When Steven Lisberger’s Tron first hit cinemas in 1982 the world was a very different place. Cutting edge computer technology had only just allowed for the premise of ‘a man sucked into a computer’ to be realised. Sadly it produced the kind of digital effects that have aged about as well as the graphics of Hungry Horace on the Sinclair ZX Spectrum. Like Horace, Tron maintains retro charm, yet it is hard to believe that its sequel's gestation lasted for almost three decades. Eventually the project landed in the hands of first time director Joseph Kosinski who, burdened with a lengthy development, saw test footage screened at not one, but three consecutive Comic-cons.
Tron: Legacy's prologue bridges the gap of the two films with some contrived back story. Opening in 1989, the original film’s protagonist, Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), has obviously had a busy seven years since he escape his digital dungeon, in which he’s found time to have a son, bring his computing company up to Microsoft standards and return to the digital world of The Grid only to get trapped there. In the years following his disappearance Kevin’s son, Sam (a vacant faced Garrett Hedlund), has grown up to become a smug, rich, cyber master/adrenaline junkie twenty-something who lives in a shipping crate. That’s all you need to know as it doesn’t take long for Sam to follow in his father's footsteps as he too is sucked into cyberspace.
After all, this is the reason why Tron: Legacy largely exists; if nothing else the CGI potential must have been mouthwatering for Disney. A lifetime from Tron’s pixel palaces, this brave new world instead presents a hybrid creation of a neon noir urban cityscape rendered into glorious high-definition. Kosinski wastes little time in having Sam rounded up and thrown into one of The Grid's killer arena matches. These red and blue tinted future sports are the showcase here, and provide several nods to the original, such as fans' favourite the Light Cycle matches, deadly duels that are part motorcycle race, part Snake game, with today's CGI now allowing the cycles’ light streams to manifest into a sumptuous liquid wall.
As well as creating the world of The Grid, computer effects were also instrumental in bringing to life the film’s antagonist Clu. Also played by Bridges, Clu is The Dude taken back in time, his face digitally wiped clean of the last 30 years to create a villainous alter ego. In the still neon light Clu looks flawless, but as soon as the character speaks you can’t help but notice something is amiss; his eyes are constantly glazed and his smile false. The questioning of Clu’s features creates an accidental echoing of the film's theme of digital programs wanting desperately to be human.
Sadly the heart of the film remains digital. Hedlund’s Sam has no palpable reaction upon discovering this awe inspiring digital world; neither does he flinch when he thinks he has found his father in the doppelganger Clu. Only Bridges emotes, both as Flynn and his digitised form, but this sliver of passion is lost amongst the film’s convoluted and at times nonsensical story. Even the usually excellent Michael Sheen misfires as a nefarious nightclub owner.
On a sensory level, though, Legacy is a delight, a visionary feast for the eyes with a down and dirty score by Daft Punk that’s pitch perfect for the environment. It’s a shame the emotional depth could not be found to match the opulent detail of this new world. Also lacking depth is the film’s so-so 3D ‘experience’ with only a nifty bit of grapple hooking truly showing the technology’s forth-wall-breaking potential.
Ultimately, like loading up your Spectrum, it just isn’t as fun anymore.