the legacy of tron

Is this the computer world or Darth Vader's Apple Store?

TRON: LEGACY is title of the sequel to 1982’s Tron, and in a way the title is apt, because the new film has so much in common with the original, being a flashy and visually striking film with a number of exciting action sequences that ultimately ends up being about nothing much at all.

Where Legacy succeeds is visually. The world inside the computer is stark, simple, and often stunning: if a tad too black. The 3D is used well, switching on only when we enter the digital realm, and generally avoiding the 3D film cliches: the dimensionality is played behind the screen, rarely poking out in front of it. The action scenes are generally well-done and exhilarating.

If the film were a story told in pictures this would be fine. If it were showing us stuff we’ve never seen before or so graphically interesting that story didn’t matter it would also succeed.  Heck if, it was really fun it’d be great. But it’s none of those things, and as such must rely on primarily on story and character.

But the problem with the story is that there isn’t much of one. Sam Flynn is sucked into the computer world and forced to play games by a sapient program named Clu, who was created by and is the spitting image and creation of Sam’s long-lost father, Kevin Flynn. A program named Quorra spirits Sam from the “Game Grid” and takes him to meet his real dad, who’s been trapped in the computer for decades. There’s a limited amount of time in which to escape, and the race is on to get to the “portal” that will let Sam and his father out. Of course, the baddie Clu wants information dear old dad has that will let him invade the real world. Sam must escape, dad must stop Clu, and Quorra is the love interest….so you know what her function is. That’s pretty much it.  Oh, there’s some mumbo jumbo about life forms generated spontaneously in the computer and about changing the world and about the corporation that Sam Flynn is ignoring even though he owns a majority holding, but as none of those amount to a hill of bits they’re not worth discussing.

The second problem is with the characters. Sam Flynn is just another generic bad-boy good guy. He’s daring, smart, sexy, the hero, with nothing much of interest to say and about as much charisma as a computer program.  His dad, Kevin (Jeff Bridges) seems like a high-tech version of “The Dude” (from The Big Lebowski), and speaks most in platitudes. Quorra a is just a wide-eyed neophyte who’s a badass fighter, albeit she has a few mildly endearing moments.  Clu is just evil with a capital EEEEEV.

Hoodies...of the digital world!

The poor story and underdeveloped characters result in the entire film being little more than a flashy 3D chase movie with about as much dimension as a computer screen (despite its being filmed in 3D).

Neophyte feature director Joseph Kosinski’s insistence on real sets and self-lit costumes seems queerly at odds with the film’s subject matter. If ever a film should revel in its artificiality, a Tron film should be it. Instead, by insisting on real/functional costumes and real sets where possible, the film’s design and look becomes shackled to practical concerns. The costumes look like clothing, complete with wrinkles. Skin looks like skin. Makeup looks like makeup. As such, the world ends up looking like a bunch of fancy nightclubs and Apple Stores populated by clubbers in form fitting vinyl with glowy appliques.  Even when there are visual effects generated backgrounds and settings the film frequently fails to stylize the environment. Mist and cloud look like just that. It does not compute.

Does this look like the digital realm to you?

As technically awkward as the original Tron looks in hindsight, its world generally looks more alien and unworldly than most of Legacy. The film escapes these limitations occasionally, as the Game Grid with its disk games set in floating glass boxes and lightcycle battles on a multi-leveled glass arena with curving ramps are wonderfully unreal. There’s some real excitement to these sequences, but they’re neither so dazzling nor numerous enough to carry the film.

Surprisingly, given the ubiquity of digital technology today, the film is incredibly naive or flat out ignorant about computers. For instance, Kevin Flynn says that Clu can only repurpose (brainwash) programs but not create them, which is completely at odds with the electronic world we all know where viruses make copies of themselves into new systems and where every copy is a perfect reproduction with no loss in quality.

And that’s what’s particularly sad about Legacy: not only is the story trite, but it’s really got nothing to do with computers and the digital realm that’s part and parcel of our modern age. We live in a world where our lives are increasingly spent interacting with computers and where even our friends and friendships are conducted in a large part digitally. Our relationship status, interests, medical information, and legal misbehavior are all in that computer world, and there’s plenty of opportunity to make a story about the conflict between the “real world” you and the digital ones. But Legacy doesn’t talk about any of that. South Park’s episode “You Have 0 Friends” (click to view) has a hundred times more to say about our relationship to computers than Tron: Legacy. It’s too bad the filmmakers chose the easy path of flash minus substance when they could just as easily have opted to have all that sound and fury signify something.

So, In the end, Tron: Legacy is just a roller-coaster ride through a cool looking world absent anything really to say about computers and how they effect the human condition. In that way, it’s just like the Tron, which is why “legacy” is the perfect summation of Trons past and present.



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