Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A Treat For The Eyes [REVIEW]

MPAA RATING: PG (Mild Language and scenes of sci-fi action violence)

STARRING Jeff Bridges, Garrett Hedlund, Olivia Wilde, Bruce Boxleitner

So there I was in my local cinema, watching trailers when I came across something I had forgotten about a long time ago - written off, I thought, in the wake of other things: other films, daily pursuits, the mundane. Once the trailer rolled I practically fell headfirst into my popcorn. It was the trailer for Tron: Legacy.
 "Long time," says Sam Flynn [Garrett Hedlund] upon reconciling with his long-lost programmer father. "You have no idea," growls Kevin Flynn [Jeff Bridges, in one of two incarnations], echoing the thousands of Tron fans who have been waiting for the follow-up for eighteen years.
I went with four others and two of us were long-time Tron fans, who had both seen the film in our youth not so long ago, so we were familiar with the Tron staples: the light cycles, the Grid etc, and were just anxious to see what 3D and the 21st Century had done for them.
Not only does the film begin in 2D (in the 'real world') and turn suddenly to 3D, a la The Wizard of Oz's transformation into vivid colour from bland black-and-white, but it is also one of the two notable films in recent years to use a CG de-aging process - the first being The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008). Bridges had his face modelled and pin-pointed with CGI mapping to create each individual expression. The result is startling, although in certain scenes you do catch a glimpse that reminds you that it is essentially Bridges face upon another person's 'canvas'.
In a nutshell, young Sam Flynn has had to do most of his growing up without his entrepreneur father, who famously disappeared after discovering a new world within a computer program. The film is almost 'inside itself' - clearly visible on young Sam's wall is a poster for the actual 1982 film, as well as figurines all designed by his father based on what he saw while he was there. After hearing nothing for years, Sam is drawn back to his father's office within a shut-down arcade to discover the truth behind his vanishing act.
As you can probably tell, the father and son are reconciled eventually, but that is the least of their worries. And here is where you find yourself watching Bridges play ultimate hero and erstwhile villain.
Plot-wise, it's nothing taxing - don't expect baffling conundrums or stories that keep you guessing, rather you'll find yourself saying "Oh, yeah I knew that was coming. And I knew that was going to do that." The acting is very suitable - as odd as that sounds, but old heroes sit comfortably alongside new arrivals (Sam and Quorra [Olivia Wilde]). The 3D, as you'd expect it to be on certain levels of play such as the Grid and the famous Light Cycle arena, is a treat for the eyes and thankfully not too hard to follow, though our viewing was marred by a slight picture overlap which was annoyingly visible on a mostly bright-on-dark film. What made up for it was the dazzling score provided by French techo-maestros Daft Punk - minimal at times, echoing back to the 8-bit soundtracks of the retro arcade, swelling from synthesised sound to orchestrated grandeur. Download the soundtrack if nothing else - a lot of soundtrack I find to be filler with one or two standout themes running throughout, but the relatively short tracks are two-minute treats. (Fact fans: keep your eye out for the masked musicians making a brief cameo in the film - I squealed with delight when I saw them.)
Although made by Disney (a fact which genuinely surprised one of my fellow viewers during the credits), I would recommend you take an older child to see this film - it's a little too post-apocalyptic techno to appeal to smaller kids who may get bored with the relatively sedate pace between the short, sharp thrilling bursts of action.
Once the credits had rolled and I stepped back into 'the real world', I was left thinking "So where do we go from here?" Without spoiling it, the film leaves a curious taste in the mouth that makes you want to try a bit more - and thankfully Disney have commissioned not only a sequel but an animated mini-series due next year. Had this not been the case, would Tron: Legacy have been enough? I think probably not, given the amount of little niggling loose ends that just screamed "SEQUEL!" left untied. This may not attract the casual viewer, but I'll be darned if this doesn't strengthen the franchises already thriving cult following. Tron, I and many other fans await your return with open arms.

NEETY'S VERDICT: ****/*****
Worth the wait, but perhaps this film is a step up to grander things to come. Stunning visuals, a followable and plausible (if sometimes predictable) plot and a palette of old and new characters that endear rather than annoy. And underneath it all, a film that doesn't rely on the 3D element to distract you from a paper-thin story, for a change.

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