Monday, December 27, 2010

Tron: Legacy

Tron: Legacy is quite possibly the coolest movie I have ever seen.

Mind you, I'm not some die-hard Tron fanboy, and I came into this sequel with low expectations.  I tried watching the original when I was a kid, but I just found it terribly boring. Coming to it recently as a more cultured adult, I found it still boring, and furthermore ridiculous, but I could at least appreciate that it was unique, at the time new, and unlike anything else people had ever seen before.

Like its predecessor, Tron: Legacy too is something new and unique. But it also looks good and is entertaining. Indeed, I think the new world of Tron: Legacy is what Tron was supposed to have looked like all along, only the technological constraints of the time having distorted the vision. It creates a world wholly and deliberately unreal, yet makes it as convincing as it is attractive. Yes, it is somehow, paradoxically, convincingly unreal. Credit must be given, of course, to the original Tron, whose basic design laid the groundwork for the sequel. Whenever, God forbid, I should imagine what it is like to exist inside a computer, the image shall hereafter forever be informed by both movies. But, whereas everyone remembers the original as a technical marvel, I don't imagine that Tron: Legacy is the result of considerably more supercomputers at work than any other current special effects-laden flick. Rather, the singular aesthetic of the movie is, first and foremost, a work of art that sets it quite apart from any other blockbuster.

Equally essential, if not more so, is the film score by Daft Punk. Even before the film transitions to the virtual world, the urgent soundtrack takes hold and has you surrendering your emotions to the groove. The hypnotic score remains in the foreground throughout, and the otherworldly visuals later seem almost more an illustration of the movie's sound. The sublime marriage of audio and visuals is truly what makes Tron: Legacy, nearly a feature-length music video.

Writing is also improved over the original, although the story is definitely a sequel, and depends heavily on the first film's. All the ridiculous explanations from the first movie remain in effect, but they seem less ridiculous this time, mainly because the sequel doesn't even bother explaining how flesh-and-blood humans are able to enter the realm of digital data. Tron: Legacy also doesn't tell viewers much about who Kevin Flynn and Tron were, though both characters return, the latter being more welcome than the former.

On that note, I should make mention of the special effects used to make Jeff Bridges and Bruce Boxleitner appear young again, whether because they appear in flashbacks or because data isn't supposed to show wrinkles. By some accounts, the digitally de-aged Jeff Bridges is the one blemish on an otherwise visually impeccable film. To be honest, I wasn't much bothered by it. Rather, when I watched the original Tron just a few months ago, I was startled by the genuine image of the young Jeff Bridges, since I had only ever really known him from his work as a much older man. So, perhaps because any young Jeff Bridges is, by its nature, a strange sight to me, I did not regard his CG mask as itself deficient in Tron: Legacy.

It is somewhat the opposite case with Bruce Boxleitner. Playing Tron would be the highlight of his career, so for most people, having not watched him age through his later roles, he has remained frozen in that image of him as a young man in Tron. So when I saw him as the young Tron again in Tron: Legacy, it seemed right (and, in this case, I have met little disagreement), whereas it was the scenes featuring the old Bruce Boxleitner's real face that kind of unsettled.

At the risk of spoiling things, I will say that Tron's role in the movie is brief, and his face shown only from a distance and through some distortion filter for most of it. So maybe the filmmakers themselves did not have complete confidence in their tech to do justice to the series's coolest and most beloved character. It makes me wonder about the possibility for future sequels. Without both CG assistance and shrewd editing, Bruce Boxleitner is already too old, not only in body but in voice, to convincingly play the same character from thirty years ago. I'd wager that limiting that character's minutes in Tron: Legacy was simply a practical necessity. But, going forward, would a Tron movie without any Tron at all even be worth making? Well, I suppose as technology advances, the Tron character may yet endure, and now truly as just data.

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