Rocket-fueled eye candy is a good thing in my book. “TRON: Legacy” delivers visual spectacle in abundance. Director Joseph Kosinski, making his feature debut, creates a universe of beautifully-etched stained glass windows. Is it thin on plot, characterization, and common sense? Yes. Do I care? No.
In a perfect world, of course, “TRON: Legacy” would have thrilling visuals as well as a deeply satisfying storyline and characters who come alive despite being computer constructs. The script, credited to Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, makes about as much sense as the final season of “Lost,” which is understandable, since Kitsis and Horowitz were writers on that show for several seasons.
Like “Lost,” “TRON: Legacy” is aces at pseudo-profound dialogue that often lands with a thud. Like “Lost,” “Tron: Legacy” features characters whose motivations remain unfathomable mysteries. Like “Lost,” “Tron: Legacy” will either alienate or fascinate.
I’m in the camp that was fascinated, in part because the first third of the picture built up a considerable amount of goodwill. Following up on the events of the original “TRON” (1982), Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) built a very successful computer company before disappearing 20 years ago, leaving behind his young son Sam. Played as an adult by Garrett Hedlund, Sam has refused to follow in his father’s footsteps, to the disappointment of would-be mentor Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner, also the original TRON). Sam prefers to live in an isolated garage besides a river, restoring his father’s classic Ducati motorcycle and playing expensive pranks.
The story started to lose me when an ENCOM corporate executive declares that their flagship product, an operating system used by the majority of the world’s computers, will no longer be distributed free and open source, but will be secured and sold with a huge mark-up — and the new version will have no new features! Ha ha ha ha ha, he laughs haughtily, ignoring the dismay of the idealistic Alan Bradley, who reminds the board: “That wasn’t what Kevin wanted.”
It’s a dig at Microsoft, written by people who must not use computers, because if they did, they’d know that new operating system versions are never snapped up by users nowadays; the changeover is always reluctant and never a guarantor of profits, as Microsoft itself has learned. It’s irritating, to say the least, especially since a basic knowledge of the computer world is expected from a movie that’s all about a computer world.
That’s true throughout the movie, especially after Sam gets sucked into a computer-generated world, much the same way that his father was. The new world takes galloping liberties with technology, mixing and matching virtual reality games with the more straight-forward vector graphics made famous by the original film.
The original film was also lacking in characterization and story sense. But it more than made up for it with the dazzling graphics. 1982 was the year of Q*bert and Zaxxon and Pole Position and Dig Dug and the Commodore 64; “TRON” captured the zeitgeist of the first video game generation, fulfilling the wishes of many young men to become one with their favorite arcade game.
“TRON: Legacy” arrives with far different expectations. General knowledge of computers has grown exponentially, and state-of-the-art software grants game players a much greater degree of interactivity. “TRON: Legacy” is aware of the changes and so concentrates on making its world as high-tech as possible.
In the visual realm, they made consistently good choices in updating, refurbishing, and referencing the original film, as well as other landmark films (notably “The Matrix” and “Star Wars”) that have become a part of the cultural lexicon. Some scenes — everything involving the gliders — look and feel stunning. The 3D effects are well-used, taking advantage of all the transparent surfaces in this new world. The musical score by Daft Punk is highly functional in creating a moody atmosphere.
The decision to have Jeff Bridges play two roles is a mixed blessing. As the aged, wise and weary Kevin Flynn, trapped inside a world of his own making, he channels “The Dude” from “The Big Lebowski” to good effect, bringing some much needed comic relief. As his creation CLU, computer-altered so as to “de-age” Bridges, he looks like Mr. Potatohead made out of suntanned clay. In that role, Bridges looks constipated instead of emotionless.
Olivia Wilde adds to the eye candy in a thankless role, while Michael Sheen goes insanely over-the-top as a foppish barkeep.
Visually, “TRON: Legacy” delivers everything you might wish to see. That makes it a holiday treat.