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Tron Legacy (2010,USA)

17/07/2011

Director: Joseph Kosinski     Starring: Jeff Bridges, Garrett Hedlund, Olivia Wilde, Bruce Boxleitner

Disney released the original Tron in 1982, a bold experiment in computer generated special effects geared towards the Space Invaders age. Its premise of a computer programmer sucked into a parallel digital world and forced to fight for survival against the vicious Master Control program is admittedly a touch absurd but bags of fun. Its probably better remembered for its striking visuals and, for the time, innovative visual effects than anything else, particularly the unforgettable light-cycle sequences. It seems insane that it has taken almost thirty years for a sequel to appear given the rapid progress made in the field of computer generated effects since that original outing.

Twenty years after his father Kevin Flynn (Bridges) disappeared without trace his son Sam (Hedlund), after being tipped off with a pager message from his dad’s abandoned arcade, is transported in the digital realm of The Grid. Forced, like his father before him, to do battle in brutal gladiatorial combat for the amusement of its digital denizens he ecapes only to be reunited with his father who has been trapped there for the last two decades with his surrogate, computer program daughter Quorra (Wilde). They join forces against the tyrannical overlord of The Grid, Clu (also Bridges) in order to thwart his plans to escape the confines of cyberspace with his digital army. As you can see, the plot is no more sensible than the original. It’s still a hell of a lot of fun though.

Visually, it is rather spectacular. It’s possibly the first film I would have quite liked to see in 3D, the imposing, many layered landscapes of The Grid looking like fertile ground for some depth of field fun. The day-glo look of the ’82 original has been refined to a more sophisticated array of neon highlights and semi-transparent surfaces. The ultraviolet glare from the earlier film has been replaced with a beautiful gloss sheen of high contrast blacks, subtle electric blues and burning oranges. I watched it on DVD and it looked superb, I would imagine on blu ray it would be amazing.

As you might expect, the games from the original make a comeback but bigger and bolder and, well, flashier. Faster paced, better looking and more suited to today’s video game savvy audience they are probably the best thing about the film, especially the new and improved light-cycle scenes. When people talk about “big dumb fun” effects movies this is the sort of thing that springs to mind for me rather than the style-less, pixel mash ups of the likes of Transformers. With dynamic choreography and genuine tension they are a joy to behold, the intricacy of the vehicles adding essential weight to the “virtual” technology. These sequences really define the film although they do somewhat overshadow the performances and story, which is a shame because there is good stuff to be had from both.

Bridges plays the dual roles of Kevin Flynn and Clu and does both with his typical flair, Flynn coming over like a digital Jesus meets The Dude and Clu having all the hallmarks of some kind of comic book villain with some serious daddy issues. Freakily, both Clu and the younger version of Flynn have had a computer generated facelift to give them the look of the ’82 Bridges. The effect is not 100% convincing, especially on the “real world” Flynn. Although, by CGI standards, beautifully rendered and almost real looking it lacks the natural appearance and movement of a real human face and the overall effect is actually rather disconcerting. It’s actually rather appropriate for Clu, created in Flynn’s own image but bereft of humanity although it is equally as disconcerting in the digital realm as the real one. The rest of the central cast are competent but not especially spectacular. More interesting are some of the supporting roles. Bruce Boxleitner reprises his character from the original film, there’s an incredibly short cameo early on from Cillian Murphy that creates the impression it might go somewhere but doesn’t (saving it for another sequel perhaps?)but the real show stealer comes in the form of Michael Sheen’s virtual nightclub proprietor channeling the spirit of David Bowie which provides a brief but nicely judged spell of comic relief in the middle of the film.

Yes, it’s silly. Yes, it’s a CGI fest which regular readers will know is usually a shortcut to getting me to despise your film. But in both cases these things are appropriate to the story and consistent with the fantasy universe that has been established. Yes, the idea of the real world becoming physically manifest inside a computer program (and worse, the digital realm becoming manifest in the real world) is utterly preposterous but it’s a fantasy film and because everything else about the film universe supports this central premise, they get away with it. The heavy use of CGI is more than justified by the setting as is the contextually perfect Daft Punk score (even if sometimes it threatens to lend a music video feel to some scenes). There can be no denying that even with it’s existential story threads it’s never really a contender as a serious film, but it definitely is good fun and a highly entertaining diversion.

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