I’m not sure what the point of this movie was other than to make Disney a lot of money. Tron, the cult 1982 film, didn’t require a sequel. There was no burning need to continue the story of software-engineer Kevin Flynn. Back in its day it made a modest profit and then the public at large forgot about it. In 1982 Hollywood wasn’t as sequel crazy as it is today. Oh sure, they made sequels to stuff like Dirty Harry movies, Star Wars movies, and a shitload of James Bond movies. But today we have shit like Green Lantern getting a green-light for a trilogy before the first movie even finished production. Only the Hollywood of today would make a sequel to the putrid pile of shit that was the remake of Clash of the Titans. So that’s why a modest money-maker like the original Tron didn’t get a sequel. It was fun, people liked it, but then they moved on. There wasn’t this obsessive need to keep beating the dead horse of sequels just because Hollywood thinks it’s easier than coming up with original ideas.
28 years later, we have Tron: Legacy. How exactly did this happen? I have no idea. No one does. It seems like the idea for a Tron sequel came out of the blue. It’s not as if the general public was clamoring for another Tron movie for the last 20 years. Seemingly at random, Disney started to pimp out TR2N promos three years ago. Whose bright idea was this? Nobody’s. This actually confirms a theory I’ve had for quite some time: no humans run Disney. There is just this old IBM computer that still takes 8-inch floppy disks that generates random ideas and scrounges for old shit to remake. Why else would we be getting Pirates of the Caribbean 4? Either that or Hollywood is so starved for ideas they are really digging into the past to find anything to remake/sequalize. I guess that’s why we now have a Green Hornet movie. After all, if you can find a 30-75 year old property that didn’t completely bomb, why not make a sequel to it?! Half the movie-going public isn’t even old enough to remember how much the first one sucked! By that logic, I guess we can expect a sequel to The Beastmaster any day now.
Like any terrible blogger, I decided that I needed to see the new Tron movie. But I barely remembered the old one. All I could recall of it was some guys throwing frisbees at each other, motorcycles that sprout deadly solid lines behind them, and everyone wearing these blue and red light-up leotards. Unfortunately, what I could not recall was if the movie had been any good. I decided to ask my parents, and they remembered just as much about it as I did. I asked a few other people who were adults when the original movie premiered, and pretty much everyone remembered the same stuff. Nobody could actually recollect what the plot was or if it hadn’t been executed well or ineptly. So, I figured my next best move was to watch the original. I queued it up on Netflix…
Oh, what the fuck? It’s not available on Netflix? Oh sure, they have Latter Days, a super obscure Joseph Gordon-Levitt movie about gay Mormons, but they don’t have Tron? How the fuck is that even possible? Wasn’t this movie semi-popular? Didn’t it have a big cult following? Why wasn’t a major distributor like Disney keeping this in print? What was I going to eat for lunch? I had so many burning questions, I wasn’t sure where to begin.
What I eventually learned by scouring the bowels of the Internet was that Disney had let the last DVD edition of Tron lapse into out-of-print status. Going against common sense, they had decided not to re-release it during the buildup to the new Tron. You would think they would, as to generate more sales and more interest in the movie. Further investigation led me to discover that Disney had intentionally not re-released the original movie for fear that it would hurt ticket sales to the new film. Zuhwhat? Yes, that’s right. Disney screened the original movie to some test audiences in order to generate buzz for the sequel. It backfired. The audience thought the plot was lame, and laughed outright at the dated special effects. With too much money already invested in the sequel, they decided to just put a lid on the original. Great idea, decrepit Disney-IBM-computer. Maybe you should have screened the original before dropping $170 million into making a sequel.
Eventually I was able to track down a copy. As I fired it up I kept in mind the fact that for 1982 the special effects were state of the art. I wouldn’t let hokey CGI prevent me from enjoying the movie. And you know what? It didn’t. In fact, the CGI wasn’t half bad. Again, considering it was the first movie of its kind, the special effects were downright awesome. Sure they are like cave-paintings compared to what we can do today (e.g. Avatar), but considering how revolutionary it was, it was sort of neat to watch it. That’s not to say Tron isn’t without its problems. It is very light on plot, and has little to no character development. It tells a story of a ragtag band of good guys rising up against their evil overlords. Been there, done that a million times before. The addition of having the story play out in the computer world, and having them battle to the death in gladiatorial combat, made it unique enough to warrant watching. Jeff Bridges brought a well-balanced amount of humor and gravity to his role of Kevin Flynn. He was serious when necessary to move the story forward, but not too serious, because the whole concept of the movie is a bit silly. Overall, everything worked. The movie wasn’t amazing by any means, but it was good enough. I enjoyed it. In fact, I enjoyed it enough that it got me more excited to see Tron: Legacy.
Unfortunately, the new Tron was a disappointment. While the original film did have primitive CGI, some hokey story elements, and very little plot and character development, it did have a certain indefinable charm. There is just something about it that makes it very hard to dislike. In fact, considering they were ballsy enough to use so much CGI in a time where such a thing didn’t really exist, I figured I could give them a pass for the weak plot elements.
The new Tron has no such excuse. The special effects are flashy and “state of the art.” However, considering elaborate CGI is pretty much the standard for Hollywood these days, Tron: Legacy offers up nothing new. The CGI here looks no better than any of the dime a dozen turds Hollywood has been crapping out this year. They did include one element which was supposed to be a revolution for film-making, and that was using a computer to digitally create a young-looking Jeff Bridges. Flynn’s computer program Clu was meant to look just like Flynn did 28 years ago. Sadly, it doesn’t really work. His face comes out as very waxy and shiny. There’s not enough wrinkles or skin flaws to look realistic, it looks too smooth. The eyes are sort of dead inside, and his mouth doesn’t move as naturally as a real person’s does when they speak. Don’t get me wrong, it looked pretty good, and is probably the best we have seen so far. However, given that they haven’t done anything to revolutionize cinema in the way the original Tron did, they don’t earn any bonus points for CGI-wax-face-Jeff Bridges. Tron: Legacy doesn’t push the limits of our technology in the same way that Tron did.
The other major problem was lazy writing. 28 years later and the sequel gives us the exact same story as the original. Again, a ragtag band of good guys battle against their evil overlords. But it’s even more than just a rehashed theme, the plot points are nearly identical. In the original, Kevin Flynn gets sucked into the computer world, is immediately put on “The Game Grid,” participates in a couple of battles, escapes after a light-cycle battle, and spends the rest of the movie running from bad guys until the final battle. In the sequel, Sam Flynn gets sucked into the computer world, is even more quickly put on “The Game Grid” (this time with no explanation whatsoever), participates in a couple of battles, escapes after a light-cycle battle, and spends the rest of the movie running from bad guys until the final battle. It’s essentially the exact same thing. And seriously, they gave us the disc game and light-cycles again? After 28 years they couldn’t come up with something new? Actually, those fucking Tron fanboys probably wanted it that way. Fanboys hate innovation. All they want is nostalgia, and if you add in new shit, their nostalgia is ruined.
Even more aggravating is that the original movie had greater variety in its glorious, poorly choreographed 1982 action. It had the disc game, the light-cycles, Jai alai, tanks, and floating fortresses called Space Paranoids. The sequel utilized far less, and everything was a repeat from the original, it only had the disc game, the light cycles, and a very underwhelming airplane chase.
The final thing I found frustrating was that in both the original Tron and its sequel, they had teased us with the potential for a very interesting plot line/twist. In the first movie, Flynn is a “user” and as such appears to have special abilities that the other “programs” don’t have. He is able to construct a Space Paranoid at will, he absorbs massive amounts of energy that would kill someone else, he creates a new link for this scene involving the Solar Sailor, and he seems to have uncommon skill and precision in battles. It is sort of like a prototypical version of Neo from The Matrix. If anything, the creators of The Matrix saw this and decided to exploit it for their own movie.
Tron, unfortunately, does not flesh out this idea. Flynn is almost like a god in the computer world, but they never take the idea to the next level, and do not examine it in anything more than its most superficial details. We are expected to just accept it at face value. Also adding to the religious take, is that the “programs” believe in a higher power called the “users.” Sark, the villain, tells them they do not exist, thus quashing any religious beliefs. Again, it would have been a far more interesting story to see this concept fleshed out, but again they did not take the opportunity. Tron: Legacy, being a copy of the original suffers the same faults. Kevin Flynn is shown to have god-like powers, and in one scene some “programs” kneel down and worship him. Sam Flynn decides to undertake a suicide-mission to rescue his friend Quorra. BUT SAM, THAT’S A SUICIDE MISSION, HOW WILL YOU COME OUT ALIVE?! “Because I’m a user!” Yeah, OK, what the fuck does that even mean? Once again, multiple opportunities to make an interesting story were squandered.
So what was good about the new Tron movie? The acting was good, the special effects were good, the soundtrack by Daft Punk was awesome, the action sequences were cool and fun to watch, and the directing showed some unique flourishes and interesting choices. Really, the problem here was the plot. It was just too weak. If they could have offered up something groundbreaking like the original Tron did, I’d give it a pass. But it doesn’t. So, it gets relegated to Hollywood shit.
Unfortunately, Tron: Legacy made a lot of money, so the decrepit IBM computer won again, ensuring a future of shitty sequels and remakes to more properties better left forgotten.
Tron – Average (but leaning toward good)
Tron: Legacy – Average (but leaning toward bad)