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Saturday, January 8, 2011

MOVIE REVIEW - Tron Legacy

“The Grid.” Says the brilliant Jeff Bridges, “A digital frontier.” It’s almost like the beginning of a Star Trek episode. It forewarns something mysterious and unknown coming our way. In a way this monologue is still an advertisement for the movie. After two years of waiting and a rumored $120 million spent on advertising alone, Tron Legacy’s hype ended under the dim lights of the multiplex. Is it bad I’m starting this review with the film’s absurd hype?

For those who haven’t seen the original Tron, you need not bother. One of the sequels great strengths is that you need virtually no understanding of the first. Right out of the blocks we’re introduced to younger versions of the main characters, Kevin Flynn (Bridges) and his son Sam. After Flynn’s unexplained disappearance it takes twenty years for Sam to find his father in “The Grid.”

I find it odd that there’s no mention of Sam’s mother, but maybe that’s asking too much. Should we care? Director Joseph Kosinski doesn’t bother too much with those petty details. Oh, but why should he? He has a world built on lights, glass and sexy motorcycles to worry about. If anything, Tron Legacy is a magnificent technical achievement. The costumes, sets and special effects are so beautifully realized it’s like watching a ballet of lights. Dare I risk heresy and say it was more enchanting than Avatar.

But above the aesthetics are flaws that have plagued far too many blockbusters in the last decade. The film’s pace screeches to a painful halt when Kevin Flynn explains a novel’s worth of back story. This voice-over exposition is so long-winded that I can’t help but wonder if it might have made a more interesting movie.

Even Clu, Flynn’s alter ego, gets a flashback worth cutting from the film. Although the scene’s attempt to humanize the antagonist failed, I must admit, watching the young Jeff Bridges is mesmerizing. I can’t say Bridges' face, digitally enhanced to look young, is a slam-dunk; but despite the flaws I’m more impressed with how close it looked. It wasn’t as impressive as Schwarzenegger’s face in Terminator Salvation, but to keep up the look for a whole movie must have been taxing. I'm interested to see how far this technology goes in the future.

In a sense the effects behind Clu’s face represents Tron Legacy well. After all, much of the movie’s pseudo-philosophic banter is about the merging of technology with man. That’s certainly what’s happening when a very human Sam gets integrated to a “memory-disc.” And you could also say the young, CGI Bridges represents the quality of the film itself: Close, but not quite.

The ultimate problem with Tron Legacy is its inability to build any real excitement. Sure, the universe looks enticing, but, like the original, the ideas are more promising than the presentation. There’s no awe to this “digital frontier” and by the time the movie climaxes you wonder if you missed a segment of build up. Still, it’s those ideas that kept me watching. While I’m probably rating this film to leniently, I can’t shake how cool Tron Legacy seems. It’d be nice to see how cool it could be one day.

**½ out of ****

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