Sunday, December 19, 2010

Tron Legacy: Track Lighting for the Next Generation

The latest Tron movie is an attempt to re-introduce the original groundbreaking 1982 Disney classic to a new generation. As predicted, the movie largely fails to live up to the excitement of the original, even if it does impressively re-create the Tron computer-graphics styled world in modern 3D track lighting.

In this reprise, Jeff Bridges re-creates his role as Kevin Flynn, computer hacker extraordinaire, who is sucked into the world of  the computer core to play games against the programs running the machine. In the original, "users" like the anti-corporate Flynn and ENCOM employee Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner) and his program alter ego (Tron) fight to free the programs from the cruel rule of the Master Control Program. The original made clever use of what was then "new" computer jargon to create a fantasy world akin to Alice in Wonderland, with Flynn being sucked into the rabbit hole of the programmer's nightmare.

Now, Flynn has been missing for decades - last seen in 1989 with his seven year old son before disappearing forever. That son, Sam, played by Men's Health coverboy Garrett Hedlund, is the new Flynn: traipsing around San Francisco on his motorbike, playing pranks on the corporate-as-ever ENCOM (even if he is now the main shareholder). He's basically a rich punk (instead of a curious hacker, as his father) and I have to say I found this new hero much less appealing, both caustic and self-satisfied. Even as he's being stripped by four digital buxom beauties in skin-tight leather as he's suited up for the games, he finds neither pleasure or excitement, just blankness, like a rabbit being dressed for dinner.

Yes, Sam, like is father, is sucked into the same digital world, only this time, we have to wear those 3D glasses to get anything out of it. The effects are glittery, as promised, with motorcycle races and an airy-fairy fragmentation effect for wounded programs, but the story plods on as a Disneyfied Matrix, replete with Michael Sheen as a fey, blond version of the Merovingian and a younger, CGI created Jeff Bridges as his digital alter-ego, Clu (while it's great that they can create a movie now without the need for an actor, it's a little disturbing that they still haven't figure out how to get that animation's jaw to move when it's talking).

In this new Tron, Clu - Flynn's creation to help him "organize" the world of the grid - is the new overlord. Flynn himself has spent the last twenty-eight years locked in a gilded mountaintop, staring at Clu's digital city from across a wasteland. He's taken no action to free himself or this world, and seems rather pathetic as an inspirational father figure to Sam, if that's what he's supposed to be.

If there's any metaphor at all in this latest Tron, it's about the Sixties generation, which seemingly has split itself: into the Zen-influenced, take-no-action Flynn, and his totalitarian, difference-intolerant alter-ego, Clu. Meanwhile, the younger generation of Sam and the digitally self-created "Iso's" (a kind of general-purpose refuge for the digital age) have to fend for themselves in between these warring ideologies that seem not so dissimilar to the malfunctioning Congress. If only the re-integration of Flynn and Clu had some metaphorical meeting about bi-partisanship, this metaphor might go somewhere.

But unfortunately, it doesn't. The original fable - with the CPU as a master controller - at least gave a Robin Hood like flavor to Flynn and Tron's anti-corporate revolution. This one comes out with about as much thematic meaning as as the lounge of a W hotel. Sam and the entirely digital Quorra (his new ISO girlfriend) only suggest to me some kind of metaphor about online porn. Of course, Disney isn't going there, so all we get instead are some cute scenes of neon-lit discos, a few judo fisticuffs, and a final ride into the sunrise.

It's a real shame they couldn't have done a bit more with this. The original was groundbreaking. This one looks fab, too. They've updated the Windows-oriented original with a sleek, Mac-like experience. This time, however, all that digital glitz seems wasted on a generation that is neither shocked, nor impressed, by too much computerized control.

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