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TRON:Legacy: Confessions of a Non-User

It’s time for the TRON: Legacy preview at the Empire Leicester Square, and there’s a genuine buzz in the cinema. The excitement ripples through the audience as the anticipation builds for one of the most highly awaited sequels in cinematic history. The atmosphere is… well, electric. In fact, there’s been actual whooping and cheering before the film even begins. And the writer deployed by The Hollywood News for this huge event feels like something of a fraud. You see, Tom Fordy doesn’t deserve this privilege; he can’t connect with the excitement that surrounds him because, believe it or not, Tom Fordy has never seen the original TRON

TRON belongs to a canon of films that holds great sentimental value for a whole generation of viewers. Along with likes of Ghostbusters, The Goonies, and Back to the Future, TRON resonates with audiences as pure nostalgia, a film that inspires fond memories of early movie experiences. And though it was not a great success upon its original release, TRON has acquired a genuine cult following – be it for the groundbreaking visuals, association with the increasing popularity of video games, or its innovative concept.

But for this writer, TRON never breached the cozy bubble that holds his childhood movies, and as one gets older it becomes harder to go back to those films and take the same pleasure as one might the first time around.

That TRON occupies this particular space in moviegoers consciousness raises a few questions: can TRON: Legacy live up to the expectations of such a cult following? And most importantly, for new viewers such as this writer, can the movie stand on its own two feet and create the kind to fandom that the original has inspired?

A sequel such as this treads difficult terrain. Due to the aforementioned cult status of TRON, there is always the concern that Legacy will fall short of the original’s appeal and alienate its core audience. And just as the fans hold a great deal of affection for the original, it seems that Jeff Bridges has a lot of love for the new project.

At the Legacy press conference, Bridges enters the room beaming. It’s clear that he has passion for the overdue sequel, and if the other key players feel this enthusiasm for delivering the best film possible, then it’s good news for the diehard fans.

Cynics might assume that the lure of returning to the role of Kevin Flynn almost thirty years later might have something to do with a sizeable paycheck, but it seems that Bridges has always been on board with the idea of a sequel.

There were rumours going around for all 28 years that there was going to be another Tron,’ says Bridges. ‘And I finally stopped believing in it until one day I got the call saying this is for real.’

Though Bridges stresses the importance of original writer and director Steven Lisberger’s involvement (as producer this time around), one of the key factors in returning to the Grid was the choice of director, Joseph Kosinski. ‘It was very important for me who was going to be at the helm of this thing,’ Bridges says. ‘The fact that he was a first timer didn’t really bother me.’

And though this is Kosinski’s debut feature (and one of huge scope to boot), he doesn’t appear overly daunted by the task at hand. As a ‘big fan of the original’ Kosinski saw Legacy as a ‘huge opportunity to do something different.’

And it’s this very attitude that is key in the success of Legacy, holding reverence for the original whilst building on it to create something as unique and groundbreaking as TRON way back in 1982.

The most obvious developments from TRON to Legacy are the visuals and the technologies that enable them. The original movie has a style that is very much it’s own, easily identifiable by most viewers and even those whom the original had bypassed.

Fortunately, the production team has done a great job of updating the visuals. The neon costumes, Grid locations, and breathtaking action sequences have been given the 21st century makeover, staying true to the original whilst having their own unique feel. With such strong visuals comes the necessity for new technology and processes, the kind that ensured a whopping sixty-two weeks of post-production for Kosinski.

Development of the processes between the two movies is staggering, and Bridges considers that even the faux-velvet cloth on the press conference table is more advanced than the technology used in the original film. He also considers that whilst he likes the old-school way of shooting movies, he has ‘a kind of a love hate thing going with challenges… this new technology is certainly challenging.’

The strength of the Legacy visuals is clearly of great importance to Kosinski, who states that it was always conceived as a 3D movie, well before the release of Avatar and the subsequent trend for the 3D gimmick.

‘We knew we wanted to make a true 3D movie’ says Kosinski. ‘I feel pretty strongly that this is the highest quality 3D image that is possible to get.’

It isn’t just the 3D that has become a major talking point regarding the Legacy effects work. The character of Clu has been raised several times at the conference. Clu – reprised from the original movie – takes the form of Bridges, albeit from thirty years ago. Using motion capture and other technologies, Bridges’ younger image has been digitally recreated for the character, bringing an unsettling quality to the villainous character. And though Clu is essentially Bridges, he considers it to be a collaborative effort, something only achievable by a number of artists with a collective purpose. It’s a absolute first too; seeing the wise, older Bridges battling with a sleek, sinister younger version of himself will be remembered as one the defining features of this movie, just as the Lightcycles and disc battles were for the first.

Considering the budget and technological pioneers behind this project, there was little doubt that the aesthetics of the film would meet audience expectations. But such groundbreaking computer wizardry doesn’t come without its drawbacks. The major problem with such an effects-heavy film is the issue of style over substance. With so many mainstream movies substituting story and character for CG-trickery, there was concern over whether Legacy would take this unfortunate path. This, above all else, is where Legacy could fail in fulfilling its potential.

But Kosinski argues that most of his efforts were put into ‘a focus on story and character’, and that he tried to ‘surround the actors with as much reality as possible.’

These efforts appear to have paid off, as Legacy feels like the natural progression from the original TRON.

As we follow Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund) fighting to return his missing father Kevin (Bridges) from the Grid to the real world, the characters develop believably, moving through exciting action set pieces and moments of genuine drama. And the performances on hand are a crucial factor; Bridges exudes every ounce of his cool cult status (channeling the Dude, be it consciously or unconsciously); Olivia Wilde delivers a strong performance as the innocent but badass Quorra; and though Hedlund is on no danger of winning the best actor Academy award any time soon, he is perfectly cast as the reckless Sam.

From these positive words it may appear that this writer has been converted to TRON. And you’d be right. The action was kinetic, the visuals stunning, and story engaging. In addition, the Daft Punk score was pitch perfect, immersing the audience into a bonafide electronic environment.

It’s obvious that the success of Legacy as a standalone film is important to the team behind it, and this has undoubtedly been achieved. For those with no prior experience of TRON, the new movie works, and filling the gaps in knowledge is no issue as the backstory is adequately explained without slowing or derailing the plot.

But, of course, this is the opinion of a novice. It’s perfectly reasonable to believe that a longtime fan of TRON may not take to the new material with such enthusiasm.

Despite the great effects and amped-up vision of the original’s defining qualities, there is always the possibility that the storyline will not meet expectations. Though there are plenty of references and nods to the original to enjoy, who can possibly predict how well Legacy will resonate with the fans that have had almost thirty years to imagine their own TRON sequel?

It’s true that this writer is converted, and he may even take a second trip for the IMAX experience. For those of you who share a long history with TRON, let us hope you feel the same.

Tom Fordy is a writer and journalist from Bristol. He is a regular contributor to The Hollywood News, Loaded, and Zip magazine, where he puts his years of movie addiciton to bloody good use. He is also the founder and sole reader of adult humour blog FilmC*nt. Tom Fordy now lives in East London with his partner, son, and massive collection of pointless crap. He plans to eat himself to death very soon.
  • nick

    Loved the first Tron, so excited for this one!