My eyes hurt. Can you dial down the neon knights to a 7, guys?
When I viewed the first trailers for TRON LEGACY, and saw that Jeff Bridges was involved, it was straight past buzz cool to grade school jubilation, “Ooh man! Yeees, my son!!” Jeff Bridges reprising the role that made his man-area famous for his tiny nite-glow skort! Casting just don’t get any better!
In that unmistakable rasp, Bridges (as Flynn) utters the first lines of TRON LEGACY: “The Grid. The digital frontier… I kept dreaming of a world I thought I’d never see. And then, one day – that’s right, man! – I got in!” It is 1989 and a young Kevin Flynn (Bridges) speaks with his 7-year-old son, Sam. Camera opens behind Flynn and slowly pans around to the front as they talk. And that heady feeling of seeing our pal Jeff – suddenly gets weird. Because he is young again in this new film! Too young.
Is that–? Is that Jeff Bridges? Or is it a youthful stand-in as authentic as Toby Stephens for Clint Eastwood in SPACE COWBOYS? Is it the same airbrushing technique they used in X-MEN: THE LAST STAND on Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen? Or is it something more sinister? With a shock we realize we are looking at a COMPUTER SIMULATION of young Jeff Bridges! Oh, sweet irony of ironies! This film’s plot, after all, is about stopping computer programs escaping into the real world!
TRON (1982) was iconoclastic – not just for Jeff’s man-area, but for its radical visual grabsplatter. Before computers were “legally” allowed to be a part of the movie-making process, TRON’s director Steve Lisberger employed them to create a singularly stunning visual experience. The Academy of Motion Pictures (those muttonheads responsible for giving out meaningless awards every year to the wrong movies) disqualified TRON for a Special Effects Award because they considered using computers “cheating.” But now – ALL effects in movies are “Computer Generated Imagery.” Consequently, the effects in TRON LEGACY don’t have as much a bearing on its ultimate quality and status as they did in TRON. We expect a certain level of quality from CGI these days. And LEGACY delivers that quality – but it’s no jawdropping showstopper like its predecessor. Therefore, all we are left with is the story. And some nite-glow man-area.
Flynn has been missing for 20 years (all of Sam’s childhood) and his computer company Encom is being run by corporate baddies (Screenwriting Rule No.13: All Corporations Are Bad). Sam, now grown into Garret Hedlund (Hero Type No.7: Beautiful But Bland), who owns major stakes in the company, is uninterested in going into computers and would rather virus the corporate baddies. When Alan Bradley (is that Bruce Boxleitner? From the original TRON – the original Tron! Older but still major cool!) tells Sam he received a message from Flynn’s closed-down office, Sam investigates – and finds new meaning in “going into computers”…
Through an effect as specious as the last film’s, Sam is buzzed into the computer world of sentient programs and gladiatorial games, and forced to do battle to survive. We see all the old toys are still kicking in this neon-lined universe: the torpedo-shaped “lightbikes,” the pillared “recognizers,” the Frisbee “identity disks,” all upgraded for effects cred (the lightbikes now battling on a stunning multi-level grid).
Sam meets Clu – CGI Jeff Bridges again, but this time, we can live with this incarnation of Creepy-Eyed-Jeff because he’s meant to be a computer program (which Flynn created as his avatar in the computer world). Taking his job description to extremes, Clu is so intent on creating a perfect world within the computer that he wipes out any Programs even slightly imperfect. He hunts Sam, with intent to find the Real Flynn, who is in hiding somewhere in this geometrically luminous kingdom.
Just before Sam can emote that he’s in mortal danger on the game grid, a hot chick saves him in a lightsabre version of the Batmobile. As TRON had a token love interest, so too LEGACY drops the startlingly sexy Olivia Wilde in black leather. Yet she’s Disneyfied sexy, which means the only touch she’ll share with Sam is a handshake, and a meaningful look will have to suffice for sexual gratification.
She takes Sam to Flynn (the real Jeff Bridges), hiding out in what looks like a mansion in the Hollywood Hills overlooking LA.
Since Dennis Hopper’s death, Jeff Bridges has had free reign as World’s Oldest Hippy. (“You’re messin’ with my Zen thing, man!”) Bridges is the emotional link not only to TRON but to audiences as well, as all the other actors never connect with us, having left their emotional palettes in their other neon pants. (In the climactic finale, the expression on Garrett Hedlund’s face is meant to be tragedy that he might lose his father, but it looks more like he’s battling against the tightness of the spandex on his man-area.)
This is why all the computer-sim Jeffs are disorienting – because Bridges is such a fine actor. And they can’t match him. I know this sounds obvious, but when teen models are replaced by pixels in CGI films, it actually improves their performances and we could not care less, but Jeff’s pixels fall far short of the thesp juggernaut that is Jeff Bridges Actor. And all the Programs here know it. When Jeff Bridges Actor enters a room, all he has to do is touch the floor and all and sundry cower and run in fear. It’s not just the religious allegory of his User power either – it’s because he’s Jeff Bridges Actor, amongst the pixelating flubber and chicks in pearbottom rubber.
Michael Sheen is a Program unaffected by Flynn’s living-god status. He’s a cross between Ziggy Stardust and Liberace, and he overacts so much that a German cheese factory had to close down.
TRON LEGACY should have spotlighted its namesake character – Tron himself. Though a neon-orange, helmeted character flits about the gaming grid in the middle background, and though we see flashbacks of Tron (airbrushed Boxleitner) saving young Flynn, it is only towards the finale that we find out Tron has been on the side of the Clu clones, i.e. the villainous Programs. Only when Flynn looks up at the light-plane pursuing him and laments, “Tron, what have you become?” do we realize Tron’s supposed arc. He was good, turned bad, and at a crucial moment, comes back to good, reprising a line from TRON, “I fight – for the Users!” How do we process that in the film’s final moments when we’re trying not to laugh at Garrett Hedlund attempting to emote? This was not a twist or reveal – it was plain sloppy screenwriting and direction.
So when the bad Clu is destroyed, does this mean that all our computers are now free of viruses and are never going to crash again while we’re watching porn? Yay!
First thing I’m doing is a search for “Olivia Wilde nude.”