Thursday, December 16, 2010

Tron Legacy

TRON LEGACY
2010

Starring: Jeff Bridges, Garrett Hedlund, Olivia Wilde
Directed by: Joseph Kosinski
Walt Disney Pictures

            In 1982, director Steven Lisberger gave us Tron, a visual effects masterpiece that was something of a game-changer in the world of movie magic. Futurist Syd Mead, who also worked on Blade Runner, had a hand in designing the virtual world of Tron, with its high-tech lightcycles and identity discs. 28 years later, Disney has given the cult classic an upgrade with this sequel.

            The film opens in 1989, where maverick software engineer, videogame developer and CEO of software company Encom Kevin Flynn (Bridges) mysteriously vanishes, leaving behind his young son Sam (Owen Best as a boy, Hedlund as an adult). Sam watches as Encom is turned into a corporate machine, against the wishes of the elder Flynn who would have wanted to share the technology with the world for free.

            Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner), Kevin Flynn’s partner and friend, approaches Sam, saying that he had received a page from Kevin’s old office. Sam investigates, and is transported into the digital world of the Grid. He is forced to familiarise himself with advanced technology and participate in gladiator-like cyber battles as the ruthless ruler of the Grid, Clu (also Bridges) looks on.

            Sam reunites with his father, who has been trapped in the Grid and living in exile away from the main city. Clu, a computer program that Flynn had created in his own image, turned against him. Kevin relates the story of how he and Tron, a program made in the likeness of Alan Bradley, were betrayed by Clu, the very creation that was meant to help them create and develop the world of the Grid.

Kevin and his son are aided by digital warrior Quorra (Wilde), and the three must return to the real world and evade capture by Clu, who will stop at nothing to acquire Kevin Flynn’s identity disc, the master key to conquering the Grid – and the real world.

            To the modern eye, the original Tron can’t help but feel a tad dated; a relic of the world of 8-bit video games like Pac-Man and Pong. However, the main draw of Tron Legacy is how The Grid has progressed into a marvel that will impress even the most jaded gamers. If making movies is akin to creating worlds then, in the hands of CGI-wizard and first-time director Joseph Kosinski, this film has indeed reached the ultimate. It ushers viewers into a believable world completely created from scratch.

            Tron Legacy is every digital designer’s dream come true. Production designer Darren Gilford, vehicle designer Daniel Simon and a team of designers and artists have lovingly crafted a sleek, stylish and very sexy world of light, pixels and reflective surfaces. Instead of using CGI as a way to cheat, the filmmakers have instead pushed the technology to its limits in the name of creating a fresh and novel film-going experience. The practical costumes do actually light up, and several practical sets were constructed as well.

            It seems that every major film is finding an excuse to use the 3D gimmick, and in some cases it makes no sense at all – as the god-awful Yogi Bear trailer before the film amply reminds. However, Tron Legacy is exactly the film that is perfect for jumping off the screen. Scenes set in the real world are in 2D, but the bulk of the film, taking place in the Grid, is in 3D. The added dimension gives real weight and scale to what would otherwise merely be computer graphics, and helps the viewer buy into the conceit of the virtual reality universe.

            With atmospheric sound design and a throbbing techno score by Daft Punk complementing the eye-popping visuals, the film is clearly a triumph of style over substance; however substance is a close runner-up. Tron Legacy is ultimately a father-and-son story, and an off-key performance is all it would take to invalidate the visual effects bells and whistles. It is a good thing then that the performances are serviceable.

            Jeff Bridges, fresh off his Academy Award win for Crazy Heart, carries the film squarely on his shoulders. He has the challenge of playing two characters; with the help of digital de-aging he appears more than 20 years younger as Kevin Flynn circa 1989, and Clu. Bridges comes off as sincere and quietly sad and sometimes hippie-ish as Flynn in exile, and charismatic and commanding as Clu.

            Garrett Hedlund proves himself a competent leading man, able to stand up to both the dazzling visual effects and his onscreen father Bridges and possessing potential action hero credibility. Olivia Wilde seems destined to become a sci-fi geek pinup, cutting an elegant figure in her skin-tight, luminescent bodysuit and rocking a stylish bob. Michael Sheen camps it up enjoyably as nightclub-owner Castor, relishing the chance to go flamboyant and chew some of the high-tech scenery.

             Tron Legacy’s main flaw is its somewhat convoluted storyline. Viewers are likely to get at least a little confused by the technobabble or distracted by the light show, and while the film stands pretty well on its own, it probably would help to have seen the original first. The dialogue is unwieldy at times, and the emotional aspect of the film is often drowned out by the sensory feast.

            It seems a tad ironic that this may be the best video game movie ever, and isn’t even actually based on a video game. As opposed to being made merely to cash in on an aging franchise, Tron Legacy is a worthy successor and breaks just about as much ground as the original – quite a feat considering how far technology has come already. And the best part is that while the film is mainly enjoyable for its visuals, there is a little more to it than that.

RATING: 3.5/5 STARS

Jedd Jong Yue

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