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TRON: Legacy

TRON: Legacy

Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund) is the scion of Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) -- a Steve Jobs-like computer genius whose megacorporation has changed the world since he disappeared over fifteen years ago when Sam was just a boy. Sam still owns the majority of the company and is fabulously wealthy but spends his time hacking the company's servers. With a populist flourish Sam posts their new (and very expensive) server software to the Internet as a free download.

His father's old friend Alan (Bruce Boxleitner, who starred as the hero 'Tron' from the original film) checks up on Sam and urges him to take over the company and change its direction, but Sam will have none of it. Until Alan tells Sam that he got a page from his father's old video game arcade. Sam investigates and falls down a digital rabbit hole called 'The Grid'  where a digital tyrant named CLU is waiting for him.

This reviewer is one of those horrible people who can't stand seeing explosions in space (well, I don't mind, but silently I know that there can be no 'booming' in the vacuum of space). But the worst example of what they call 'movie science' must be what they call 'hack-ting' -- when Hollywood, desperate to exploit the populace's fascination with computers, sexes it up without really knowing anything about the subject.

The original TRON never explained much about the digital world into which the protagonist tumbles, but this time around I wondered if maybe the screenwriters would be a little bit more imaginative, seeing as how computer use has exploded since the original film. Computers are no longer 'magic' to ordinary people so why treat them in such a fashion? So did the screenwriter provide a plausible science-fiction explanation for 'The Grid'?


Is 'The Grid' a parallel universe, a naturally-ocurring digital representation of our own universe that Kevin Flynn discovered? Or is it perhaps a digitally constructed world? Citing the emergence of quantum computing would have been an easy way to go that route, as a quantum computer of sufficient size could conceivably create a kind of pocket universe.

But no, it's not explained, it just exists. Ok, movie, it's your call, but if you're not going to spend time making your movie make some sort of sci-fi sense, there better be lots of action and/or hot women. TRON:Legacy has lots of the first and some of the latter.

Immediately upon landing on 'The Grid' Sam is sent to a processing center where four perfectly symmetrical women in shockingly skintight, rubberized outfits emerge from their wall mountings, stalk towards him, and cut off his clothing. So far, so good! Sam is then dropped into a series of arena deathmatches that fans of the original film will recognize. There are lightcycles, disc battles, and some new twists.

Sex, check? Violence, big red check. Now for the plot.

Sam discovers that his father didn't abandon him but was was trapped in The Grid for the last fifteen years. His creation, CLU, (another actor with the digitally recreated, younger face of Bridges) has revolted against Flynn and tried to create the original perfect world that Flynn tasked him with creating. Of course, the civilization is a dystopian nightmare.

Sam is eventually rescued from CLU when it is discovered that he is a 'user' (when cut he drips blood, not pixels) and meets up with the Elder Flynn, who lives in self-exile far from CLU's control. Sam predictably pushes his father to own up to his mistakes and try to stop CLU and escape from The Grid.

Sam's rescuer, Cora (Olivia Wilde) is revealed to not be a program, but something called an 'iso' -- which the Elder Flynn explains are a race of digital souls that he discovered on the Grid. Flynn says with wonder that they just 'appeared'. Of course, this meant that Flynn's original plans for a created utopia (with CLU as the architect) had to be adjusted. CLU didn't like the idea and rebelled. Bureaucracies have a life of their own it seems!

TRON:Legacy gets by mainly on the strength of its gorgeous visuals, which are striking. They are so incredible at times that this reviewer had a hard time understanding what was happening at some points! The soundtrack (much of it created by electronic band Daft Punk) is awesome, filling the yawning infinity of The Grid with electronic buzzing winds.

In terms of plot TRON: Legacy feels amateurish and silly -- especially the dialogue. Characters actually declare, after making an enemy vehicle explode, "Yeah!!" The acting from everyone is serviceable, with the exception of Michael Sheen as 'Zuse' -- a poor excuse for an underworld gangster. Instead he flails a glass cane around that fires energy bolts and camps it up like a French version of Jim Carey's take on 'The Riddler'. It's painful to watch. He' so very French that when he betrays the heroes no American audience anywhere could be surprised.

A traitorous Frenchman?! Who could have predicted it?

The film feels as though the screenwriters wanted the plot and characterizations to be more interesting, but opted instead for more eye candy. For example, we learn that CLU was created by Sam's father in a flashback sequence in which the elder Flynn arrives on the Grid. He puts his hands out and creates an exact mirror image of himself. Flynn throws his arm over his doppleganger's shoulder and says, "We're going to create a perfect world -- it'll be fun!" Flynn's cavalier attitude towards creating a utopia could have been leverged into some interesting drama, but this relationship between CLU and his creator is just barely touched on during the film's climax.

A political scientist will eventually have a field day with some of the underpinnings of TRON: Legacy because some of the political imagery is just too tantalizing to pass up. The Elder Flynn is a consummate hippie; Bridges is very Lebowski here -- the dude abides, and his dialogue is littered with 70's verbiage. He's clearly a great big hippie. He's talented, a genius, and like most liberals, dreams of a utopian world.

But while the Elder Flynn starts out in The Grid as a youthful hippie he ends up with a snowy white godlike beard. CLU has declared, Nietszche-like, that 'God is dead' and Flynn has acquiesced to this exile. Or, taken politically, Flynn is like a lot of young people who grew up in the 70's who started out full of youthful idealism -- determined to 'never trust anyone over 30.' They ended up as pragmatic bankers instead.

Flynn's utopia has some bugs (the genocide is an 'undocumented feature') and CLU won't allow for a firmware upgrade. Lots and lots of innocent people die, true, but his intentions were honorable so why quibble? Flynn eventually realizes that while he was looking for perfection in the world it was staring him in the face all along, in the form of his son.

From a religious standpoint the imagery is clear. The Elder Flynn is God, who creates the universe, starting with CLU as Lucifer and leader of the other programs (angels) that Flynn creates. The 'isos' are humans, to whom Flynn becomes enamored, to CLU's consternation. CLU rebels like Lucifer, but does not fall, turning Flynn's utopia into hell. It is the arrival of Flynn's son Sam (Jesus) who allows for a resolvement of the crisis.

Again, these rich mythologies are just draped over the thin plot, and sadly not explored very much at all. Otherwise the film is very entertaining, but diehard sci-fi fans will bristle at the lack of sci-fi explanations for any of the world's conventions.

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