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Archive for December, 2010

Because I am apparently still absolute rubbish when it comes to writing reviews for the films I see, I thought I might do a repeat of what I did last year and write up short reviews of all of the films I saw over the course of 2010.  This time around, however, I’m going to shake things up and do a countdown of the films as they ranked for me as a moviegoer.

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Review: TRON: Legacy

The story of how I came to see TRON: Legacy is perhaps a little necessary when it comes to understanding my (admittedly somewhat biased) criticism of the film.  It is a story that takes place over the course of more than a year, and it is the story of how I went from disinterested to enthralled.  When TR2N (as Legacy was originally titled) was first announced, I did not care.  I had never seen the 1982 original and only vaguely knew what it was about, so I saw nothing for me in a sequel except perhaps a growing exasperation at Hollywood’s desperate attempts to create another new franchise.  I figured I might see the film if it looked interesting, and if not, oh well.

Later, it was announced that Daft Punk would be doing the score for the upcoming film.  As an avid fan of film scores and a casual but adoring fan of Daft Punk, my interest was duly piqued.  I figured I’d have to see the film at least once if the soundtrack was any good (and it probably would be), and even if the movie itself was no good, I’d at least get a good soundtrack for my trouble and my time.

In April or May of this year, the first trailer premiered, complete with Daft Punk score.  It looked fantastic, and what little story teased therein had enough of my favorite elements that I was immediately interested.  I figured then that I would definitely have to see the film, since it would probably be good on a visual and musical level at the least, even if the story ended up falling short.

My interest slowly grew as the months passed, but it was the release of the third trailer in early November that really sealed the deal for me.  It looked great, it sounded great, and the story would, at least to me, be somewhat interesting, even if it wasn’t very well done.  I was going to see TRON: Legacy come hell or high water, and I would live if it fell short of my expectations.

It was then that I decided I ought to see the original film before I indulged in the sequel.  Finding it on DVD was almost impossible unless I felt like losing fifty dollars, but after some discrete poking around on YouTube, I managed to find the whole film.  I watched it, and I instantly fell in total nerdy love.  The visual effects, which were perhaps the driving force of the whole film, were outstanding, especially given that the film was made in 1982, about a decade before CGI really became viable for visual effects.  While TRON certainly wasn’t the best film ever made, its flaws were mostly forgivable in light of all the little things I loved about it.  And so it was that, over the course of about a year, I had been transformed from a disinterested outsider to a full-fledged fan.  I walked into TRON: Legacy not skeptical but excited and nervous.  As the reel unspooled and the film began, I could only hope that what I was about to see would live up to the sense of wonder and imagination its predecessor had created.

I believe it is fairly safe to say that my fears were largely unfounded.

 

The story:  Twenty years prior to the story’s start, Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), genius programmer and CEO of tech company Encom, disappears, orphaning his young son, Sam.  In the present, Sam (Garrett Hedlund) is a somewhat aimless 27 year old, still haunted by his father’s absence.  A mysterious pager message brings Sam to Flynn’s old arcade, and after some investigating Sam finds himself transported to the Grid, the digital world where his father has been trapped for the last twenty years by one of his own programs, the dictatorial Clu (also Bridges).  Once reunited with his father, Sam is determined to get them both back to the real world, but Clu is equally determined to prevent them from doing just that.

 

For the most part, TRON: Legacy more than lived up to my expectations and to its predecessor.  The film manages to overcome many of the problems that plagued TRON while simultaneously building on and improving in those areas where TRON truly excelled.

Visually, the film is nothing short of a triumph.  Director Joe Kosinski and the visual effects team have together created a world that, like the first film, isn’t quite like anything I’ve ever seen.  We see a lot of Kevin Flynn’s Grid over the course of TRON: Legacy, but the pristine and dazzling visuals left me wanting to see more.  The vehicles, the buildings, the various and sundry programs—the overall environment of the film creates a sense of completeness and history, of places and times beyond what the viewer is show.  It’s a whole wide world, and we’re only seeing a fraction of a fraction of it.  I was actually reminded a little of James Cameron’s Avatar and all the painstaking detail put into the world of Pandora.  Much like I did after seeing Avatar, I wanted to see TRON: Legacy again just to look at everything and drink in all the little details of the world.

Of course, I couldn’t discuss the visual effects without mentioning the effect used to digitally de-age Jeff Bridges so that he could play not only a younger Flynn in flashbacks but also the program Clu.  It is, for the most part, done pretty effectively, though some oddly lit scenes toward the end of the film lack the believability of many earlier scenes.  The strange lighting (contrasting red light with white/blue light in this case) only serves to make Clu look thoroughly creepy and inhuman, and it’s very difficult to tell if this was a deliberate choice by the filmmakers or merely a misstep with the technology itself.  Given Clu’s character arc, I certainly hope that it’s the former rather than the latter.  Overall, the effect might have benefited from some additional polishing, but it is, all the same, impressive and effective, if not totally successful.

The music of TRON: Legacy is another one of its major strengths.  Daft Punk’s score is amazing, a deft and breathtaking combination of both orchestral and electronic elements that is perfectly suited to the film and to the world itself.  The score is really one of the major players in the film, creating the atmosphere and punctuating each scene and sequence beautifully.  I really hope that the creative work and originality on display in the music earns Daft Punk an Oscar nomination when the time comes.  They more than deserve it, in my opinion.

Unfortunately, one of TRON: Legacy’s major flaws is one that it shares with the original TRON: its story is rather regrettably convoluted and difficult to clearly explain without tripping over the interesting plot lines.  That said, the story is itself fairly easy to follow if you go with the flow (though one subplot is really almost unnecessary save perhaps as sequel setup), and it doesn’t suffer from the enormous pacing problems that were such an issue in TRON.  I was never bored while watching the film; if the story moved slowly, it happened at appropriate moments in the plot.  In fact, one of the story’s major strengths is its main theme of fathers and sons.  The story is at its strongest when it is emphasizing these themes through the relationships of its characters, and I think that that is what makes the film itself so effective, even if the plot is confusing and tangled.

Part of the reason the these themes and this story work so well is because they arise rather naturally from the character, and luckily, the characters are by and large appealing and likeable.  I think the story itself is saved by the overall strength of the cast’s performances.  Jeff Bridges does a fantastic job pulling double duty as an older and wise Kevin Flynn and the villainous program Clu.  He makes each character unique from the other but similar (for Clu is an extension of Kevin himself), and their tragically shattered relationship resonates wonderfully in Bridges’ capable hands.  As for the other leads, Olivia Wilde is handily the film’s most appealing character as the naïve but fierce program Quorra, while Garrett Hedlund’s turn as Sam Flynn is serviceable but sometimes unremarkable.  Much like the story, I found that Hedlund is at his best when Sam is trying to make sense of his relationship with his long-absent father.

TRON: Legacy is not a perfect film by any means, but it is certainly one of the better films to come out this year.  It suffers from some of the same problems as its predecessor, but it also has many of the elements that made TRON a cult classic in the first place and is, in all probability, well worth your time and money.

4/5 stars.

End of line.

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