Tron is one of the most visually distinctive films of all time – nothing has looked quite like it before or since. Whilst the pixelated virtual computer world it depicts is inner rather than outer space, it manages to look more alien than almost any other extraterrestrial landscape we’ve seen in science fiction cinema. The aesthetic is extrapolated from the film’s premise, a concept that was also fairly novel for film in 1982. The plot is in itself mostly generic, but holds up reasonably well, and serves its purpose as a delivery mechanism for awe-inspiring visuals and concepts perfectly adequately.
Tron also undeniably carries a certain amount of geek cred for using virtual reality as metaphor for actual computing processes and not utterly fucking it up. As long as you don’t look at it too hard, Tron maintains an admirable level of versimilitude that you generally don’t get in Hollywood movies that have anything at all to do with computers. And then of course there’s Kevin Flynn, an aspirational programmer figure, the archetype for the Silicon valley nerd who strikes digital gold only to get screwed over by THE MAN. How many ZX81s did Kevin Flynn sell? Loads, probably. It also greatly helps that he’s played by Jeff Bridges, one of the finest actors of his generation.
There’s a nostalgic note to my affection for Tron too – it’s a relic from a time when Hollywood studios were more concerned with producing ambitious and original stand-alone science fiction films rather than establishing franchises. For some reason, I give it extra props for being a Disney film as well; the studio that now epitomises in many ways Hollywood conservatism for me, was, in 1982, very much in the business of utterly blowing children’s minds.
So, if one accepts these are the reasons why Tron is so awesome, how does Legacy stack up against the original?
Well, that versimilitude I mention above goes straight out the window fairly early on. This isn’t too much of an issue, I guess, as most punters don’t actually care about or understand any of that anyway. But still.
The plot is possibly the laziest implementation of the hero’s journey ever, and Sam Flynn the most generic of protagonists. Even more damningly, most of the really interesting ideas are lost amid the vast oceans of exposition and arbitrary action set-pieces. Legacy also obviously exists to establish a new franchise, and it’s entire core premise is lifted directly from the first film. It cannot be viewed as an original, innovative stand-alone work under any kind of lens.
On the plus side though, it still has Kevin Flynn, still played by Jeff Bridges, even cooler with age having essentially morphed into the Dude from The Big Lebowski. Bridges seemingly can’t help but add a touch of class to whatever material he touches, even when he’s the one who has to deliver the aforementioned clunky exposition.
More importantly though, it looks good. Really good. The aesthetic’s not as clever as the original, in which we had a world that looked like it was literally constructed out of pixels, and where physics worked differently – in Legacy, it’s a much more ‘realistic’ virtual reality. However, Legacy manages to sufficiently emulate the look of the original, whilst simultaneously creating something new and different. It’s a world that looks suitably alien, not like anything else – somewhere you actually want to explore. And that’s not something I get from, say, Avatar.
Final note: it also sounds amazing. The score is the one genuine improvement on the original – I’m sure Wendy Carlos’s was great, but I don’’t remember a note of it. Daft Punk meanwhile, perfectly soundtrack what a world based on a 1980s science fiction film and situated inside a computer network would sound like. And that’s my professional opinion.