Back to the Grid

I have been a fan of the original 1982 TRON since I was a kid.  Both my parents worked in the satellite and computer field, and, at its heart, TRON is about a Kevin Flynn’s journey into a fantastical world, albeit one of circuits and bits.  This being said, it’s my kind of movie, dated technology and all, and there is no way for me to go into seeing TRON: Legacy without a biased perspective.

The initial idea of a sequel, followed by the first teaser trailer released looked fabulous; I pounced on it and couldn’t stop thinking about it from the moment I saw it.  I was so impressed with how they managed to get such a wonderful blend of the old school style from the original, mixed with the modern sensibilities of our current computer age.  When I first saw the newly-designed Recognizer float down out of the sky, my heart skipped several beats.  The numerous articles written about the film implied an incredible amount of work having gone into making the film and the extended trailers continued to look just as amazing as the first; even better.

And on that note, I suppose, the film managed to deliver.  The look of the film is, by far, its strongest quality (except for perhaps Daft Punk’s ingenious musical score).  The story,  however, leaves something to be desired.  Several somethings.

When I first viewed the film, I was left feeling deflated and slightly heartbroken.  The ending pushed all the film’s other pros aside; I wasn’t sure if I’d ever see it again, even for the visuals.

I have, however, gone back and seen it twice since.  I have come to appreciate it more with each viewing, but I’m still left disappointed by the time the end credits roll.

Visually, it was everything I could have hoped for, dreamed of, ever thought possible.  Absolutely fantastic. It was beyond amazing to see those images, those concepts come to life in ways that the original couldn’t, because of the restrictions in technology and filmmaking of the time. Still, the original film set those ideas in motion and to see them executed in the ways that Legacy was able to do was a dream come true. The Light Cycles, the Disc Games and, again, for me, personally, the eloquent appearance and flight of the Recognizers.

But for all the effort the filmmakers supposedly put into the screenplay, it doesn’t seem to be there.  The story is cliché, predictable, and, at times, paradoxically over-achieving.  The film is an “Alice in wonderland” type plot, it didn’t need the earth-shattering subplot of the miraculous new life form.  Going into the computer and finding a living,  breathing world was earth-shattering enough and could have been, all on its own, in this sequel, from the perspective of Sam Flynn, Kevin’s son.  The religious subtext, too, was unnecessary.  Not wholly inappropriate (since any artist can relate to the idea of one’s ideas and creations becoming their own entities) but sometimes it felt almost preachy (“there, standing over me, was the Creator…” “behold! the son of our Maker!”).  They could have played with these ideals in a different way, more the way they did in the original film, with this debate of whether or not the Users are real, or if that predetermines them to a specific life or fate (a theme right out of Alice Through the Looking Glass).

There’s no mention whatsoever of who Kevin Flynn married, or what happened to Laura or Yuri (the female programmer and program from the first film, played by Cindy Morgan).

I also feel that, by having Flynn get stuck inside the Grid in the 1980’s, it restricted the story from utilizing any of the concepts or developments that have come along in the last 22 years (since the film’s opening in 1989).  Plus, the original Grid was not a “world,” with buildings, restaurants, etc., nor was there a game called TRON; Tron was the program, not a game.  The game was called Space Paranoids.  I realize that it’s an adaptation for the new film, for a new generation, but they never really explain what this TRON game is.  So what was the point?   Too, the very idea of Light Cycles, Disc Battles, Recognizers, etc., didn’t necessarily make sense.  Why would Clu 2.0 have reinvented these things?

But my biggest gripe with the film, as I’ve mentioned, is the way they chose to end it, and here’s why.

My favorite character in the TRON universe is Tron himself. He’s my favorite part of the original film; him and Flynn meeting and taking down the Master Control Program together. But Tron, the character, was one of the things I loved most about the film and the story; I liked how he resembles Alan, but they’re really two different characters (which I thought was impressive from an acting standpoint on the part of Bruce Boxleitner, who played both roles).  My expectation for the new film, given the publicity surrounding it, was that Tron was going to either be completely ignored or only included as a bit part, without much involvement. After all, the trailers, commercials, posters, etc., don’t even MENTION him at all, despite the title of the film itself. I thought, on a more specific note, that Tron would have been killed or buried or something, and that the mission would involve – at least partly – finding him (along with Flynn) and bringing him back to life, which, given how the film went, I would much rather have seen; it would have been a more interesting story.  Hell, they could have gone with a “King Arthur” sort of subtext and it would have worked.

In a way, that’s sort of what happened, though.  Clu re-programs Tron to become a faceless, evil henchman, complete with the red-coloring and a helmet that hides his face. They tried to fool the audience by not telling you until much later in the film that that’s who Tron is, but it’s incredibly easy to figure out pretty early on. At least I wondered if it was him almost as soon as I saw him.  I was looking for him, though; almost as soon as Sam Flynn entered the computer universe I was thinking, where’s Tron? Where’s Tron? I wonder if that’s Tron… So I picked up on it pretty quickly. We get to see Tron’s face in flashbacks; a young Bruce Boxleitner’s face, via the same tech used to make a young Jeff Bridges’ face for young Kevin Flynn and Clu. And it’s pretty amazing, honestly. It really was Tron.  (Likely, in part, because Boxleitner aged really well.)  But you never see his face again, throughout the rest of the film. That bothered me. I kept waiting for him to take a more active role.  He’s just been re-programed; brainwashed so to speak, and it seemed off, a cheap way to have him involved. Knowing the back-story from the original, too, I find it a little hard to believe that Clu could just simply overtake Tron. Tron was the bigger program, with a specific purpose, more suited to take out threats than Clu; he was written as a security program by Alan, after all.

At the end of the film, Tron “pulls Darth Vader.”  They’re all in the middle of this air battle, and Tron’s coming after them, as he’s done the whole movie as Clu’s top henchman.  But Flynn makes eye contact with him (through the helmet, I’m guessing) and just says his name, “Tron…” and Tron, still decked in the red coloring, seems to recall his own memory of the flashback we saw earlier, when he said, “Flynn, go!” as he was fighting off Clu and his cronies.  He shakes his head, but then seems to have a full change of heart and turns his vehicle to intersect with Clu’s.  Just before he throws the vehicle forward for impact, we hear him say, “I fight for the Users.”  It’s a classic line from the original, and I loved hearing it, but as they crashed, and both Tron and Clu went spiraling down into the Sea, I was horrified, thinking that Tron had gotten the axe for good. Then they showed him falling in the sea, and his suit returns to the blue tones. And that, boys and girls, is the last we see of him in the film.

The real killer thing, though, is that, on top of already having lost Tron at that point, Flynn defeats Clu by merging to two of them together and causing a massive explosion throughout the Grid, destroying everything – including himself – while Sam and Quorra escape back through the portal, into our world.

It just seemed cruel and unnecessary, to lose them both.  I would have rather have seen Sam get stuck there than Kevin.  I realize that it’s largely due to the filmmakers’ attempting to bring the whole of the story into a modern context, to a new audience, to the younger generation, but, at the same time, it’s just completely heart wrenching for anyone who has followed the original and loved it for years.  Honestly, I don’t care about Sam and Quorra. The film did not manage to successfully create new characters that match the originals.  I thought that Olivia Wilde’s performance was enjoyable and thorough, but I was not especially impressed with Garrett Hedlund.  The last few minutes of the movie, all about them, just seemed useless.  I respected the fact that they didn’t have some big, romantic kissing scene at the end, but otherwise, I just didn’t care what happened to them. The two cornerstones of the story, the universe, were gone.

Again, it just seems that, considering the title is TRON, he, as a character, gets terribly underplayed in this film; so under-appreciated and often flat-out ignored. That makes me sad, because, as I said, he’s my favorite character and I wanted to see him around more.  I think his participation in the story as a hero would have actually helped the newer audiences fully understand WHY the thing is called TRON to begin with.

I have heard the various theories floating around regarding the supposed third film that is being planned; i.e. that the whole system will be examined with a fine-tooth comb and that the mission will be to help bring Flynn back to life, along with Tron. One of my friends even predicted that, next time, Alan may have to go back in with Sam.  If they chose to follow that route, then I’m all for it, because, in that case, maybe Tron and Alan will come face to face. They communicate in the original film, but only Tron experiences it as a conversation; to Alan, it’s just a command code or mission.  So if they actually met in person, like Clu and Flynn did in this one, how AMAZING would that be?

As a writer, filmmaker and a fan, all I really care about is bringing back Flynn and Tron.  Save them.

Save Tron, save the world.

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