TRON: Legacy can’t live up to innovative original
Through out film history, there have been films that have changed the game using technological innovations. Star Wars, Jurassic Park, Lord of the Rings and more recently Avatar became milestones for filmmaking because they used new technology to show us things beyond our wildest dreams. The original TRON was very innovative when it was released almost 30 years ago because realistic computer graphics were still a ways off in the future and more traditional methods had to be retooled to bring the film to life. Disney’s 2010 sequel, TRON: Legacy, uses the familiar CG we see in every movie to try to bring us the next chapter in the story, but the sleek filmmaking techniques of today don’t always bring the same awe factor.
In the original film, Jeff Bridges plays Kevin Flynn, a skilled hacker who is transported into the world of computer programs and tries to defeat the evil Master Control Program. TRON: Legacy begins when Flynn has mysteriously disappeared, leaving his son Sam (Garrett Hedlund) to grow up an orphan with the keys to his father’s multimillion-dollar software empire. Sam, the typical risk-taking brat, soon gets sucked into The Grid, the harsh world inside the computer, and must try to survive. Along the way, he meets Quorra (Olivia Wilde) a beautiful program who wants to help him defeat the evil renegade program, Clu (played by a computer enhanced youthful version of Bridges) who was originally created by Flynn to create a utopian society. During his time in The Matrix—excuse me, The Grid—Sam finally finds his father, The Creator, who has been trapped in the world for years. Together, they must try to defeat Clu and restore freedom for all the programs in The Grid.
In the 1980s, when the original film came out, the general population knew nothing about computers. Films of the decade, like Terminator, treated technology with a sense of suspicion and fear. Computers could take over the world and enslave human kind. Some might say that’s true today with everyone being tied to their iPhones or Gmail or Facebook at all times, but the point is that we no longer have an innate fear of technology, we embrace it, so films that want to show us the dark side of innovation need to up the ante. Even a film like The Matrix, which takes place in a future where technology has gone too far, is about the enslavement and eradication of all humankind, a far cry from getting sucked into your iPod and forced to play a game of laser Frisbee to the death.
That’s the real problem with TRON: Legacy; it’s more about Sam surviving in the computer world than it is about him preventing the destruction of the real world. The peril is not that perilous. Couple that with the fact that CG is now so commonplace that it’s in commercials and low-budget made-for-tv movies and you take away all the innovation of the original movie. Instead of the technology-gone-bad story of The Matrix or the visual spectacle of Avatar, the film feels like a really sleek videogame and nothing more. Not to discredit all the artists who worked on the computer imagery, but using the same CG we’re all used to in a sequel to a film with imagery that had never been seen before just doesn’t work.
Some of the best effects come from filmmakers who combine top-of-the-line computer imagery with practical effects. The Lord of the Rings trilogy comes to mind for using old movie tricks like forced perspective or miniatures in combination with outstanding digital creations to make a film that felt real, even in the most grandiose moments. Stephen Spielberg’s Jurassic Park blazed this path by using Stan Winston’s outstanding mechanical dinosaurs in combination with ILM computer imagery to make us feel like dinosaurs could be strolling through the parking lot at the movie theater.
Now it seems like the only new technique being brought to big budget films is 3D, and while TRON: Legacy is available in IMAX 3D, there are several sequences that are in regular 2D, making the 3D in motorcycle races or aerial chases seem a bit superfluous. 3D can’t become a crutch for Hollywood. A film should be good, regardless of how many dimensions it can be viewed in.
The question is: what will be the next innovation in filmmaking beyond CG that will bring us the same sense of amazement? Back in the days of Star Wars or even farther back to The Wizard of Oz, there was so much room to grow that the right creative visionaries could bring audiences something truly new. Nowadays there are occasional leaps in CG, like with Avatar, but there’s only so far you can push computer animation before you start to feel like you’ve seen it all before. Actors stand in a green room and a slew of artists take over and make things beautiful, but hardly any of it is real or new. Audiences have become so accustomed to high-quality CGI that it will take something truly innovative to impress us. We can only hope that a new generation of effects geniuses can bring the awe factor back to film.