Combustible Celluloid
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With: Jeff Bridges, Garrett Hedlund, Olivia Wilde, Bruce Boxleitner, James Frain, Beau Garrett, Michael Sheen, Anis Cheurfa, Serinda Swan, Yaya DaCosta, Elizabeth Mathis, Yurij Kis, Conrad Coates, Daft Punk
Written by: Edward Kitsis, Adam Horowitz, based on a story by Edward Kitsis, Adam Horowitz, Brian Klugman, Lee Sternthal, and on original characters by Steven Lisberger, Bonnie MacBird
Directed by: Joseph Kosinski
MPAA Rating: PG for sequences of sci-fi action violence and brief mild language
Running Time: 127
Date: 11/30/2010

Tron: Legacy (2010)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Disc Changer

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Disney's new Tron: Legacy is spectacular and ridiculous, much like its spectacular and ridiculous predecessor, Tron (1982). Watching it, one can't help but think of last year's Christmas season smash Avatar. And though Tron: Legacy won't make that kind of money or score as many Oscar nominations, it's a much better film in many ways. For one thing, the new film revels in its purely artificial universe, rather than pretending it's real. And for another thing, the new film has an actual actor that anchors the film in humanity. It's as if the best scene in Avatar -- when Sigourney Weaver demands a cigarette -- were multiplied several times over.

Jeff Bridges is fun in Tron: Legacy; it's not a terrific performance like in Crazy Heart or the upcoming True Grit. His job is to make the movie seem less wooden (or metallic) with his line readings of things like "you're messing with my Zen thing" or "it's bio-digital jazz, man!" And he does this job well.

Bridges reprises his role of Kevin Flynn from the original film, having been stuck inside his computer creation for some 20 years or more. Meanwhile, he has a digital double, Clu, who has not aged. Special effects magic gives us a younger version of Bridges running around performing a villain's duties. Unfortunately, this young Bridges looks like one of the creepy figures in The Polar Express, and the filmmakers do their best to keep his dead, soulless eyes in shadow. But at least he has Bridges' voice (and Bridges' great hairdo).

Garrett Hedlund fares less well in the role of Kevin's grown son Sam, a rebel prankster with a fast motorcycle, who looks stylishly unkempt. He's still hurt over his father's sudden disappearance, but has learned to become detached; he has only a pet dog to worry about now. I see through a quick search that I have reviewed at least three other films of Hedlund's, but I did not remember him. A real actor, Michael Sheen, turns up as a flamboyant, scenery-chewing rogue, which doesn't really make sense if he's supposed to be a computer program.

Anyway, Sam receives a summons from his father's dusty old arcade office, which still has power, even though the phones were disconnected some time ago. He gets sucked into the video game world, and participates in a few classic Tron-style games before he's rescued by another rebel-type, the cute Quorra (Olivia Wilde). He meets his father and learns more or less what happened. Then they devise a plan to escape before Clu steals Kevin's identity disc.

The movie struggles a bit with its themes. We're asked to believe that Kevin Flynn would advocate "doing nothing" as a way of surviving. We're also asked to believe that good old Tron himself (Bruce Boxleitner, also back from the original film) would suddenly switch sides in the middle of a battle, for no reason. Almost none of the character motivations make little sense, in fact, if you really think about them.

But the point here is the video game world, which has -- as a colleague of mine pointed out -- a charming "glow-stick aesthetic." The visual effects here are just as groundbreaking and jaw-dropping as they were in 1982, with a gigantic use of space and surfaces and even plays of light. Even better is the soundtrack by acclaimed electronic/dance group Daft Punk. It harkens back to the synthesizer sounds of the 1980s, but with some undeniably powerful dramatic builds and changes; moreover, it feels like a soundtrack created entirely within the Tron world itself.

Overall, I suspect that first-time director Joseph Kosinski was correctly more concerned with fun than with themes, which is the most basic reason that Tron: Legacy is better than Avatar. It understands that "making a better world" is far less cinematic than a cool motorcycle chase.

Disney has released a spectacular five-disc set. It begins with a 3D Blu-Ray, which requires a special 3D Blu-Ray player as well as a 3D TV, cables and glasses. I don't have any of those things, so it's now reduced to a four-disc set. Tron: Legacy is on a regular Blu-Ray and a DVD, and the original Tron is included in its Blu-Ray debut (and it looks better than ever). The fifth disc contains a digital copy of the sequel for your computer or phone. On the five discs, we also get a wide array of featurettes, commentary tracks, music videos and other stuff.

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