Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Tron Legacy – Heir to the Throne?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on December 18, 2010

I saw Tron Legacy last night in IMAX 3D. I am definitely glad I did. It was one of those movies that really should be experienced in 3D on the big screen. I’ll save you the guesswork now and say I really enjoyed the movie overall, but I also definitely had mixed feelings about it. Part of it was all that I hoped it would be. Other parts were a little annoying. Sometimes more than a little.

As dorky as it was, I loved the 1982 original. It was really lame and cheesy in so many ways – and I knew even then as a kid how cheesy it was – but I still loved it. I wanted to be Kevin Flynn. Not the Kevin Flynn that performed awkward heroics in his tight circuit-suit in the Grid, but the Kevin Flynn who programmed CLU to hack the system. The Kevin Flynn who wrote Space Paranoids and Light Cycles;  who ran his own arcade and who made electronic key-cards to hack very big security doors and cracked jokes while being perfectly at home in front of (or, apparently, inside) any computer.

And I wanted to make video games with visuals that were as good as the ones in the movie. Of course now, we can generate scenes in real-time that look 100x better than the ones they spent hours on every frame in a render farm back in 1981 or so when they were making the movie. But at the time, they were amazing and otherworldly.

As goofy as the movie was, as technologically ignorant, and as poor the acting was on the part of some secondary characters – it was still an influence on me. Possibly a big one, I guess, as I grew up to become a video game programmer. I would probably have done that even if I had never heard of Kevin Flynn. But redundant or not, it was a push in that direction, one I remembered well over all those years. And of course, it was a technological marvel of the time. So warts and all, I stick it on something of a pedestal, and still get a kick out of watching it every few years.

So now, 28 years later, we finally get an official  sequel. The premise had me instantly. Kevin Flynn did return to the Grid. Lots. Lived another life there, really. And then, one day, he disappeared and never returned. Now, years later, his grown-up son finally uncovers his trail, and accidentally goes in after him. The action scenes, the visuals, the computer de-aging of characters, the father-son thing, Bruce Boxleitner’s Alan Bradley, and a lot more were simply awesome. It was exactly what I’d come hoping to see, and I was very satisfied.

But a lot of other things bugged me, on a level that really detracted from the overall movie. Sam’s little rebellion against ENCOM bugged me, showing a complete misunderstanding of how the software industry works. Though I was delighted by the use of actual UNIX commands. Apparently nobody told the scriptwriters why software companies give free or cheap copies of their software to schools and students. Anyway, apparently ENCOM is a big evil corporation because Sam refuses to take charge and give all their software away for free or something. I dunno. Anyway, it presents Sam as a rebel and a daredevil, which explains his success in the games a little better than just being a software guy who plays video games.  The whole rebel thing could have been played up a lot more, but that’s pretty much the end of it.

And that’s a big problem with the whole movie. The set up so many possible metaphors and themes, but never follow up on them longer than a scene or two. It’s as if every half-act was written by a different screenwriter who had a different take on the story and characters.

One thing that this movie lost that I missed from the original was the sense of alien mystery of the computer world. In the first movie, you had a world which had evolved by itself based on human interaction with computers. In this one, almost everything was – in theory at least – by design. There was no guessing as to what real-world analog some feature or function in the computer world was supposed to represent. Instead, we get a very human-style nightclub, patterned after… a real-world nightclub.

And the big mystery of this movie – the ISOs or “Isometric Algorithms” – are treated as little more than a throwaway Macguffin. It’s explained that they changed everything – but why and how and what it all means is left completely as an exercise to the viewer. Surely something so central to the backstory could be explored to a little more depth, huh?

And the whole Rinzler thing – faceless to the very end – honked me off. It’s clear they could have done something much cooler and more heroic and meaningful there. But they didn’t.

As other critics have mentioned, there are definitely pacing issues.  It’s not (usually) a problem of exposition versus action – they seem to be in pretty good balance, and the exposition tends to be pretty character-revealing and satisfying. But there are a few places where there is just a lot happening but nothing going on. There’s not a clear sense of direction or purpose, just a fill-in-the-blank action sequence getting inserted because seven minutes had gone by without a chase or fight.

So these are pretty big issues marring an otherwise pretty awesome film. I’d still heartily recommend it, particularly to anyone who was a fan of the original – but you were going to see the film anyway. For others, well, I’ll recommend it anyway. Especially in 3D. It’s a wild experience, and unlike, say, Avatar, it actually has something interesting (if underdeveloped) beneath the cool visuals and special effects. And yeah, it does feel like an appropriate heir to the Tron “legacy” – warts and all.

Filed Under: Movies - Comments: 7 Comments to Read

  • Adamantyr said,

    I just saw it tonight myself. Also highly recommended. 🙂

    It has the feeling of “If you read the novelization, you’ll get more of the backstory”. Rather like the original TRON, in fact. 🙂

    I agree about Rinzler, I suspect there may have been a money issue there… seriously trying not to spoil it for everyone, but I think they could at most afford to do the de-aging thing on one guy, not two, to be viewable up close.

    I think the idea to the ISO’s was that they were basically NOT designed at all… they just happened, because they redesigned the grid in a way that real genuine “life” occurred, programs that were far more than just a route set of instructions. I think it’s a solid element that was, regrettably, not well detailed in the film itself.

    And the music is AWESOME… must get soundtrack… end of line.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Yeah, I definitely felt like they must have left a third of the story on the cutting room floor. The special features on the DVD may be very illuminating. Or the novelization.

    I ended up buying the soundtrack before even seeing the movie. I guess it says something good that I didn’t even notice the soundtrack playing in the movie except at the beginning, end, and the nightclub scene.

  • tfernando said,

    It’s interesting that you recommend seeing it in 3D… I saw it tonight in IMAX 3D, and I came away wondering if I should have seen it in 2D. I had trouble with focusing my eyes during some conversations (one or the other person would become blurry) and the light cycle sequence. I hadn’t noticed this in other 3D films, or in the sequence with the airplane/spaceship thingies.

    Even so, I liked the movie. Nostalgia FTW! I did notice a lot of the narrative problems you mention.

    I bought the soundtrack when I got home from the theatre. 🙂

  • Andy_Panthro said,

    I definitely want to see it, but have heard so many mixed things. Might have to wait for the blu-ray release…

    On the subject of 80s CGI, I recently re-discovered an old Japanese animation called “Lensman” the other day. I’d seen it back in the 80s, and then forgot what it was called.

    Anyway, the intro has some amazing (for the time) CGI, which you can check out here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZXa4FE3er8I&feature=related

    Just goes to show how far things have come, doesn’t it?

  • Review of TRON: Legacy | The Internet Crashed said,

    […] those lucky enough to own a home computer like a TRS-80 or Commodore 64, we saw the potential. As a fellow game developer says in his own review of this movie, “[TRON was] an influence on me. Possibly a big one, I guess, as I grew up to […]

  • Tesh said,

    I don’t think it needs the 3D, the night club was stupid, and the ISOs really need more exposition, but all in all, I loved the show. It’s one I’ll be getting on DVD eventually, and watching in marathons with the original.

  • John Cartwright said,

    I have tested out the UNIX commands shown in the movie with a FreeBSD installation and they do work just as shown in the film, this was a very cool and stylish film, the whole spectacle was entertaining enough and pretty to boot.

    A good job by the director, and the artists.