I’ll admit it. When it comes to remakes and updates of classic films, usually I like the original better.
However, with Tron and Tron: Legacy I am torn. Each has it’s strengths and weaknesses.
Plot -The plot makes sense from beginning to end. In fact, the plot is simple. But that’s ok because it allows the audience to follow along with the technobabble. There are several plot lines existing together here: 1. Flynn wants evidence of Dilinger’s theft. 2. Alan Bradley wants to know why his TRON program and his security clearance have been shut down. 3. Once “inside” Flynn wants to escape. 4. TRON wants to set the programs free. 5. TRON wants to protect Yori.
Concept- And who would have thought of setting a movie primarily within a computer and with a world populated by programs? In my research I couldn’t find an earlier film which used such a plot device. There’s something to be said for being the first to explore a concept.
Special Effects- For the first film to use CGI in a major way, Tron is a landmark in achievement. The film mixed rotoscoping, computer graphics, and live action to create the unique “inside” the computer effect.
Critical Reception- Roger Ebert thought so highly of this film and was so disappointed that his peers hadn’t given it a fair appraisal he concluded his first Overlooked Film Festival with a showing of TRON.
Oscars- In the year it was released, the Motion Picture Academy refused to nominate Tron for a special-effects award because, according to director Steven Lisberger, “The Academy thought we cheated by using computers.” It did, however, garner nominations for best costumes and sound.
Plot- For some in 1983 who had never seen a computer, the entire concept was laughable. Science fiction isn’t for everyone.
Special Effects- Ok, they were great in 1983, but they don’t hold up well today. The computer the graphics were composed on had only 2MB of RAM and 330MB of hard drive storage. This severely limited the number, depth and quality of the graphics. Today the volume of elements used to create a single CGI alien or spaceship for a feature easily outstrip what was used in the entire 96 minutes of TRON. The processing power and hard drive space available today was simply unthinkable in 1982.
Special Effects- Whether in 3D or not, the visuals are stunning. I think this is closer to the world envisioned by Steven Linsberger(director) for the original in 1983, but it’s taken the technology a while to catch-up.
Action Sequences- From the “real life” base jump and motorcycle chase by young Flynn to the “inside” sequences on the game grid, the action in Legacy is fun and lively.
Dark Tone- This is one of the intriguing parts of the film which failed to pay off. The totalitarian issues aren’t explored to any real depth. The conflicts of free will versus order and logical/digital versus organic/natural could have been more interesting than the action oriented re-hashed plot that is delivered.
Acting– The actor depicting Castor/Zeus is practically “munching the set” as he gyrates and hops about. It’s odd and jarring. Sam is a whinny cuss and not a particularly engaging character. He’s an angsty rich brat who learns the error of his ways to become a hero. Sounds like Bruce Wayne becoming Batman, right?
Drunk programs- When our protagonist, Sam Flynn, finally reaches the digital city and abandons his dad’s sweet “light car” he gives it to a bum. Uh, what? Winos of the digital frontier?
Plot- The resolution of the conflict is often the most critical plot element in a film. Here somehow Kevin Flynn must destroy CLU. Ok, so far so good. CLU tries to stop the Flynns and Quorra from escaping the digital doman at the IO port. Ok, that makes sense. So how does Kevin destroy CLU? He “wills” CLU to him in some kind of gravitational pull sort-of way. This kind of power was not well established. See the conclusion of the Matrix to see how it’s done. There the Wachowski duo take time to establish what can be done inside the program, and how Neo can manipulate the physics. Where else does Kevin Flynn display such magical “user” power? Every other time he does such “editing” it takes time and concentration on something that looks like a visual and logical task. Yet here he just crouches, touches the bridge and then “calls” CLU to him. What?
Critical Response- I think Roger Ebert put it best stating that Tron: Legacy is a light show that “plays to the eyes and ears more than the mind.” It’s not a film for thinkers.
So what is the verdict?
Tron is a better overall package, but the creaky CGI pulls it down. It has a better and more cohesive plot as well as more consistent acting quality than the sequel. Tron also has a sense of whimsey and fun missing in the sequel. Kevin Flynn’s wry sense of humor is one of the strong features of his character and of the film. Legacy has far better action sequences, CGI execution, and a dark thoughtful tone (albeit one poorly executed and explored).
It’s too bad we couldn’t get the quality of Tron‘s plot, acting and concept in a package that glows that cool neon glow like Tron: Legacy.