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Critical Mass: 'Tron: Legacy'

December 17, 2010 |  3:28 pm


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.

Comments () | Archives (4)

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I think sometimes the Critics get too caught up in artsy stuff. The store was decent, the characters connected with the audience and the visuals were of course spectacular. This is one of those movies where critics dislike it, but the crowds love it.

I think this movie has been getting a lot of unfair press. I just got back from a midnight screening and it was pretty darn good. The movie actually spent a good deal of time developing its lead characters. You can tell there's a lot happening underneath the surface, especially with Jeff Bridges' character. Yeah, at the end of the day, it's a blockbuster effects movie, but it was very well-done nonetheless.

I watched the original Tron in the theater. and thought it was awesome. Great cutting edge visual effects, and a plot that revolved around the computer itself, with 'bits' and programs , and the near worship and respect of god-like users by the programs.

Tron legacy took a left turn, ignored all the computer stuff (except for a short bit of Unix code that only geeks will like) and went a different direction. Even that direction was a bit foggy, as foggy as the muted colors. It seemed like everything was filmed or CGI'd through a blueish fog or haze.

There were a few good lines, but they landed flat on the floor. I don't think any of the main characters really had their hearts in it. Olivia Wilde was most believable, and also the best looking part of the movie.

All in all, it lacked the drama, tension, and what should have been next generation visual effects that I was expecting.

The selected quotations above remind me why I have never read reviews except after deciding for myself.

TRON: Legacy was excellent, a better sequel than I could have imagined or expected. It didn't have the 1982 sweetness, of course, but it was as excellent as any 2010 movie could be. In this new movie, the electronic world is gritty, sweaty, exciting, even intense. And the twists and reversals at the end show that classic good storytelling is not dead. It was a formulaic (at times predictable) but extremely well done spectacle--exactly what it should have been. I can say that judging it by its own standard, I love it.

Kudos to Disney on this one. They put humanity back into the cold digital realm. Spoiler: it's a movie about fatherhood, with opposing sons and broken promises to each. Brilliant.

Even today, in our "enlightened" present, many miss the boat. That's OK: those of us who get it, who have always gotten it, are already on it.

What a good movie.


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