TL;DR – An exploration of a film that effortless blends music, visuals, story, and passion into something that is greater in almost every way.
There are some movies that just touch you in your heart, you can’t really explain why? They just fill you with joy and no matter how many times you have watched it, you are always ready to crack open that DVD/BluRay/digital copy/whatever and give it another watch. For me, one such film is Tron: Legacy, it is the hill I am ready to die on and I love it with all my heart.
So to set the scene, in the years since the first Tron, there has been joy and tragedy. Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) has become CEO of ENCOM International and had a son Sam (Owen Best). However, tragedy struck and took his wife away. Flynn refocused his work and made a huge discovery, something that would change everything but days after finding it out he disappears leaving Sam an orphan. Years later Sam (Garrett Hedlund) has grown up but while he is the main shareholder of the company he basically leaves ENCOM alone, bar the yearly prank, which this year involves sneaking into the company releasing their new software for free and then base jumping off the top of the tower. This might be a big joke for Sam but is not for Kevin’s old friend and Sam’s mentor Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner). He lets Sam know that he got a page from his father, the first communication since he disappeared. It came from the old arcade, so Sam goes to investigate and finds more than he bargains when he gets transported into the world of the computer and discovers all is not well on the Grid.
The first area that the film excels in is the music and when you have Daft Punk working on your musical score then you know something special is about to happen. There is the electronic pulsing of The Game Has Changed, the lively strings of Outlands, and the warmth of the Finale. Where we really see this glory come to the foreground is towards the end of the second act when Sam makes his way through the city to the End of Line club where we get the apt title End of Line and also a cameo for the music makers themselves. To begin with we have a relatively mellow club track with a pulsating rhythm and drums underneath as Sam has entered a place of safety. Fun fact that there are a lot of samples of old video games including Commander Keen dropped throughout the song. Of course, no good deed goes unpunished and Zuse (Michael Sheen) turns on Sam bringing the more up-tempo Derezzed into play. The electronics rise and fall in quick succession, the drums are louder, the perfect music for a kick-ass action sequence. Then the moment Flynn arrives, the mood changes again and Fall starts as Zuse states ‘the aura was palpable’ and he’s not wrong. Now the electronic bass drum is smashing you in the face and as soon as the elevator is damaged we get assaulted with strings falling in a crescendo while trumpets blare and whine builds and builds as the inevitable crash at the bottom draws near. It is an amazing couple of minutes of cinema.
Then, of course, we have the pinnacle of the musical score, the Adagio for Tron. The adagio is used to chart the rise of the isomorphic algorithms or Isos. They came from the wilderness, full of heart, but were seen as a threat from the power structures in the grid. This is a musical accompaniment for the genocide of a race of beings and it does not shirk that responsibility away. It is full of pain, full of sadness, full of potential cut short, and full of lost hope. It is the moment of real in amongst all the fantasy and it has stayed with me from the moment I heard it until today and more.
While the music is a centrepiece of the film, another key factor is just how beautiful the visuals are. From a visual effects perspective, the film was revolutionary with its de-ageing technic to bring CLU (Jeff Bridges/John Reardon) to life. Yes, we have gotten much better at it over the last ten years, and yes it does not always work, they probably should not have shown his face in close up at the start of the film in the real world. But nevertheless, it is still a marvel of the time and you still get sucked in thanks to Bridges performance. As well as the de-aging, the film is filled with visual effects of such high quality that they still hold up today. The world of the Grid is filled with a blending of physical and digital sets that combine flawlessly to create a fantastic world. Where we see that come to fruition is in the games, first the disk wars and then the light cycle battle.
The production design in this film is also a real standout, helping to build a world from the ground up. A really good example of this is Flynn’s house in the cliffs of the Badlands. It is a blend of the organic rock, with harsh modern lines, and then a digital wall for some reason between the house and the pool. Look I am not saying that I would live there (can you imagine trying to keep it clean) but I would 100% stay there for a weekend and love every moment of it. We also see this in the costumes, there are the outfits of Gem (Beau Garrett) and the Sirens and their almost otherworldliness. Indeed, all the Grid outfits with their lines of light are just so striking. The highlight for me is, of course, Flynn’s cloak that he wears to the club to save Sam and Quorra (Olivia Wilde). It has a wonderful flow to it and the lights on the inside create an interesting juxtaposition and I would very much like to own a copy if I could.
Then there is, of course, the visual beauty that comes from the framing of the camera and finding the perfect angles. Claudio Miranda, the cinematographer, has won an Academy Award for his work in the digital media and it really shows here. Even before we get into the Grid this film is impeccably lit, with shadows framing every face giving it texture and context. When we get into the computer this only gets more profound when you can bathe the world in orange and blue lights. Then there are these moments that take your breath away. For example, when we see a disk being used as a weapon for the first time and Sam is framed in the hole in the middle. Or the slow-mo jump as the light cycle forms around you. Or even just Quorra sitting on a couch, it is all frame beautifully, and more said about that ending frame the better.
Then there is the story, which I think is another strength of the film because it is clear that all of the cast is here for it. Garrett Hedlund is fantastic as Sam Flynn and is someone who has to bring quite a lot to the role. There is the sheer physicality needed to pull it off and he has it. Then there is the way he connects with you the audience which is important as he is the audience surrogate in the film. You feel his pain and his loss, the conflicting emotions in finding his dad again only to discover he is not who he thought he was. He has to be the bridge between the old film and the new and he nails it. I often hear people dismiss Jeff Bridges portrayal of Kevin Flynn as him just riffing on The Big Lebowski again and frankly that is an unfair depiction. There are worlds of difference between the two roles. Here he is a man that has lost almost everything, he is trapped in a world he can’t escape from. His own creation turned on him and made every attempt to fight a failure. He is a broken man and you see that pain in his performance. Then there is Olivia Wilde’s performance of Quorra. There is, of course, that naiveté there but there is also some of the most interesting energy in the entire film. This is a juxtaposition that Olivia completely embodies and makes her own.
Then there are the supporting cast that all bring their own to the proceedings. Bruce Boxleitner as Alan Bradley is ever the optimist and maybe the one stable thing in Sam’s life. James Frain as Jarvis brings this really weird energy as the somewhat cowardly and completely subservient lackey of Clu. Then we get Michael Sheen as Zuse/Castor who is going at 100km an hour and does not care who gets run over in the process and yes I 100% believe he survived the explosion in his club because you know that dude had more than one escape exit. Heck, we even have Cillian Murphy turn up in an uncredited cameo as Edward Dillinger, Jr. of all people.
In the end, do we recommend Tron: Legacy? I mean, of course, we do. The music, visuals, and story all stand up even ten years later. But more than that, what is clear is that there was so much passion that went into this film. You see it in every aspect of its design and in every frame of footage. Look I know my voice probably does not carry a lot of weight in the world, but if it can have any impact, can I please ask that we get a proper sequel to this film. I think that would make my life so very happy.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Tron: Legacy
Directed by – Joseph Kosinski
Story by – Edward Kitsis, Adam Horowitz, Brian Klugman & Lee Sternthal
Screenplay by – Edward Kitsis & Adam Horowitz
Based on – Tron by Steven Lisberger & Bonnie MacBird
Music by – Daft Punk
Cinematography by – Claudio Miranda
Edited by – James Haygood
Production/Distribution Companies – Walt Disney Pictures & Sean Bailey Productions
Starring – Garrett Hedlund, Jeff Bridges, Olivia Wilde, Bruce Boxleitner, Michael Sheen, James Frain, Beau Garrett, Serinda Swan, Yaya DaCosta, Elizabeth Mathis, Jeffrey Nordling, Owen Best, John Reardon, Anis Cheurfa & Cillian Murphy