Friday, December 24, 2010

TRON: Legacy

I caught an IMAX 3D showing of TRON: Legacy at the Bob Bullock theater in Austin, TX, and really enjoyed it.

Some reviewers have griped about the "lack of story" (which is pretty subjective) but the film definitely has something that's been missed from a bunch of the bandwagon pseudo-journalist hater reviews.


In some surprisingly subtle strokes, Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) is granted a corporate and entrepreneurial legacy, Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner) is given historical and surrogate weight, and the world of TRON is given a shape -- a texture -- the first movie didn't have.

For me, vehicles largely set the tone for (or at least the believability of) a film's universe. Genndy Tartakovsky's Star Wars: Clone Wars animated series arguably created a richer universe by believably bridging the technology from Episode II, Episode III, and even to the original trilogy, than the new trilogy itself did.

Probably largely due to Lead Vehicle Designer Daniel Simon and Production Designer Darren Gilford, Legacy's vehicles possess a form and function they didn't before. Most people understandably tune into the lightcycles on this front, with the updated look and functionality that technology limited before. But in the opening scenes featuring the contemporary Recognizer (updated by Visual Effects Supervisor Ben Procter), the vehicle shows a form and function that was not only lacking, but broke the fourth wall for me when I saw the original film as a kid ("how do they get in and out of there without dying?").

Thematically, the film does some interesting stuff. There's a lightish poke at the pseudo-digirati, the requisite fear of technology overtaking humanity, and so on.

But what I was surprised by was the exploration of fatherhood from three angles: biological child, adopted child, and orphan -- father as "daddy", "buddy", and "sensei". I'd heard complaints about "the father angle" being "worked" as an emotional hook, and maybe there is some of that. Or maybe it's a topic explored broadly across three viewpoints, and there is only so much time and space to do that in the bounds of a movie, let a long a film who's "hook" is its visual panache.

As far as performances go, I'm a biased Bridges fan, and enjoyed his reprisal of Kevin Flynn. Some of his statements and actions are wonderfully anachronistic -- which they should be, given his "man out of time" predicament.

Garrett Hedlund and Olivia Wilde are solid in their respective roles of Sam Flynn and Quorra (I think Hedlund has the potential to be like Daniel Craig as he matures (and should play his son in the interim), and Wilde is really coming into her own), and Bruce Boxleitner? Wicked cool" (I wanted to be you, Scarecrow.)

The other notable actors in the film -- the digital ones -- are a mixed bag, but trend more on the positive. Virtual young Jeff Bridges treads into the uncanny valley at times, but that's because more often, it's frankly just uncanny. Due to composition and more subtle emotions, the virtual Bridges works quite well, and is an impressive entry into the virtual acting space. It's largely only with the bigger emotions that the acting breaks down a little, but kudos to Disney and director Joseph Kosinski for pushing the envelope, and not waiting for someone else to crack the perfect virtual actor for them. The first TRON was about pushing film technology; it's nice to see the new one do its equivalent.

So, overall, TRON: Legacy is an enjoyable film -- the expected "visual tour-de-force", but with more mythos, acting highlights, and technology showcases than I fear people will give it credit for.

(Footnote -- the DAFT PUNK score for the movie? Wicked tight.)

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