Making the Grades
Unlike many sequels, the new Tron: Legacy asks viewers to try to recall plots points from a movie that released 28 years ago. Huh? All I remember about seeing Tron in the summer of ‘82 was that it felt long and tedious, and it was my second date with the woman who is now my wife. It also seems Disney has done it’s best to make that earlier film disappear. A rare, sealed copy sells upward to $100 and more for the 2002 DVD edition on eBay.(On April 5, 2011,Tron was released by DIsney on DVD and Blu-ray.)
While the team of writers on this effort attempt to provide some clues to the back-story, the quantity of information still feels a little stingy. They begin by returning us to 1989 where Kevin Flynn (played by a digitally youth-enized Jeff Bridges) says goodbye to his 7-year-old son Sam (Owen Best) and rides off into a virtual world of his creation where he will become trapped for the next two decades.
Sam grows up (now played by Garrett Hedlund) to be the antithesis of his father. His disdain for technology is his motivation for launching sophisticated technological pranks on his father’s former company, which has morphed into a mega conglomerate. (Strangely, his ability to hack into complex computer systems would suggest he’s anything but an anti-geek.) But when his father’s former business partner Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner) gets a mysterious message asking Sam to return to his father’s abandoned arcade, the young man reluctantly accepts the request.
Entering the dusty den of electronic entertainment, he throws a few switches and lights up an old Tron videogame. (Fortunately, someone must still be paying the power bill.) Within minutes he discovers a secret passage that takes him to the land of virtual enchantment where he will reunite with his father and discover the conflict that has kept him captive for so long.
The original Tron is noted for its cutting edge use of computerized effects and first time feature director Joseph Kosinski has embraced this mantra completely. Everything in this world of darkness glows with neon-like details. Characters zip around on lightcycles—essentially a motorcycle created with beams of illumination—and humanoids are outlined and accented with phosphorescent piping. It’s an art director and costume designer’s dream.
Unfortunately, as is often the case, the level of special effects in any given film is usually inversely proportional to the quality of the story. This rebooted Tron is still abstract without reason. Audiences today are much more computer savvy, yet there is little attempt to relate the characters within this supposed computer with any of today’s often discussed technical terms. Where are the viruses? The malware? The army of bits controlled by an unseen hacker?
Thankfully, my complaints have more to do with artistic matters than concerns parents may have about letting their kids see this film. Violence is the greatest issue here, with many conflicts leading to aggression. Still, the fighting is never explicit. Spinning disks that look like a hybrid between a Frisbee and Oddjob’s hat are thrown at characters that, if they are hit, disintegrate into tiny particles. Only once do we see a drop of blood—an indication that a true human is inside this digital society. Sexual content is limited to a couple of skintight costumes on females and language includes only a handful of mild profanities.
For 21st Century teens, the action sequences in Tron Legacy may be enough to reignite interest in this franchise. However the original only did modest business at the box office and unless this 2.0 upgrade can come up with better numbers, it may be "game over" for another three decades.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Tron: Legacy.
Kevin and Sam take very different approaches to the problem of being stuck within the digital world. How do their ages and experiences affect the types of solutions they consider? Why does time often bring wisdom, while youth tends to be synonymous with impetuousness? Is one better that the other, or should there be a balance?