Friday, 5 August 2011

Films: Tron (1982) and Tron Legacy (2010)

I saw Tron once before, but so long ago that I had forgotten all but the basic premise of a man stuck in a computer game. So I decided that a second viewing was due before watching the long-delayed sequel.

It's hard to think back over the changes in the digital world since Tron was made. According to Wiki, 1982 was the year when "the Internet Protocol Suite (TCP/IP) was standardized and the concept of a world-wide network of fully interconnected TCP/IP networks called the Internet was introduced", although the impact of the internet on popular culture was still more than a decade away. This was the first film to be mostly based on computer-generated visuals, and it made quite an impact when it first appeared. It even predated Neuromancer, the innovative novel imagining what it might be like for a human mind in a computer network. So it has a secure place - indeed a cult status - in the history of SF films: but how does it stand up now?

The film focuses on four characters who are present in both the real and digital worlds: Jeff Bridges plays the computer games designer Kevin Flynn (and also his virtual equivalent, an independent programme called Clu), cheated out of his successful inventions by the head of software company ENCOM, (David Warner). The others are two ENCOM employees (Bruce Boxleitner and Cindy Morgan) who help Bridges to break into the company's mainframe to find evidence of Warner's guilt. However, the mainframe has literally developed a mind of its own, the MCP (Master Control Program) which is able to "capture" Bridges and trap him in a virtual game world. Most of the film consists of the three heroes battling their way through the game world to achieve their objective.

The plot is simplistic and the CGI is of course primitive, but I didn't mind that - it was appropriate for the purpose and impressive for the time. Ironically, what struck me more was that the initial part of the film, set in the real world, had a rather dated feel. Also, while the digital background music was fine, the inclusion of the more traditional orchestral elements jarred somewhat. Despite this, I enjoyed seeing it again - it is still entertaining and worth watching if you've never seen it.

Tron Legacy also features Jeff Bridges and Bruce Boxleitner, reprising their roles. Bridges again has two parts, as an enhanced CLU (who has not aged, thanks to some CGI trickery), and as Kevin Flynn, who has spent the last twenty years trapped in "The Grid", the name for the virtual game world he created. The focus now is on Flynn's adult son, Sam (Garrett Hedlund) who follows a trail in search of his long-lost father and also finds himself trapped in the Grid. Cue for many reprises of the virtual chases and combat scenes, as father and son try to escape. To reveal more of the plot would spoil a few surprises, so I'll restrict myself to generalities.

The CGI is of course vastly superior to the original film although the same general appearance of the virtual world is maintained, with some added touches reminiscent of the Matrix series. The artificially youthful Bridges is a clever idea but not entirely convincing - if you didn't know what had been done, you would think he was wearing really thick make-up. Some questions from the original film remain unanswered: what exactly is the nature of the humans trapped in the Grid? What happened to their physical bodies when they were "scanned" into the Grid, and how were they reconstituted when they came back out again? If they are virtual, why did Sam Flynn "bleed" when injured and why should Kevin Flynn age? These little niggles kept bothering me as I watched the film.

Overall, Tron Legacy doesn't really take the ideas of Tron much further, and it is of course nothing like as fresh and ground-breaking. It isn't in the same league as The Matrix. However, it's undemanding entertainment and anyone who liked the original and is able to park their critical faculties and enjoy the ride will probably like the sequel.

8 comments:

Fred said...

Anthony,

Good review. It's much more comprehensive than my brief post.

I also wondered about the bodies: were they left behind in a trance/coma or were they digitized and transported into the cyberworld.

I actually thought that Tron captured the digital world much more convincingly than _Tron Legacy_ did because _TL_ environment seemed more like the organic/physical world than a digitized world, if that makes any sense.

I frankly liked the first one better for it was a groundbreaker as you say. _TL_ really didn't really do anything new.

Chalcedon said...

Agreed! I enjoyed Tron. It was a groundbreaking film at the time. I enjoyed tron legacy too. I just treat them as entertainment and not a serious evocation of cyberspace. I would love to see a film based on Neuromancer.

Anthony G Williams said...

Given modern CGI, a film based on Neuromancer could indeed be very good. I've no idea whether or not one has been contemplated, though.

Fred said...

According to imdb.com, _Neuromancer_ is "in development" at this time.

Since I'm not a paid subscriber, I can't get any more information, so I don't know exactly what stage the film is at.

Cyberpunk said...

Neuromancer is in pre-production.

http://cyberpunk-god.blogspot.com/

Anthony G Williams said...

Good news, but I don't know Natali's work - is he likely to make a good job of it, on the basis of his past work?

Chalcedon said...

Good to hear about Neuromancer being in pre-production. Closest i can recall to this was Johnny Mnemonic.

SteventheThorn said...

Good points about Tron Legacy--I didn't think about the "what happened to their bodies" and "why do they bleed." I totally missed that--and I saw it twice. I guess I need to be a more critical viewer. Either way, I thought it was an entertaining film--with a great soundtrack. Daft Punk did a good job.