Avid fans of the original Tron (like myself) have likely anticipated the release of Tron: Legacy since the day the first hints of a remake appeared in 2008. A lot of pressure was on the Legacy filmmakers to not only keep the original sense of wonderment and otherworldliness of the first movie, but also bring the technology and ideas from the first movie into the twenty-first century.
The short version of this review is: you should see this movie. It is a great homage to the original, and it has enough digital effects, and just enough plot (just like the first one—the plot was never a strong point!) to keep your eyes on the screen.
Homage to the Old
There are quite a few images from the past appearing in Tron: Legacy. Not only do Jeff Bridges and Bruce Boxleitner return in their roles as Kevin Flynn and Alan, but we see many snippets and asides from the old movie:
- The game grid, while much more shiny and glowing, is the same basic thing: a big arena in which different games are played by programs. In the new movie, thousands of other programs watch the carnage, Roman-style.
- 'Dumont Shipping & Receiving' appears at the top of the shipping container-made-apartment in which Sam Flynn (Kevin's son) resides. (Dumont was the guardian of the 'I/O Tower' in Tron).
- The matter-to-digital-and-back laser is back... though the massive equipment room that helps power the laser is gone. Flynn must've found some sort of amazing power source for the new laser, before 1989.
- Red = bad guys. Blue = good guys.
- A totalitarian program-dictator becomes too powerful (almost) for the user who created it to stop it (CLU).
- Tron is awesome, but nerdy. (The character... and also the movie).
The only regret I have is not seeing Bit (see picture on right) make at least a cameo. Bit was, of course, a bit player, but provided some great comic relief, and was probably one of the only truly brilliant computing paradigms-made-real that warmed my geeky heart.
Ringing in the New
But... this movie is in many ways nothing like the old 1982 version.
Video and audio production quality is top notch—in Tron, there were many scenes in which you could tell intercut voiceovers from the original audio, colors and textures would change from scene to scene, and the movie seemed almost B-grade in its camera work.
Flynn's – now in Digital 3D!
The movie was recorded in IMAX, and I watched it in 3D, which was, I'm happy to report, a great enhancement. Rather than completely overdoing the 3D effect, as is the case in most animated flicks these days, Tron stuck to 2D for many scenes, and only used a slight 3D effect to accentuate some of the digital world from time to time. I almost didn't realize 3D was being used... which is a very good thing.
Sound and Music
The sound was also amazing—bass was punchy, in both the foley and the music. Much better than the tinny sounds of the first Tron. Throwing out the metallic/digital footstep foley from the original Tron was a very good decision.
I could write quite a bit about the soundtrack, but I'll just say that I enjoy it a lot more now that I've seen the movie. Daft Punk did a great job blending the orchestral score with their electronic style, and the tracks Recognizer, Derezzed, Fall, and TRON Legacy (End Titles) were especially impactful.
I have owned the eclectic Wendy Carlos soundtrack from the original (in which she mixed in a ton of strange synthesized instruments with bits of a real orchestra) for some time, and I have listened to it all the way through many times. I like the new soundtrack better... though in 30 years, I might think the Legacy soundtrack is just as dated.
The glassy light trails coming off Legacy's light cycles and other vehicles are so much more amazing than the solid opaque walls that trailed the original Tron's cycles. Of course, having multi-million dollar supercomputers that are billions of times more powerful than the single rendering machine they used in '82 probably has a little to do with that. You won't be disappointed in the visual effects!
New light cycles == win (this, I think, was actually from the original VFX trailer)
I'm not a huge fan of the flying machines in this Tron, and I really wish we could've seen more development on the tanks, but there are only so many minutes in an hour, and dollars in this movie's budget :)
Character Development and Plot Lines
A few notes on the plot and characters (neither of which are nearly as important as the rest of this review—see above):
- Really, really wanted to see more of TRON. TRON is awesome.
- Just like in the first movie, where the actual plot mostly had to do with Kevin Flynn wanting his games back in his name, Legacy doesn't really have a catchy plot. Sam Flynn wants to see his Dad, Kevin, and vice-versa (there are other storylines here... but they're relatively pointless). This movie is not about the plot... and that's not a bad thing at all.
- References to 'cycles' ("I haven't seen that guy in a thousand cycles!" — c'mon, what?), 'deresolution,' etc. have as much foundation in real computer terminology as radishes... hopefully you're not hoping Tron: Legacy is Computing 101—or even 'Computers for Dummies.'
- The Encom/Dillinger/Bradey storyline could've been much better. Basically, Encom was a complete throwaway storyline, just held over from the first movie to make a weak statement about open source software.
ISOs and Philosophy
Movies (and Hollywood in general) should really try to avoid dealing with philosophy in their movies. Luckily, the main storyline had nothing to do with philosophy or religion. But you could tell there was a mix of zen/spiritualism/buddhism that was being played up in a small way through Kevin Flynn. It was quite wishy-washy, but by the end of the film, viewers are made to believe 'ISOs' (Isomorhphic Algorithms) are going to save our world by ridding it of disease, wars, etc., and that coming to terms with one's self makes someone feel inner peace or something.
Something about pure code, self-creation, blah blah... who knows what the writers were thinking; they probably just needed a female bit player, so they created a hackneyed back story for Quorra, and tried to write it into the rest of the film. Luckily they didn't succeed in the latter task.
Re-viewing the Movie
This movie was well worth a few extra bucks to see it in IMAX 3D. The sound experience alone is worth it. I definitely won't watch it on any weak sound systems, as the bass has to be felt to be heard.
There are also a lot of little references to the past that you can't fail to pass up if you're a retro-geek:
- SolarOS / sun4m /i386 (see image on right) is in use on Kevin Flynn's workstation (inside which his new digital world is built). There's actually a Solar_OS in the wild, and it looks like sun4m refers to a SPARC workstation built in 1989.
- You can hear many of the most popular arcade games from the 1980s in the film during the Flynn's Arcade scenes: Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, etc.
- "Greetings, programs!" spoken many times during the movie—a tribute to Kevin Flynn's line at the end of Tron, to Alan and Lora.
- A 128K Macintosh on Sam Flynn's desk (originally made in 1984... apparently his dad didn't buy him the latest Mac on the market in 1989—the SE/30 or the IIci (both of which I've owned ;-).
Unlike most movies, there was no point at which I wanted to pull the pretzels I snuck into the theater out of my pocket—in fact, I still have them sitting on my kitchen counter. I think this take on the 1982 original is well worth seeing a few more times, and though the plot is lacking, the visuals and sound are awesome.
I give this movie two thumbs up. If there were a way to make a great plot about nerdy computer stuff, then I could maybe give the movie my 'all time favorite' status (currently reserved to Star Wars (original trilogy), Lord of the Rings, and Jurassic Park). But it's impossible, so I can't.