This afternoon a very last minute text flashed around cell phone data grids inviting the unsuspecting to a pre-screening of the to-be-released-Friday continuation of the 1982 cult film Tron. I was one of the fortunate ones graced to go see it. In Imax 3D.
Edit: Per Shamisen request
Spoiler Warning: The storyline is too generic not to spoil it easily, so I gave up trying not to. If you want to be 'surprised' by the plot when/if you see the movie then stop right here and don't read any further. This is the only warning you're getting.
Tron (1982) lead us into the idea that your Tandy computer actually held within it a digital mini-city where electrons speeding along their copper and gold grids were actually neon highlight edgings to building and accents to the inhabitants. The story (as unique as it was) followed Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), an edgy programmer along his light bending ride into the world of programs. His eye candy digital dream took a rather simple storyline, a dark room, Styrofoam and some neon-pre-cell-shading-era edgings and left you with the feeling that you had seen something truly futuristic. That worked for 1982.
Now almost 30 years later circa 2010 we get a sequel to that cult favorite in the form of Tron: Legacy.
You would think that trying to make a sequel to a movie utilizing some of the same actors from the original after 30 years would be tantamount to trying to use a Atrari 2600 to CG render Final Fantasy Advent Children in real time. But you'd be wrong.
Tron Legacy is a beautiful CG homage to the 1982 Classic film that plays close to its roots. And that’s both the strength for the nostalgia and the problem that plagues this sequel. Good or bad, there are metric F-tons worth of references to the original film. The opening scene where a slightly older Kevin Flynn is tucking his young son Sam in for the night is shown in a Tron Otaku's dream bedroom. And while key catch phrases are of course rampant; the “Now that’s a big door” is used to no one's surprise (or reaction). Surprisingly there is also a War Games-ish catchphrase used also to a non-audience reaction.
As for the strengths of the film. The CG is inky slick while smoothly done, and enough can't be said about the CG youthful enhanced performance of Jeff Bridges counter role 'Clue'. Its easy enough to digitally age a youthful person into a much older version of themselves but to see it done in reverse and done so well is a stroke of finesse. Follow that up with sleek redesigns of the many vehicles with a couple of new ones added in for fun and you have the foundation for something awe-inspiring.
For the weaknesses. The plot. Its frankly too easily generic. Just watch the commercials and use about 10 seconds to imagine the rest of the story and Voila! You just seen Tron Legacy. I'm not kidding. Yet to really get the feeling something is wrong you need to actually watch the film to notice the plot holes. While there are subtle reasons for some of the 'WTF' moments there really shouldn’t have been a need to add those elements into the Tron universe. Explanations in a few, but first a quick spoiler list summary of the plot.
This is the beginning of problems with the plot. Sadly it appears the writers took this route to give reason why Jeff Bridges 'user' program looks so much older than his Clue counter part since being human would mean that aging still affected them normally. But things get worse after Flynn explains to Sam that hours on the grid are but minutes to the real world. The problem here? Well if this time scale is indeed true, then after 10 plus years or so of being stuck in the grid shouldn't Flynn have died quite a while ago from old age? If you follow the logic that one hour grid time is one minute real time then one full year real time would be 60 years grid time. Flynn was in the grid several real time years.
Now lets say for argument sake that Flynn only could age at actual real world time so 1 year aging is still just 1 year. His age might be appropriate, but given that he still would have had about 10 years or so actual time to survive in grid time you would think that 600 years of grid time would have been enough to solve his problems with Clue one way or another by now. It doesn't help the story that later it becomes rather obvious Flynn has developed some Neo-matrix like powers while being on the grid but he rarely uses them. And hottie girl really is just there to look cute and kick some tail. While her background and storyline are explained, its truly auxiliary and must have been the tie-in plot of one of the video games.
Beyond all this are little notes of WTF. Such as there is point where the 'white' light cycle is mentioned to be the fastest on the grid, but its only seen ridden back into town to be promptly given away to a bum. A digital bum. Seriously? This little WTF is followed by the bikes tracks being traced back to Flynn's hideout which leaves the question of if the evil programs could trace it off grid then why couldn't they trace the dune buggy off grid earlier in the movie? Clue's crew sure had no issue going off grid tracing the bike, why was it a problem before?
The story continues its course with a 'we've seen this before' feel to it right down to the (semi-anti)climatic end. Though the light plane battle was something new, the audience just wasn't surprised when Tron turned back to good with no real explanation as to how. In the final confrontation there seemed to be one spark of hope for something great to happen as Clue tried to join Sam and Hottie in the light. Is it bad to route for the villain to escape into the real world? Alas no such luck. But it would have made for a far more interesting ending.
Plot issues aside there is something far more real world to make mention of. 3D. IMAX 3D movie glasses SUCK! I mean they really suck! Those pee yellow wrong fitting headache inducing plastic nightmares for head gear are guaranteed never to be stolen. It was no wonder to see exiting audience members veering towards the trash cans in stead of the clearly labeled 3D glasses collection bins as a means of storage for those yellow head disasters. Unfortunately theater staff were far too alert and warily steered us towards the correct bins. (Some people still managed to get theirs into the trash! Awesome!)
Poor design. The glasses are big and square and have non adjustable plastic clamp like arms that firmly pinch the TOP of your head. The arms could not rest just above your ears as this would place the glasses at a extreme angle where the top of the lense frame touches your forehead while the bottom teeters on the TIP of your nose. Sound strange? It is! Finding a comfortable position is impossible. Finding a least annoying position is plausible. But that leads to yet another problem.
A sizable gap between the right and left edges of the frames and you is created that becomes increasingly distracting as your peripheral vision is split between 3D movie and any motions made by people sitting around you. Which deepens into yet another problem. Particularly the fight scene during the rave. There is a lot of action and awesome moves being made in 3D in a small area by multiple combatants. The straight forward focus of the battle is great. The peripheral area surrounding that focus can become a swirling neon blue mess of streaking lines and bodies that your brain tries frantically to define into some sort of clarity. Add in any real world body motions by people around you and its headache city boys and girls. Hope you don't get motion sickness easily.
So yeah there are some issues with this movie. Is it worth seeing in IMAX 3D? Most certainly if you can see it for free or at normal 2D movie prices. Is it worth seeing in 2D? Yeah I'd see it again in 2D despite the plot issues the lackluster feel to it. The movie isn't bad really. It just fails to live up to the hype.