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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, December 17, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 51
Visually stunning TRON a boring retread
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Visually stunning TRON a boring retread

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN Contributing Writer

TRON: Legacy
Opening December 17


Sam Flynn's (Garrett Hedlund) father Kevin (Jeff Bridges), the visionary CEO of electronics giant ENCOM, disappeared right on the cusp of what he felt was a landmark achievement: a melding of the digital and physical worlds that would change everything.

Two decades later, trusted friend and colleague Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner) receives a page from his boss' old office at the man's rundown and long-closed video game parlor. He relays this information to Sam, and both of them quietly wonder what the heck is going on and whether or not Kevin is trying to let them know he's still amongst the living.

What happens next won't be too much of a surprise to anyone with an even passing knowledge of 1982's TRON. Sam ends up inside a digital world, forced to play games by an iron-fisted dictator, knowing that losing means immediate destruction - even though he's a flesh and blood 'User' and the normal, run-of-the-mill 'Program.' But whereas the original was a relatively straightforward journey of a stranger in a strange land becoming the type of hero he never thought he could be, the long in coming sequel TRON: Legacy is nothing more than a saga of a father and son reconnecting after decades apart, and all the whiz-bang visuals are just a neon illusion trying its best to hide a cliché and slightly sappy familial melodrama.

All of which would be perfectly fine if said whiz-bang served a greater purpose. But at a certain point no amount of blue, red, orange, yellow, and white color motifs can hide a tired narrative that continually drifts off into sentimentality so ripe you can smell it three screening rooms away. The last hour of this 127-minute monster is unfocused and constantly careens wildly out of control. It's like the team of script and storywriters hadn't the first clue as to where it was they wanted to go, only knowing they were crafting a direct sequel to the original even though the most people tend to recollect about it are the ahead-of-their-time visuals and plot points that were more prescient then that film's director and co-writer Steven Lisberger ever could have known.

But the biggest problem here is that TRON: Legacy, for all its technical wizardry and showoff 3D visuals, is very, very boring. Its second hour is a turgid, dialogue-heavy slog through family regrets and woes that had me slapping my forehead in frustration. Just when things should be building to something spectacular and mind-blowing, the film goes in the opposite direction, and while I laud the attempt to put character first and action second, when the people in question are this nondescript and one-dimensional, I'm not sure that's such a great idea.

Not that Disney's money isn't up there on the screen for audiences to see and revel in. I will admit that (especially as a TRON fan; I was 5 when I first saw it and it's held a place in my heart ever since) I was more than willing to give this sequel the benefit of the doubt. Starting with Sam's initial foray onto The Grid, going through his first epic disc battle and culminating with a stunning race on the multi-tier Light Cycle track, director Joseph Kosinski and company had me ready and willing to fall under their spell. Heck, I was with this one for quite some time after that, enjoying the young hero's first meeting with the mysterious Quorra (Olivia Wilde) while outright loving his initial reunion with his father Kevin, who was trapped in a digital world of his own creation.

Best of all is the introduction of a character called Zuse, a seemingly all-powerful program played to flamboyant excess by the great Michael Sheen. He's like David Bowie, Dr. Frank-N-Furter, and Freddie Mercury all rolled into one ghostly white package. He prances. He dances. He hoots and he hollers. He chortles his way this way and that, owning the screen with a giddy flamboyance that's both stunning and lively, setting the stage for the movie's most explosive action sequence and allowing Sam, Quorra, and all the rest to strut their stuff mano y mano in a way that's as thrilling as it is captivating.

From that point on, however, the film has to go back to fleshing out more of its sluggish narrative and suddenly everything flatlines. Little makes sense - what's more, I'm not entirely sure if the filmmakers themselves cared if I did. Everyone talk, talk, talk, talking themselves to pieces to the point of tedium isn't so much an option as it is a migraine-fueled requirement. The importance of TRON, a key figure in the first film, is downplayed to a ridiculous degree, while the culmination of Sam and Quorra's odd little romance plays itself out in a way that is both laughable and head-scratching.

The real problem, though, is the one going on between father, son, and dad's evil cybernetic doppelganger CLU (also Bridges, creepily de-aged looking all plastic and with jarringly dead eyes). The resolution to their story isn't just maudlin; it's so syrupy, the only thing missing is a stack of pancakes. This is a movie that goes out, not with a bang, but instead a whimper, and though that might make T. S. Eliot proud, for the rest of us it is a massive disappointment.

I will admit that the film does look pretty darn great, and while the visuals won't be as game-changing as the ones in the original, they are nearly worth the price of a matinee admission on their own. On top of that, Daft Punk's exhilarating and kinetic score gives things an urgency and a momentum they never would have had otherwise, as the electronic wunderkinds manufacture a sonic tour de force I could listen to for hours on end.

It just isn't enough. When I was 5, I could give TRON the benefit of the doubt, thin story and superficial characterization be damned. The sad truth is that 28 years later, I can't do the same. TRON: Legacy tries to pull water from the same well, and does it with less pizzazz than its now low-tech predecessor. It is a movie that proves that lightening rarely, if ever, strikes twice, and that sometimes fond memories of a cherished favorite have no business being revisited nearly three decades later.

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