Monday, December 20, 2010

"You're messing with my zen thing, man!"

Review - TRON: Legacy

TRON: Legacy is a film that's a little tough to review on some levels. It really kind of depends on what you're expecting out of it. Are you looking for a philosophical discussion on technology? Are you looking for a holiday blockbuster filled with eye candy and a brilliant soundscape? More to the point, are you expecting Blade Runner or Transformers? The reality is, you're getting a bit of both. If that sounds a bit odd, allow me to explain.

TRON: Legacy is a sequel to a rather ambitious failure from 28 years ago, called TRON. The first film was technologically groundbreaking in its time, being one of the first films in history with extensive use of CGI. It's a technical landmark, yet a rather convoluted and often dull film. For all the computer mumbo jumbo presented in the film, it never once full explored the ideas about technology the way great sci-fi is capable of. TRON: Legacy suffers from a similar problem, the difference being that while its predecessor was a bore, the sequel is never dull, even if it never quite achieves its lofty ambitions.

For starters, it's a staggeringly gorgeous film on a visual level, featuring the best art direction of the year. Everything in the film looks so palpable and it's a feat of world-building on a visual level not seen since Avatar. While it can't match Avatar for flat out beauty, it certainly looks every cent of it's $200 million dollar budget. The sound mix is also worth mentioning, as it goes toe to toe with Inception as one of the best sound designs of the year, and it really helps sell the world of the grid. But what really struck me about the film was just how much the music drove every visual on display.

Daft Punk has crafted what is, in my mind, easily the best score of the year, leagues above anything else. The idea of a Daft Punk score for a TRON sequel sounds like it would just be repetitive dance music, but my god is it not anything like that. A perfect mixture of electronic sounds and full orchestra, the film really soars when it just sits back and lets the music drive the visuals in a way very few scores do for films. It reminded me of the way John Williams' scores would match every single visual beat on screen back in the original Star Wars trilogy, or how Michael Giacchino's scores today pulse through everything on screen in The Incredibles, Up, LOST, and everything else he's done. It's simply a feat of music that hasn't been matched at all this year. It sells the world of The Grid on a level I didn't know was possible.

You've probably heard a great deal about bad acting and bad writing in this film. Some of that is true, some of it isn't. I wouldn't say the script is bad so much as servicable, and often clunky. There are actually quite a few ideas in the story that I would like to see explored further. The idea of digital life forms really caught my attention. I feel like if they had focused a bit more on that, it would have been a much stronger script. Ultimately, the fatal flaw of the film is that it never really explains the gravity of the ideas and things going on. We have this sense of tension and high stakes, but what would happen if C.L.U. got out? It's not like his powers exist in the real world, so why would it be so dangerous for him to escape? There's a sense that the army he is building would be a threat, but it's glossed over in a way that makes the consequences of such an event seem less urgent. However, Jeff Bridges does a great job of selling his villainous digital doppleganger that we get the sense that the shit would hit the fan, even if we never really know why. It reminds me of the Man in Black in LOST. In season 6, we are given a somewhat ambiguous understanding of why he cannot ever escape the Island, but it's done in such a way that you know it would be bad, since the character is so dangerous and powerful, and his power exists both on and off the island. He actually could destroy all life on earth if he escaped. But we never really understand how a digital creation's powers would translate into the real world in TRON: Legacy, so it's a little hard to buy into how much of a threat he really is. Similarly, the idea of a digital life form (the ISO's) is introduced but never really discussed enough to give us an idea of why they are so important. But I think that's easier to infer since the idea of the miracle of creation happening on a digital frontier is pretty groundbreaking. It's true life, not A.I., so that is obviously something pretty damn important. It's an idea I wanted further explored, but one would have to dig deeper into the expanded universe of the world of TRON to get clearer answers. It's a fascinating concept that, while never fully explored or realized within the context of the film, is an interesting discussion nonetheless.

On the subject of acting, I don't think any of the performances are bad, just not extraordinary. Jeff Bridges' image pulsates through this universe, and he's clearly a force to be reckoned with. Whenever he enters the fray, you know shit is going down. After all, he is the creator of the Grid. There are quite a number of shots of him, one in particular, where he is just short of being in God-like status. Jedi Master Bridges if you will. Now, about that de-aging. It looks really questionable in the opening of the film, when Flynn is telling a bedtime story to his son, but on the Grid, it's more forgivable, since CLU is a digital creation, making the creepy, somewhat dead eyes understandable. Garrett Hedlund is just fine, the guy shows a lot of charisma in a number of scenes, and is kind of wooden in others. I'd attribute that more to him getting the short end of the stick in terms of dialogue than pure acting. Rest assured, it's not Hayden Christensen 2.0. Olivia Wilde is easily the standout, conveying wide-eyed innocence and wonder in a way none of the others do. Add a delightful performance to her already Goddess-like beauty and you have a winner. Michael Sheen is a fucking riot, doing his best impersonation of David Bowie with a little Mark Hamill Joker thrown in for good measure.

Ultimately, the film is equal parts dumb fun and failed ambitions, but damned if I didn't have a good time watching it. I'd buy the Blu-ray for demo purposes alone, but it's a bit like cotton candy. It's a tasty treat for the senses, but has little to no nutritional value. I liked it, and wouldn't mind seeing it again over the holidays. You're not getting Phillip K. Dick, but you also get something a little more substantial than Michael Bay.

What did you think of TRON: Legacy? Have at it in the comments section!


Anonymous said...

I definitely agree with your thoughts here. In my review, I compared TRON to STAR WARS in that if TRON is STAR WARS then LEGACY is JEDI. This isn't a big deal, only that we don't get to see this universe's EMPIRE. This would include much more about the ISOs, CLU's takeover (and aftermath of it), not to mention the creation of The Grid and so on.

So while it doesn't reach the heights it COULD have, it's still a beautiful and fun movie to watch.

And kudos on the Sheen as Bowie bit. I was trying to figure out who he reminded me of. I completely overlooked what should have been very obvious. Loved his quick Chaplin bit, too.

Kevin K. said...

The Star Wars comparison is apt, I hadn't thought of that. I definitely feel like there's a whole movie in between the two films that I would love to see, but simply can't happen due to the time and money it takes to de-age Bridges. And you can't recast the role since he's such an iconic presence. But I do agree with your idea that this feel's like a conclusion to a trilogy, rather than Part 2.

Anonymous said...

the acting was great!

Matt Bukaty said...

I actually agree with you pretty much on all of this. Some critics were saying it lacked character development but...I think if you saw the original, you didn't need any of that. Plus, aside from Garrett Hedlund and Jeff Bridges' characters, everyone was a computer program...what do you need character development for??? haha

The score was easily the best part of the film, aside from the visuals. The story was weak, but as is the case with these kinds of films, its all about the badass visuals onscreen. And of course the hot babes a la Olivia Wilde and Beau Garrett :)

Kevin K. said...

If I were to name my favorite scores of the year, it would probably be

TRON: Legacy
How To Train Your Dragon
True Grit
Black Swan
The Social Network
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1

Wasn't overly impressed with Desplat's work for The King's Speech, even if it still has his usual quality. The American had a great piano-noir score. 127 Hours was very effective within the context, but much more minimal than Rahman's previous works. And of course, Randy Newman did a fine job on Toy Story 3, even if it wasn't the epic score it could have been. I've been listening to Never Let Me Go's score lately, and I have to say, upon re-examination, it's a rather generic score that's similar to most British period piece scores. It's very pleasant to listen to, and maybe my distaste for the film fuels my feelings on the score ala Airbender, but I'm just not finding it as beautiful as it once seemed. But TRON's score is nothing short of extraordinary. I wonder what other scores Daft Punk might do in the future. If this is their only one, it's one hell of a one-shot.

R. said...

I had received and advance on the Daft Punk score a few months ago. Though I'm not a fan of theirs, this score was the BEST score I heard in YEARS (other than "INCEPTION"). So I was anxious to see how this translated to the screen in all its IMAX 3D glory.

I was not disappointed.
This score had a true beauty to it that made it totally in sync with the film's visuals.

People tend to forget that "STAR WARS" was also a pretty clunky film with wooden acting and dialogue.
But since there was never anything like it before, that's why it is so endearing and CLASSIC! Especially when visuals and score are in sync.

Give it a few years, I feel "TRON: LEGACY" will be granted the same respect.

Anonymous said...

You should one day try to learn the difference between "its" (belonging to it) and "it's" (it is). It's really not that hard. TRON: Legacy will become a future classic and definitely deserves to be in the IMDB Top 100. Yes, the script is weak, but look at Star Wars and Avatar. Both have terrible scripts and Star Wars also has weak acting. In my opinion, the CGI visuals in TRON: Legacy easily outstrip Avatar. Just because the setting is not a nature planet, they seem less beautiful; however, they are superior.

Kevin K. said...

The difference between TRON and those other films is simple. No widespread appeal for TRON. No one outside the sci-fi nerds care about it. Star Wars and Avatar were universal, and have much better scripts and acting than you give them credit for. Comparing a mediocre sequel of a terrible original to Star Wars is a classic derp-worthy first time poster comment. There's no thematic resonance in TRON or TRON: Legacy, whereas there is thematic resonance overflowing from Star Wars and Avatar. Plus, broad, simple storytelling helps, rather than convoluted, sloppy writing that never gives us a real reason to care.

Anonymous said...

There is gonna Be an "Interequel" TV series/Animated Show Coming in the New Year or Next Year. Called "TRON: Uprising"

Gildas Jaffrennou said...

We saw the movie yesterday night, with some friends, and had a long discussion after that.
I am quite happy (but also pleasantly surprised) to see that your review matches with most of my personnal analysis.
For example, I had the same feelings about those ideas of digital life, and the same frustration.
It is yet a mystery to me that so much money can be spent on a script that clearly needed more attention before shooting.

(forgive the french guy, for his questionnable english)

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