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Caffeinated Clint : TRON Legacy

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It’s OK! It’s OK! It’s good. It’s not half as bad as some of the other reviews say it is. In fact, it’s one of the better blockbuster offerings of 2010.

What I will say though is, “TRON Legacy” is the Windows Vista of movies – it’s got a beautiful interface, some great bells and whistles, but it does have a few unsightly bugs.

As some of the other critics have pointed out, these computer-generated characters that feature a Mac-aided de-aged Jeff Bridges – a somewhat expressionless bobble head attached to an animated body –  are the movie’s biggest hindrance. At the same time, they’re also one of the best things about the movie. And I know that makes no sense at all, but it’s something I think calls for the old ‘I’d rather they’d tried, than not tried at all’ excuse.

Sure, compared to some of the other things in the movie, young Flynn and young CLU do look like a couple of rushed creations lifted from the introduction of a Wii video game, but considering “TRON Legacy” cost $200 million to make, I’m sure Disney has done the best job they can. And to be fair, there are quite a few scenes where those computerized characters look great. Heck, squint and they’ll look brilliant for the film’s duration.

I probably don’t need to go into the story so much – we’ve all seen the trailer right? Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), the brainy ‘dude’ that created the TRON and Space Paranoids video games, and consequently disappeared inside one of his own creations back in the day, has been missing for 20 something years. It’s assumed he’s back inside the game.

Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund), Kevin’s grown-up son, is living life like Bruce Wayne circa-“Batman Begins” – on the edge.  Anyway, one things leads to another and Kevin Flynn’s old bud Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner) shows up, informing Sam that he’s been ‘paged’…. By someone at Flynn’s now closed video arcade. Is dear Daddy trying to contact his boy?

Upon investigating the call at Flynn’s Arcade, Sam is – of course – sucked inside the machine. He’s now on the grid. Right away, he’s captured and forced to compete in those deadly disc ‘games’. And the guy that looks like a younger version of Sam’s father? Oh, he’s just the nasty program Clu (Jeff Bridges) that’s taken over this world, leaving Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) to live like a disgraced Jedi in the boondocks.

Of course, Sam eventually tracks down his father – with a little help from the lovely ‘Cora’ (Olivia Wilde, “Alpha Dog”) – and the two, following their teary reunion, decide it’s time to place one particular program in the recycle bin.

And then there’s more disc throwing, light cycle chases, and… more of that weird looking Jeff Bridges clone.

“TRON Legacy” isn’t perfect.

But why do we expect “TRON Legacy” to be perfect anyway!? It’s a question we really need to ask ourselves…. Heck, it’s a question I asked myself on the 90 minute commute into town this morning to see the film.  Everyone would probably have a different response, but it’s likely these would be the top three responses if y’all were polled: a) it’s because the original movie, released near 30 years ago now, played as much a part in my childhood as school ground bullying! B) Its because – particularly given the disappointing ‘’Star Wars’’ and ‘’Indiana Jones’’ films in recent times – it’s my last hope of achieving climax via film while seated erect! C) I ‘remember’ “TRON” being ‘the best!’, when I was younger, so the sequel has to be even better!

It’s that last one deter many from enjoying director Joseph Kosinski’s welcome but tardy sequel.  Much like Leo did those buildings in ‘’Inception’’, we’ve built “TRON” up to be some kind of incredible structure of the senses, recalling layers of the film that may not have even been there. Don’t get me wrong, I love “TRON”, but it wasn’t “Star Wars” – not by a long shot, it was just a really fun movie. But I say that… and even now, just thinking about Flynn dissolving into the game in the first film, or seeing David Warner’s in-game rogue get his comeuppance, and I smile. I smile wide. So I clearly love it a lot more than I… well should, too. Shit, flawed or not, the film encompassed a welcome degree of magic.

I could’ve just spent a paragraph or two on this movie, and said:

“TRON” was an enjoyable movie with some great special effects.

“TRON LEGACY” is an enjoyable movie with some great special effects.

Win!

I know, if it were as simple as that we could simply chalk up it as yet another success and move onto the next. But I know, I know… and I’m with you guys… I needed “TRON Legacy” to take me back to my childhood… I needed it to be the kind of pixie-dust sprinkled blockbuster we grew up watching on Saturday afternoons at the local cinema (for a fifth of the price of what a ticket costs today)… I needed to adorn the smile I wear just now, thinking about the original film, throughout the duration of the sequel.

Question is, did I?

Well, not for the duration, no. But I did… for some of it.

Why not all? It’s to do with something so many of today’s blockbusters suffer from, too much emphasis on style over substance.

Remember say, back in 1984 or 1985, when we had all these great kid-friendly blockbusters out? Films like “Explorers”, “Gremlins”, “The Goonies” and “Young Sherlock Holmes”? And remember how much we enjoyed them? Looking back, we don’t remember enjoying them for how innovative or ‘attractive’ a film they were (heck, some even had shitty effects), but more so because of the stories that they entailed. They were all captivating yarns. In fact, a good example is “Superman”, the Dick Donner film, it had really lousy special effects but it features one of the best scripts for a superhero movie ever, not to mention some amazing performances, and it’s because of those things that we fell in love with it. Magic with a smile.

And I tell ya, when I watch “The Goonies” or “Gremlins” or even “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” today, I feel the same way – sure there’s lots of cool stuff in there, but it’s the concept meshed with the characters that evokes the smile and Goosebumps.

“TRON” didn’t quite evoke Goosebumps, but it did evoke a smile. Still does. It was fun.  And yeah, it did have some fun effects.

“TRON Legacy” is fun too, but it’s a different kind of fun… a different kind of experience.

“TRON Legacy” is no “Transformers : Revenge of the Fallen” – heck, if it were,  I’d have started this review with “Fuck you Kosinski! I walked out 20 mins in!’  – and in fact, I’m rather happy with it (as opposed to not being satisfied with anything in “Transformers 2” – I really did walk out 20 minutes into that), but it didn’t make me feel twelve-years-old again. And I so wanted it to. Is it age? Have I just lost the ability to enjoy a good ol’ popcorn film? No, I don’t think so, because most of the others in the audience, who saw the original film at a half-empty theatre in 1982, agreed that this didn’t affect them the same way the original did.  We were open to being Josh Baskin-ed, but the Zoltar machine was just out-of-order.

The cast and crew of the new film were obviously so swamped trying to make the special effects and CGI the best it could be that they didn’t get time to do a final tune-up of the script or rehearse their performances.  Don’t get me wrong, we’re not talking “Phantom Menace”, it’s not ‘all effects’ and nothing else, but it’s clear that the emphasis here is on style, rather than substance.

Is that a bad thing? Well, for those that don’t have all these special, treasured, cherished memories of watching the original “TRON”, yes, but the oodles and oodles of youngsters who’ve never even seen the film, or have but don’t remember much about it, it won’t matter. They’re used to seeing this kind of film… though this one is significantly better than what they’re customarily put through. Heck, some might even enjoy it as much as one of the later “Harry Potter” movies.

If I hadn’t seen the original “TRON”, and didn’t have all these pre-conceived notions about the sequel or hopes for what it wanted to be, I would’ve loved this film to bits because, quite frankly, it is one heck of a great-looking, great-sounding, great-time movie.

Heck, I still do love a lot of the film – the whole beginning sequence (what with Flynn discovering his father’s arcade, complete with ‘Journey’ still playing on the jukebox); the amazing, amazing, amazing special effects (wow!, I tell ya, wow!); the sheer coolness of seeing Jeff Bridges not only playing Flynn but also a younger version of the character and the villain Clu; getting to see 80’s icon Bruce Boxleitner (‘’Scarecrow and Mrs King’’) back on the big screen; marveling at, well, just about everything that’s on the screen, noticeably, the 3D – very cool.

I also enjoyed Garrett Hedlund (‘’Four Brothers’’) as Flynn Jr (though at times he reminded me a little too much of Benjamin McKenzie, best known for playing ‘Ryan’ on TV’s “The OC”; probably didn’t help that his on screen female co-star was also in that show); really enjoyed Olivia Wilde (hotter than a PC  tower that’s been left on overnight)as our female hero (replacing – sniffle – Cindy Morgan); and thought Michael Sheen was a dippy delight as his David Bowie-ish nut of the film.

One of the things I enjoyed most about the film was the music. Wow! Daft Punk really knocked it out of the park! The music really did take me back to the ‘80s…. it took me back to the Tangerine Dream scores… the John Carpenter synthesizer stuff… it’s just awesome. I must buy that soundtrack.

For anyone that’s skipped to the event of this review – savings themselves the blab – looking for that short conclusive take, let me say this: I really, really enjoyed “TRON Legacy”, and can’t wait to see it again – but I won’t be seeing it again for the emotional connection I felt with the characters, because there wasn’t one, or the rather vanilla plot, no, I’ll be seeing it again for the amazing audio/video package. I wasn’t aware one could climax from their eyes and ears. Now I am.

Hopefully by the next film (and I really do hope there is another; the ending sets up some fun possibilities) the magic men have mastered the art of creating a flawless computer-generated character but also taken into consideration our beefs with the script.

Oh, and please, for the love of god, bring back Cindy Morgan in “TRON 3”! There wasn’t so much as even a mention of her beloved character from the original film here (which is good, I guess, because the door has been left open for her character to return)!  We’ve three Jeff Bridges in this film, surely Disney could’ve afforded even just the one Cindy Morgan!? Yori Lives… I just know it.

So yes, it’s Vista. But would a Windows XP or TigerX version of the film had been better? I doubt it, and mostly because – as Jeff Bridges’ film constantly reminds us in the film – ‘’perfection is unknowable’’.

You’ll enjoy it.

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About Caffeinated Clint

The writer/publicist/producer who wears the editor hat on Moviehole. Favorite films include "Say Anything...", "The Hunt for Red October", "Jerry Maguire", "Almost Famous", "Die Hard", "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo", "Young Guns", "American Psycho", "Back to the Future" and the "Star Wars" series.
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