Wednesday, January 5, 2011

“Tron: Legacy” – Pay no attention to the man behind the light cycle…but to the woman in front of it.

By the time you finish reading this review, you’ll probably be wondering if I’ve lost my mind. I can assure you, kind of, that I haven’t, maybe. Tron: Legacy fits into the category of movies that are very entertaining, convince you to buy the DVD, and don’t want you to look under the covers. This movie is very sexy on the outside, but is kind of a mess when you get to know it. After you read the following paragraphs, you’re going to think I disliked this movie, but the truth is that I enjoyed it quite a bit. So, if you believe in Santa Claus, that politicians and athletes are in it “for the love,” and that your old dog Sparky is relaxing on a farm in his old age, stop reading now because I’m about to rip off those covers.

On the surface, this film is everything a blockbuster movie is supposed to be. It’s got great special effects, good action sequences, a fantastic soundtrack by Daft Punk, and extremely attractive actors running around in skin-tight suits – namely Garrett Hedlund as Sam Flynn, Olivia Wilde as Quorra, and Beau Garrett as Gem. The filmmakers are throwing everything they’ve got at you to keep you from engaging your brain. Normally, this kind of thing would just piss me off, but the film is so aesthetically pleasing that I didn’t mind. Unfortunately, the filmmakers made two large mistakes (and several smaller ones), allowing my brain to break free from its trance – at least while Olivia Wilde was off screen.

The first mistake was that they cast Jeff Bridges twice. Yes, you read that correctly – twice. He reprises his role as Kevin Flynn (from the original Tron) and also plays the villain, Clu. Neither of these characters is very good, since Clu is a digitally created character made to look like a young Jeff Bridges and Kevin Flynn is basically “The Dude” from The Big Lebowski. Chalk these two things up to poor directing and a very bad casting decision. I can get over “The Dude,” but there was no good reason for the animated villain when they could have cast an actual human. Clu sticks out like a sore thumb since he is the only animated character and the animation actually gets worse as the movie progresses and he gets more screen time. The second mistake was the dialogue. Between the elder Flynn duding it up with phrases like “You’re killin’ my zen thing, man” and the younger Flynn screaming like a ten-year old video-gamer – “ONE DOWN, FIVE TO GO!!”(yes, all caps were needed) – my face started to hurt from grimacing so much. I’d like to tell you that the dialogue was an anomaly and the rest of the story was well-written, but it took six writers to make this film and that never ends well.

I recently read an article about Tron in Wired magazine that asked a great question: how many people can remember anything about the original film? (My answer is that I remember laser-light motorcycles and nothing else.) This is a very important question since Tron: Legacy is a sequel. Fortunately, a friend of mine let me borrow the original, which I watched a couple of days before seeing the sequel. The result of this was realizing that Tron: Legacy is more remake and less sequel. In both movies, the hero wants software to be free, gets sucked into the computer world and forced into playing games, has a Frisbee battle, has a light cycle battle, and escapes the games. Meanwhile, the villain wants to control the real world and kill the hero, culminating in a race to the exit, where they duke it out. Sure, the writers tweaked it a little with cool special effects and a circus-like, severely over-acted, pointless character named Zuse (Michael Sheen), but that’s about all they did. The only real difference was the addition of Quorra, the last remaining isometric algorithm, or ISO. The Dude vaguely explains ISOs as programs created by computers that could possibly cure cancer (seriously, his words). No more time is given to the ISO concept, so the only reason left for us to care about Quorra is that she looks so damned good in that outfit.

Unfortunately, this is the result you get when you spend a $169 million on visuals and $1 million on six writers (I bet I’m closer with those numbers than you think). It’s also the result of making a sequel to a film that was considered a flop and that most people can’t remember anyway. But, maybe, that’s why this film doesn’t fall flat on its face. I’m in the minority of people who remember the first movie – and only because I just watched it – so it’s not the worst thing that the writers were so lazy. Nobody would notice anyway, even the director (Joseph Kosinski). Kosinski is best known for computer graphics and video game trailers and was only eight years old when the original film was released. This film being his directorial debut, Kosinski’s background explains why the visuals and music were so good and the rest of the film was just meh.

Even after all of this (and many other little things wrong with this film), I still enjoyed the movie. Maybe it was because it was a non-stupid popcorn flick or maybe it was all the aesthetics, and, yes, Garrett and Wilde are swaying my opinion somewhat, but it could have been a lot worse. It’s one of those movies that I’ll put the covers back on and blissfully watch again. I just hope Sparky doesn’t think less of me.

Rating: Ask for two dollars back, one for each Bridges.

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