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Arts and Entertainment

Movie Review: 'TRON: Legacy'

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Olivia Wilde and Jeff Bridges discuss a scene with director Joseph Kosinski on the set of "TRON: Legacy" which premieres nationwide today (Photo courtesy of Disney)

Olivia Wilde and Jeff Bridges discuss a scene with director Joseph Kosinski on the set of "TRON: Legacy" which premieres nationwide today (Photo courtesy of Disney)
Unless you've been living under a rock for the past couple years, you know that TRON: Legacy opens tonight nationwide and if you've been paying attention, then there really isn't anything in this post that could be defined as a "spoiler" so let's get to it.

As an on-track-to-Nerd-dom adolescent, I was a huge fan of the original TRON when it came out in 1982 for any number of reasons. The personification of computer programs and software structure was perfectly in sync with my experience at the time: our elementary school had CRT terminals that connected to a mainframe at Stanford University. I had a user account and we had to request privileges from a "master control" system in order to secure storage space for our files and CPU cycles to crunch numbers or run intensive programs like games. Even if you weren't spending time in the computer lab after school, the look of the film was so bizarre and original, the action left a lasting impression on you - this was not a film you would ever forget.

Fast forward to our 21st century where we are all walking around with cell phones more powerful than the mainframe I was logging into in 1982. Everybody knows what an avatar is and we've all manipulated various online personifications of ourselves for the last ten years (at least) so what could make TRON: Legacy a movie worth your time and dollars?

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The film holds true to its roots: it looks amazing. Director Joseph Kosinski had plenty of training and education as an architect before he got into filmmaking and it's more than refreshing to see a world envisioned by someone other than James Cameron, Steven Spielberg, Michael Bay, and George Lucas. We're reminded of the efforts of another unknown director helming his first feature film, Neill Blomkamp's direction of 2009's District 9.

If you never saw TRON, the backstory filler at the beginning of TRON: Legacy is both necessary and provides enough new information and action to even keep the attention of someone familiar with the story. We get it, Garrett Hedlund plays Sam Flynn, the recalcitrant scion of Jeff Bridges' Kevin Flynn. Sam feels abandoned by his father who disappeared 20 years ago and ostracized by the company his father created, ENCOM International. Kevin Flynn's business partner and friend, Alan Bradley (played again by Bruce Boxleitner), sees that ENCOM is headed down a greedy path that clashes with the original mission of the company and urges Sam to get involved. Alan also dangles the possibility that Kevin is trying to contact the Sam via an ancient pager from inside the Grid, a computer-based world that Flynn created decades earlier.

A super-brief synopsis: Fueled by the possibility of reuniting with his father, Sam follows the trail, stumbles into the Grid and the action begins. Without spoiling too many details, Sam does meet his father who exists in the periphery of the Grid as he has lost control of his creation. Sam wants to get his father out of the Grid and shut down the world from the outside. His father's avatar-like program, Clu, is in control of the Grid, a place he has tried to model to a "perfection" defined by Kevin Flynn many years earlier and he seeks to bring this "perfection" to the world outside the Grid. Of course, Sam, his father, and his father's assistant, Quorra, unite in an attempt to defeat Clu and escape the Grid.

Let's talk about the cast: The masterful Jeff Bridges fully invests himself in all his roles and he makes no exception in TRON: Legacy. His now-aged Kevin Flynn seems already defeated when he reunites with his son, preferring to achieve a personal equilibrium with Zen-like concentration rather than create disruption in a world that he thinks will solve its own problems without his influence. With hints of Jeffrey Lebowski ("Love that biodigital jazz man!") he is spurred to action by Sam and re-exerts his influence on an environment that he was satisfied with only marveling at.

A lot has been made of the "100% computer-generated" younger Jeff Bridges as the renegade computer program Clu. While the technology that went into the creation of this character is impressive, the end result wasn't real enough for our tastes, reminding us of Polar Express and its shortcomings. The "young Jeff Bridges" is OK as Clu when we're on the Grid but fails in the early part of the film as he talks to an adolescent Sam Flynn. It would have been better to have had a shot of the character's back than show a face that was distractingly false.

While it was great to see Bruce Boxleitner as Alan Bradley, he just wasn't in the film enough in either an older or younger form. He did, after all, play the title character in the original film and while there is a mutated Tron in Legacy, he remains helmeted and voiceless 95% of the time. A mystery is why Cindy Morgan wasn't in the film at all. She played Dr. Lora Baines and Yori, major characters in the orignal movie and should have had at least a cameo in Legacy. If this film owes its legacy to the original, then original cast members should have had some part in this new one.

We weren't sure what we were going to get from Olivia Wilde as Quorra but were happy that she not only brought her otherwordly beauty and action chops to the screen, but injected plenty of humor in her scenes. In fact, she owns the closing sequences of the film.

Michael Sheen was hilariously unrecognizable as Castor/Zuse, brilliantly channelling a coked-up David Bowie/Freddy Mercury into his performance as the operator of a nightclub that employs Daft Punk as the DJs. Totally over the top and worth every second of camera time. This is an actor that, other than his character of Lucian in the Underworld films, we're used to playing staid and recognizable figures such as Tony Blair and David Frost. Zuse is an incredible and delicious departure.

If you've been watching American television for any of the past 5 years you will have seen James Frain who is rapidly being typecast as an uber-villain. From "24" to "The Tudors," and "Californication" to "True Blood," the usually dark-haired Fain plays Jarvis, a shaved-headed simpering autocrat henchman to Clu. He's perfect and is another source of humor in the film. Look for Frain as Chess in the upcoming NBC series "The Cape."

If there is a disappointment, its Garrett Hedlund who plays Sam Flynn, but we're not sure that he was ever given anything substantial to work with in the first place. Hedlund is more than capable as the headstrong Sam Flynn but the film is more about the world Sam has to survive than what he has to bring to it and that's more than enough to make this a good movie.

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As our technology has evolved, so has the look and feel of the Grid: infinitely more complex and visually stunning. Even the "discs" each program and entity in the Grid has to wear have evolved from neon Frisbees to much more powerful and dynamic Aerobies. To get the full effect, don your 3D shades at the biggest IMAX screen you can find to see the film. We felt the effects of this total immersion in our legs for several minutes after the film ended.

Are there any allegories in the film? Possibly. While surely there is the endlessly churned over theme of man being destroyed by his own creation there seemed to be a couple ideas that were more applicable to our current times. When Kevin Flynn voices his thoughts that he hoped Clu's repressive regime "would collapse from the inside," is he referring to North Korea? Perhaps it was Iran as there is a group of revolutionary programs who meet up at Castor's nightclub, who urge each other to "resist" when attacked by Clu's security forces. Or maybe it's China that is represented by the massive red army amassed by Clu, ready to infiltrate and exploit the United States via computer programs. What is pleasant is that this subtext isn't heavy-handed and doesn't interfere with the flow of the film.

One thing that is certain: the '80s kicked ass. The many references to that era, some of them musical, are deferentially nostalgic and respectful in the film. Unfortunately the remastered versions of Journey's "Separate Ways (World's Apart)" and the Eurythmic's "Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)" are not available on the soundtrack (dammit).

If there was a movie to see this weekend and to see again before it leaves those giant IMAX screens, it's TRON: Legacy.


Look for Jeff Bridges hosting "Saturday Night Live" this weekend and for our review of his other new movie, True Grit, next week.