Critical Mass: 'Tron: Legacy'
Disney's original "Tron" may or may not be one of the great underrated movies of the 1980s. Current debates about the movie's merits are not easy to conduct because it's hard to find on DVD -- a mysterious situation Disney (never one to shy away from a chance to make a buck) noticibly isn't rushing to correct.
So with only collective hazy memories of the original to guide them, how do the critics rank the long-in-the-works follow-up, "Tron: Legacy"?
Not well. At least not in the categories people usually care about in their movies, stuff like plot and character and action. But boy, oh, boy, does it sure look good.
The Times' Betsy Sharkey sums up "Tron's" problem at the end of her lukewarm-to-negative review: "The film arrives in an age populated by a generation or more who have spent great portions of their days obsessing over increasingly sophisticated video games built around labyrinthine challenges. They are masters of this universe, one in which 'Tron: Legacy' turns out to be just an average player."
Critic James Berardinelli seems just a little more peeved than Sharkey at "Tron: Legacy's" shortcomings. At 43, Berardinelli was a teenager when the original was released -- the prime "Tron" adulation time. Still, his review is as blunt as it is disappointed, as he writes, "They had 28 years, and this is the best they could come up with?"
The Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips is another critic who wants to like "Tron" -- he really does -- but the results can't help but underwhelm. "It's a sullen affair, dominated by a grim visual palette that intrigues for about 30 minutes. Thereafter I found myself wishing I could switch over to [a] different, peppier 1982-derived artifact, something on the order of Atari Pole Position."
The New York Times' Manohla Dargis can't even muster much enthusiasm for the sequel's neon-highlighted computer world look. She says the film fails to push the limits of its creative vision and "in its sampling of old movies (its predecessor included), only emphasizes how uninterested the filmmakers are in showing you something you haven’t seen before."
Does everyone hate "Tron"? No, there are a few voices of praise in the wilderness. Just not many from what one would call the, ahem, critcal elite. Take, for example Head Geek Harry Knowles' review on Aint It Cool News: " 'Tron: Legacy' is tech sexy. It's so tech fetishistically awesome that I sat on the edge of my seat and smiled like a monkey in banana heaven, tail wagging and eyes bugging."
And there's the glowing review by Matt Fowler on gamer website IGN.com, which gushes, "First time feature director Kosinski delivers thrills and a touch of heartache" inside a "very impressive" palette "of colors and noise. And I'm not afraid to admit that, as completely muddled and incomprehensible as modern action sequences have become, I enjoyed the fact that our heroes and villains were color-coded."
If you're on the fence about seeing "Tron: Legacy" this weekend, ask yourself the following question: Have you, or would you ever, camp out to be the first to buy a video game on the day of its release? If the answer is yes, "Tron" is waiting for you.
-- Patrick Kevin Day
Photo: A digitally de-aged Jeff Bridges, left, stars with Garrett Hedlund in "Tron: Legacy." / Disney Enterprises Inc.