If the food you eat when you go to the cinema is anything to go by, Tron is the kind of film you watch whilst gulping down a $20.00 carton of popcorn – the kind that’s so large you don’t run out before the end of the film. Sometimes the experience of going to the cinema (snacks from the lobby, the trailers, the plush red seats, the air-conditioning) is more enjoyable than the substance of the film you are seeing. I don’t mean to say that Tron: Legacy is a movie you might see because nothing else is on. Rather, I mean that everything about the film embodies the spirit of blockbuster film culture in the 21st century. This of course is an inadvertent characteristic of a film that is as earnest and full of conviction as any piece of science fiction or major action release.
Falling halfway between a re-make and a sequel, Tron: Legacy is the story of Sam Flynn, son of disappeared tycoon Kevin Flynn and heir to Encom, a successful global software corporation. Being entirely disenfranchised by the drag of his father’s company, Sam has no girlfriend, no friends, no assets and no aspirations. He spends his time playing practical jokes on the acting board of his father’s company, spontaneously base-jumping and performing death-defying acts on his resplendent Ducati. In other words, he is perfectly primed for adventure when he discovers the virtual world of The Grid, where his father has been trapped for 20 years. The Grid is an efficient and spotlessly beautiful world - all is shiny black surfaces, neon lines, polished glass and glowing machinery. Everything is modular – machines pop out of hidden panels, and even the people living there are computerised. Everything on the Grid –the buildings, the people, the vehicles- is sexy. If the iPhone grew on trees, its plantation would surely be sited on The Grid.
Legacy is perfect for 3D, and there are several scenes that make use of that ‘so-real-you-flinch’ effect and which enliven vast expanses or vertiginous heights. There is little denying that The Grid is a brilliant 21st century manifestation of the visual effects of science fiction. It takes elements from Avatar, the Matrix and Transformers, then adds in real-world ingredients from the digital revolution: the recently ended re-hash of all things Eighties, the popularisation of specialised gadgetry and the trend towards a neo-deco penchant for streamlining. The film is also penetrated by CGI face-altering technologies. Jeff Bridges plays both Kevin and Clu. The latter is digitally altered throughout the entirety of the film to resemble a much younger Bridges – the lineless, handsome face we remember from the original Tron. Most importantly, as any Mac product user will tell you, the technology of The Grid is intuitive – no real technical, programming or hardware knowledge is needed to be able to operate the futuristic lightcycles, planes or automated doors*, just as none is needed to use an iPod, a Blackberry or a digital SLR camera.
Daft Punk are in situ as a direct link to our current world, in which style is hallmarked by smooth surfaces, reflective glass and the total invisibility of the gritty inner workings of machinery. Their presence constitutes a brief moment in which the fourth wall falls and director Joseph Kosinski says “this is one for the fans”.
For a film that has the word ‘Tron’ in the title, the character of Tron barely features. Whilst this might be a little confusing for those who haven’t seen the first film, it’s not that important to Legacy. In fact, like many chase/explosion action films, this plot is only lubricated by a viewer’s willing indifference to its inconsistencies. Garret Hedlund’s Sam Flynn is exactly Par, making him conveniently invisible against the glittering spectacle of The Grid, and Jeff Bridges is charming as the outdated arcade owner-cum-spiritual guru, and his part is peppered with some real gems of anachronistic 80s slang, man.
Not unexpectedly, cliché’s abound. Tron: Legacy is fitted out with a complete trifecta of witless exclamations: “Go! Leave me! Save yourself!” plus the unforgettable “What have you become!?” and of course “Perfection was in front of me the whole time, I was just too blind to see it.” Or something like that. Whatever. I may have got the exact wording wrong; I was munching popcorn pretty loudly at the time.
*A Note on Genre-Spotting: The genre of ‘Science Fiction’ in film, may be defined by the presence of automatic sliding doors. These will usually have some kind of ‘ready’ or ‘lock’ light beside them, a swipe-card or bio-recognition panel to trigger access, a female voice advising the user of the space they are entering, and sometimes a burst of white mist to denote the change in pressurisation between the rooms. If a film has an automated door with any or all of these features, it is without a doubt a work of Science Fiction.