning to see it again.