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Tron: Legacy (Blu-ray Review)

1 Apr, 2011 By: John Latchem

Street 4/5/11
Box Office $171.9 million
$29.99 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray/DVD combo, $49.99 four-disc 3D BD combo; $79.99 five-disc two-movie collection
Rated ‘PG’ for sequences of sci-fi action violence and brief mild language.
Stars Jeff Bridges, Garrett Hedlund, Olivia Wilde, Bruce Boxleitner, Michael Sheen, Beau Garrett, James Frain.

The “Tron” franchise has come full circle — on both sides of the screen.

In the original Tron, the experimental nature of the effects gave the film an otherworldly quality that suited its attempt to create a world within the computer. Tron was so ahead of its time that the Academy considered the use of computers for visual effects to be “cheating,” and disqualified it for Oscar consideration.

But now, CGI has become so commonplace that the creation of new virtual worlds is practically blasé, as blockbuster filmmakers continue to engage in an expensive game of one-upmanship (a trend that has veered into the realm of 3D). So when Tron: Legacy like its predecessor failed to earn a visual effects Oscar nom, it wasn’t so much about being ahead of the curve as it was matching the complexity of the environments found in every other video game nowadays. The computer world that inspired such a sense of wonder thus no longer seems wondrous.

Don’t get me wrong. The film is a dazzling light show, and its lack of nomination for visual effects may have been the second most glaring Oscar omission of the past year (the first being Christopher Nolan being ignored for Best Director for Inception). But something just feels off. It’s nice to have an update to the story, but this is nowhere near as effective a film as the original.

This is still a story of gods and their creations, and that allegorical connection is still the franchise's greatest strength. Tron: Legacy’s contribution to that equation is to pose the question of what someone who had the power to change the world would do with that potential. But the script sets up so many intriguing potential plot devices that are just left sitting on the table.

We learn that Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) became obsessed with what he found in the digital realm, so he created a new system he could explore, which he called “The Grid.” He finds himself trapped there, so 20 years later his son, Sam (Garrett Hedlund), comes looking for him. He learns that the system created a new type of program, isomorphic algorithms, that could help solve several real-world problems, but his father became trapped when the program he created to administer the system, CLU, saw the isomorphs as imperfections and began to destroy them.

So Sam has to team with the last of the isomorphs, Quorra (Olivia Wilde), and his father to reach the portal and return to the outside world, where they will have more power to shut down CLU. Bridges plays Flynn as a cross between Obi-Wan Kenobi and The Dude, channeling wondrous powers through a zen focus as he comes to terms with the mistake he made of choosing life in the computer over a life with his son. This sets up CLU as a sibling rival of sorts to Sam, also seeking the approval and love of Flynn.

It seems the filmmakers in their zeal to update the franchise have taken the analogy between the real and computer worlds a little too literally, which if this sequel feels slightly "off" may be the reason why. Also contributing to that dissonance are changes to the overarching influence of the nature of the computer world, which this time seems to take its cues from the extreme sports culture rather than the video game culture of the first film (which made more sense).

From a story standpoint, the look of the digital world has evolved to mimic the real world much more closely. The results are impressive but don’t suggest “cyber” as much as they do a futuristic city that might be more at home in Blade Runner.

As groundbreaking as its predecessor was in its day, it wouldn’t do for Tron: Legacy to simply co-exist as just another effects-heavy film. As it turns out, Tron: Legacy is essentially a scene-by-scene CGI upgrade of the original film, with its most significant effect being the digital facelift given to Jeff Bridges.

The effect is a little creepy, reeking of CG fakeness that proves distracting. If the problem could be traced to one thing, it’s in the mouth. The lips don’t seem to move naturally when he talks, which gives the effect away. It’s definitely Bridges’ voice, but it doesn’t feel as if it’s emanating from the same character.

They may have gotten away with it were the effect constrained to just the CLU version of Jeff Bridges, which is, after all, meant to be a simulation. But they used the effect in real-world flashbacks to portray Bridges as the 1980s version of Kevin Flynn, and that’s where it’s least convincing.

On the 3D side of things, though, the filmmakers cleverly use the 3D effects to maximize the visual impact of the computer world. Similarly to how The Wizard of Oz used sepia in Kansas and color in Oz, Tron: Legacy keeps its real-world scenes in 2D, and shifts to 3D once Sam enters the Grid.

The Blu-ray also shifts its aspect ratio between 2.35:1 and 1.78:1 to better approximate scenes that were shot for Imax (a la The Dark Knight).

Compared with the discs of the first film, the Legacy Blu-ray seems light on extras (no commentary or deleted scenes), though there’s still a lot to sift through.

The major new extra is a short film called “The Next Day: Flynn Lives Revealed,” which plays off the movie’s
FlynnLives.com viral marketing campaign. The short wraps up some loose ends and features the return of an old friend in what looks like the first set-up to a sequel to Legacy. “The Next Day” ends with a hidden menu that lets fans access additional video spin-offs of the franchise.

There are three 10-minute featurettes about the making of the film: One deals with the story process, one deals with the visual effects and the other deals with the casting. There’s also a two-minute featurette called “Disc Roars” about how the filmmakers recorded an audience at Comic-Con for crowd noise in the film’s arena scenes. More behind-the-scenes material can be found in the film’s Second Screen app, which plays separately from the film on a computer or iPad.

Rounding out the extras is the slick “Derezzed” music video by Daft Punk, who provided the music for the film and also have a cameo in it.

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