TRON: Legacy

TRON was made in a time (1982) when the burgeoning personal computer industry was new and exciting and video games were just finding their feet. Humanising our digital alter egos as Roman-style combatants in a vast digital arena was a new idea and helped to over come the fact that game graphics at the time were really not very good. The film allowed us to visualise these simplistic games in a new and exciting unattainable dimension via a film making process that was equally groundbreaking and exciting. TRON: Legacy, by contrast, is bereft of any new ideas, and this is its central failing.

It's remarkable that in a film founded on video games that we don't actually see a video game in the 'real' world of TRON: Legacy with the exception of the old, obsolete coin-op machines in Flynn's arcade (which, remarkably, still exists and still has the power connected). This is a strange decision on the part of the filmmakers and is symptomatic of the film as a whole. It seems that in the realm of Tron, the world has stood still when the reality couldn't be more different.

30 years after the original film and the combatants are still tearing around the Grid on light cycles and flinging Frisbees at each other, it's as if there's been no advances in game play for a generation. Cut to reality and nothing could be further from the truth. Video games such as Surround/Blockade and Pong have long been relegated to the electronic dark ages, to be replaced by FPS's, RTS's, RPG's and Sims. The question left unanswered by TRON: Legacy is what must these games look like at the quantum level? If Surround is actually humanoid programs murdering each other on phosphorescent motorcycles what must World of Warcraft look like? I guess we'll never know.

What made TRON an interesting concept was that it re-rendered popular games of the time as epic struggles of life and death within the digital realm. Electronic life forms were laying their lives on the line for the purposes of our entertainment. The player as a god controlling the destinies of hapless minions played nicely to the overt theological overtones of the original film and, to its credit, TRON v2.0 continues this legacy with the Cain and Abel story, represented by Clu and Tron respectively. It's not quite as elegant, however, with its disingenuous mash-up of creation and evolution.

The film relies far to heavily on the digitally realised Flynn/Clu. The inability of the computer model to convey real human emotions isn't quite there yet. The facade holds up as long as he is limited to short takes, but when the camera lingers on Clu's face, the deceit is obvious. It's possible to explain away Clu's phoniness by the fact that he is, indeed, a phony but in the high tech world being presented here, we'd expect Clu to be photographically perfect.

Furthermore, Clu's very existence is not entirely satisfactorily explained considering the character was ‘de-rezzed’ in the original film. The new ‘Clu’ is some kind of digital clone of Flynn but that means that he's not Clu from the original film, so why make the inference? It seems that Clu, like Tron, is merely present as a means to link this film to the previous one.

The core sin of TRON: Legacy is that it lacks imagination; something which its predecessor had in spades. It's largely a rehash of the action sequences from original film with an updated graphics engine and a revised plot filling the slow moments in between. It falls into stereotypical mediocre sequel territory - it's entertaining enough to watch but the nostalgia trip gets old quickly in the absence of anything new. Considering the considerable advances that have been made in the games industry in the intervening years, the scope for innovation was huge but TRON: Legacy is a mighty opportunity lost.
Stuart Jamieson

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