With “Tron: Legacy,”
hitting theaters this week, you might be tempted to track down a copy of its
predecessor “Tron,” the 1982 cult sci-fi film that took audiences inside a
cutting-edge computer universe called the Grid. But watching the original is a
strange exercise in arcade-era nostalgia and utter dismay that such a corny
production, with stink-bomb dialogue, homemade costumes and stiff acting (an
exuberant, young Jeff Bridges the one exception) could inspire a $200 million
But what made “Tron” endure in our memories all these years wasn’t the film
itself, but the excitement it generated when asking us to imagine a fully
digital future. Though “Legacy” takes advantage of today’s technology to realize
the ideas of the ahead-of-its-time original, it fails to reignite the excitement
of a futuristic fantasy from a more technologically sophisticated 2010
“Legacy” picks up 28 years after Kevin Flynn (Bridges), a whiz kid programmer
and video arcade owner, first found himself stranded in the Grid and facing off
with a sinister super program with designs on dominating its human “users.” In
the first few minutes, we learn that the young Flynn soon became a figurehead of
the computer revolution of the mid-’80s. But he was also an idealist who
believed that the free and open flow of information could fundamentally improve
the human condition. Yes, he became a digital hippie.
Then one day he just disappeared, leaving his young son Sam an orphan — and the
majority stockholder of a multibillion dollar technology empire. Now 27, Sam
(Garrett Hedlund) is a reckless thrill-seeker whose only involvement with the
company is the annual prank he pulls on its sinister board of directors (the
likely villains for the next installment). At the urging of his dad’s old
partner Alan (Bruce Boxleitner, whose digital alter ego in “Tron” gave the film
its moniker), Sam returns to the boarded-up arcade and is accidentally beamed
back to the Grid. There he finds his father, who’s been trapped since his
mysterious disappearance by the Grid’s power-hungry ruler Clu, Flynn’s rogue
digital copy, who hasn’t aged since Flynn programmed him almost 30 years before.
Though “Legacy” is technically a sequel, first-time feature film director Joseph
Kosinski spends much of the time remaking memorable scenes from the original and
continuing a story that should have been entirely reinvented, instead of
recycled. Sure, the visuals are a vast improvement, but they also keep the film
rooted in outdated nostalgia, rather than unbound creativity.
What we get is a glossier, 3-D reinvention of the first film’s aesthetic — large
expanses of black, accented by glowing neon racer stripes. It’s all-encompassing
and quite striking, leaving you somewhat disoriented upon re-entering our
concrete world. Kosinki’s most imaginative 3-D contraptions are stunning, though
it’s unfortunate that they don’t show up until we’ve slogged through a slow,
dreary, middle bursting with overblown political themes.
“Legacy’s” real special-effects star is the technology that brings a realistic
and youthful Jeff Bridges to the screen to face off with his 62-year-old self.
The conflict between the characters may feel contrived, but the feat itself is
quite spectacular (save for the younger Bridges’ Botox-like facial stiffness)
and one that will likely be improved upon in the years to come, making for some
interesting cinematic possibilities.
Yet here we are in 2010, more entwined in technology than many of us ever
dreamed. And although we reap the benefits with “Legacy’s” striking visual
effects, it seems that Hollywood is still stuck in the ’80s when it comes to