In 'Tron' Reboot, A Dubious Legacy Re-Digitized

Olivia Wilde and Garrett Hedlund

Computer Trouble: After growing up without his father, Sam (Garrett Hedlund) falls into a digital world, where he finds his dad and meets Quorra (Olivia Wilde). Together, they embark on a dangerous journey of escape. Douglas Curran/Disney Enterprises Inc. hide caption

itoggle caption Douglas Curran/Disney Enterprises Inc.

Tron: Legacy

  • Director: Joseph Kosinski
  • Genre: Science Fiction/Action
  • Running Time: 127 minutes

Rated PG for sequences of sci-fi action violence and brief mild language.

With: Garrett Hedlund, Jeff Bridges, Olivia Wilde and Michael Sheen

When Disney announced it was planning to make a sequel to Tron, its 1982 imagining of a dystopia existing in our computers' circuit boards, the news was greeted enthusiastically by that film's small and adoring cult. But for many, the move was a head-scratcher: a $200 million budget handed to a director, Joseph Kosinski, who'd only ever worked in commercials, to make a 28-years-later sequel to a visually groundbreaking (but narratively dull) sci-fi flick that was only a modest success in its original release.

The good news for that cult is that Tron: Legacy serves up similarly astonishing sights. Everyone else may continue scratching their heads, for the story here is just as spotty as in the film's predecessor.

The filmmakers offer a brief prologue to refresh the memory after the three-decade break. In 1989, original Tron hero Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges, digitally altered to appear closer to 40 than 60) tells his young son Sam a bedtime story about how he managed to digitize himself and enter the world within the computer — and how, through his ongoing entrances into that digital realm, he's on the verge of revolutionizing artificial intelligences as we know them. He leaves it at that, heads off to work and disappears.

Jump to the present day, and Sam (Garrett Hedlund) is a headstrong computer genius without much use for authority, just like Dad. His strongest qualities seem to be rebellion, riding motorcycles at high speed and staring sullenly over the water from the industrial garage he's converted into a home. But a mysterious message leads him to his father's old arcade, where he winds up falling into the same digital world that swallowed his father.

For those viewing the film in 3-D, this is where the screen gets some depth; Kosinski steals a page from The Wizard of Oz, using three dimensions only once we arrive in Sam's equivalent of the colorized Oz. Once there, the director uses the medium elegantly and without cheap 3-D gimmickry.

Jeff Bridges i i

Jeff Bridges plays Kevin Flynn, who has been trapped for two decades by the artificial intelligence he created. Disney Enterprises, Inc. hide caption

itoggle caption Disney Enterprises, Inc.
Jeff Bridges

Jeff Bridges plays Kevin Flynn, who has been trapped for two decades by the artificial intelligence he created.

Disney Enterprises, Inc.

What Sam finds is a fascist world ruled by Clu, the artificially intelligent program his father created to run the place, with his father trapped in exile "off the grid." Bridges plays both roles, though his Clu is digitally altered to remain young. (The character represents an impressive advancement in rendering humans digitally, but it's still lacking enough to be vaguely creepy.)

The most problematic part of both Trons, old and new, is the uneasy juxtaposition of two genres, with conventions as distinct as the two worlds of the movie. On the one hand, this new outing wants to be dark, moody science fiction full of Big Ideas. But it's also ostensibly a kids' movie, by a kids' studio, so it's obligated to stage the races and battles that audience demands. The result is an experience akin to trying to meditate on a roller coaster — which may explain why Flynn, while trapped inside, seems to have become a kind of digital surfer bodhisattva, appending the word "man" to his sentences and doling out Zen proclamations like, "I'm gonna go knock on the sky and listen to the sound." (Even in Tronworld, it seems, the Dude abides.)

If that sounds a little ridiculous, well, it is. Tron: Legacy revels in its over-the-top nature: the sharp contrast of inky blacks against vibrant neons, the bombastic clash of orchestral and synthetic elements in the soundtrack (by French electronic musicians Daft Punk), the trippy, sometimes incoherent ideas it presents. But the filmmakers also aren't above poking fun at their own excesses: When Michael Sheen steals the show in a campy turn as a Bowie-esque cyberpunk club owner — who's albino, no less — you'd swear he's winking at the camera.

Still, it's a fun scene, and despite all the gloom and grandiosity, this can be a fun movie, particularly for those willing to sit back and let it wash over them. View it through the same nostalgia-colored glasses with which cultists apparently see the first film, and this new one may fire on all the same cylinders. But for those whose glasses render only the 3-D, it may look a little shallow.

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