Review: A comparative look at the Tron films

By Sam Rawks

Tron’s Legacy

“A massive cult hit”, “a revolutionary piece of filmmaking”, “a true classic”. These are typical phrases that come to mind when hearing the word Tron as your mind opens the folder marked ‘Awesome shit from the ’80s’.

I’m sure you’re aware Tron was written and directed by Steven Lisberger but for those of you who haven’t seen the film, Steven Lisberger had this to say about his creation: “When thinking about Tron you have to picture yourself inside a Pac-Man game.

“Picture yourself in there fighting for your own life and the only way you can get out of the game is if you figure out how it works from the inside this time. The big difference is the game doesn’t look the way it looks to you from this world as a little screen: this time it looks real.”

The protagonist Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) is digitalised about half an hour into the film and trapped within ENCOM’s computer network which is under the control of the tyrannical Master Control Program. He quickly has to become street smart with the inner workings of a computer in order to stay alive.

Flynn has to adapt his perspective to consider how programs actually function on the other side of the screen and his perceptions are challenged as he experiences the oppression of the MCP. In its production, Donald Kushner, Tron’s producer, wanted to create a real world look but there were difficulties in combining computerised simulation with backlight techniques as well as live action to create a unified cohesive look to the film.

The team behind Tron’s production used computer animation techniques to make the ships and backgrounds which the computer sees as three-dimensional objects. This means they have shape and definition and can be viewed by the camera from any angle so their physical realities are endless.

There were always avid fan-made rumours floating around internet forums in the late ’90s concerning a sequel to Tron but nothing substantial came until 2008 when Disney appeared at Comic-Con and released a trailer for what was at the time known as TR2N.

The upcoming film’s official title Tron: Legacy was officially released a year later at Disney’s panel again at Comic-Con. In response to a query about the name, Jeff Bridges replied: “It’s basically a story about a son’s search for his father.”

Returning to the screen after 28 years, Bridges once again plays Kevin Flynn, our original hero, and oh how the years have changed him. For those of you still yet to see Tron: Legacy you’ll be surprised to learn that certain events have changed his frisky, boyish charm into a quiet but powerful wisdom.

Also returning is Bruce Boxleitner, a.k.a. the titular Tron character, and his user Alan Bradley although he returns in Legacy only as Alan in the real world and voices the program known as Rinzler in cyberspace.

In Legacy our main hero this time around is a youthful prankster who starts off the sequel by sabotaging ENCOM’s systems and releasing prized computer software on to the Web for free download. He is none other than Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund), Kevin Flynn’s son, who very much represents the next generation.

Sam’s character suitably reflects the time difference between the films, for example, by using today’s high-tech gadgets to hack into heavily encrypted security systems which his father could not do back in 1982.
The original Tron is set in 1982, and Legacy in 2009, so using Sam Flynn as the protagonist very neatly closes the gap with a simple solution: family.

Also well worth mentioning is Quorra (Olivia Wilde) – a program within the updated Grid who acts as a supporting character to Sam.

If you remember Yori, the female accomplice from the original Tron, you might cry over how obviously Quorra has been ‘sexed-up’ – to use a bad phrase.

Wilde is suited up to the standards of the Tron universe, and then some, with her sleek, black skin-tight outfit revealing every curve and sporting a futuristic haircut to finish the look. She is clearly a sex symbol whether you are a sci-fi nerd or not but if she is the result of our sex-crazed culture then I have no complaints.

Legacy sees a complete reboot of the Grid updated by Kevin Flynn after he liberates it from the MCP in the original Tron. Not to mention the costumes which have changed from grey to black with the neon lines still denoting a character’s alignment and/or beliefs.

The famous Lightcycles have been redesigned with open tops which is handy in case you fancy sabotaging someone else’s Lightcycle as CLU 2 (a.k.a. Clu, again played by Jeff Bridges as CLU 1 was in Tron), Legacy’s main villain, does.

Clu has also reprogrammed Tron, our original saviour, into the deadly Rinzler (note the familiar T shape below his neck) who now serves as Clu’s right hand program and games warrior. When I first saw Legacy I felt a pang of sadness for our fallen hero which only felt partly rectified when Rinzler/Tron managed to overcome his programming proclaiming: “I fight for the user!” before sacrificing himself to help save our heroes.

Tron’s filming techniques were revolutionary at the time, as combining live action and CGI in a film was unheard of. It was an iconic milestone and introduced the next stage of cinematography to the industry showing what was possible.

This time around though with Legacy similar technology is widely available to most film studios many of which are also producing films in 3D. So while the effects are impressive, it is far less extraordinary.

A friend of mine recently saw Legacy at an IMAX theatre in California, he told me: “I can see why this new technology has been hyped to such an extent. The scenes that were so famous with the original Tron were brought to life [in Legacy] as Lightcycles barrelled towards the seats.

“The larger screen and effects that accompanied the 3D made it that much more exhilarating and makes the audience become more involved. But the disadvantages of IMAX and 3D is that the scenes that weren’t filmed in 3D began to look strange and weren’t as good quality. With this kind of technology you’re either 100 per cent in or not at all.”

While 3D seems to be slowly appearing in more cinemas around the world, Legacy’s special effects are not the innovative new ways of filming that enabled Tron to first captivate audiences in 1982. That era has sadly passed.

Legacy seems to rely on its special effects which appear to dwarf the comparatively weak narrative running through the film. It’s a relatively satisfying story in itself but it really is outshined by Tron’s originality – Legacy is essentially a revamp of an old concept cleverly masked as a sequel through narrative continuity.

Originals like Tron will always be remembered for what they are and yes I casually throw out superficial adjectives like timeless, classic and even downright awesome to describe Tron but I wouldn’t dare if I didn’t truly believe it was worthy of such hyperbole. As films go Tron is famous for having broke boundaries in filmmaking way back in ’82 but when held up against today’s filmmaking capabilities it simply wouldn’t cut it.

Legacy has far more advanced special effects but that doesn’t make it better than Tron for a second. Take the original Star Wars or the original Karate Kid: these are films that have been remade to fit in with today’s popular culture. Their remakes aren’t overly terrible but they will never be as recognised because the originals were and still are their own iconic zeitgeists and I fear Tron: Legacy will most likely suffer the same fate.


2 thoughts on “Review: A comparative look at the Tron films

  1. Pingback: Brighton Festival Review: Sufjan Stevens @ Brighton Dome, 14/05/2011 «

  2. Pingback: Brighton Festival Review: Sufjan Stevens @ Brighton Dome, 13/05/2011 « nickoweninwriting

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