Gen X’ers revere the original Tron for its quintessentially 1982 vision of Aldous Huxley’s Pac-Man Fever, awash in blue-gray, gray-blue and pulsating lines of neon orange.
As a sci-fi epic, Tron wasn’t perfect, but as its early computer-generated graphics continued to appear more and more antiquated, its depiction of tech-heads mired forever in the machinery that raised them seems oddly prescient. (And I say that as someone who still has his NES stashed away though no amount of console tapping and cartridge blowing will likely ever resuscitate Mario and Luigi.)
Now Disney, searching frantically for a new franchise, has seen fit to bring Tron, Clu and those contour-hugging glowstick bodysuits up to date for the Tron Guy generation (that is to say, the generation laughing at Tron Guy, not the generation he himself belongs to) in Tron: Legacy.
If the studio heads were canny enough to recruit French house music legends Daft Punk and the best graphic designers $170 million can buy, the final product feels like just that: a product designed by reasonably canny studio heads.
Jeff Bridges returns as Kevin Flynn, now old and gray enough to headline a middle-American, country-western bar band were he not trapped inside a computer program of his own making, honing his Zen-like transcendence of self by reading, apparently, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Verne.
Flynn’s hot-headed son Sam (Minnesota native Garrett Hedlund) has spent the better part of his adult live committing guerilla warfare on his own inherited company, giving away their software updates for free because that was what his father originally envisioned. When his father apparently sends him a page from inside the old arcade, Sam investigates, not noticing the laser beam warming up behind the cobwebs.
Sooner than you can say 01100110011000010111001101110100 (here, let me help you with that), Sam is inside The Grid, forced into incredibly slick-looking gladiator matches atop suspended black (simulated) glass platforms.
He’s rescued by a cute young isomorphic algorithm and taken to The Grid’s dusty outskirts, where Flynn Sr. bides his time, keeping the evil Clu (who, thanks to visual effects, is also played by Jeff Bridges a la The Curious Case of Ctrl Button) from entering the outside world by laying low. Clu can only exit the program by gaining possession of the disk on Flynn’s back. (Everyone has a disk, which acts like a genetic external drive.)
Does this all sound a tad ponderous? It sure feels that way, at least once the thrill of the shiny black and neon teal look wears off (in about as much time as it takes to watch the trailer). And Daft Punk’s much-hyped soundtrack is regrettably more Hans Zimmer than “Da Funk, Part 2.”
The whole movie goes through the motions with the sort of caution you would expect from the charter installment of a presumptive franchise. There’s but one single scene early on that seems to have a sense of humor about the whole enterprise — when Flynn Jr. gets fitted for his new bodysuit and is attended to by four minxy albino babes in skin-tight suits and clear stilettos, all strut-stepping in unison to the beat of the Daft Punk backing track.
Alas, the remainder of the movie is about as spontaneous as a conversation with HAL.
Eric Henderson is a web producer and film blogger for WCCO.COM.