By Christopher Campbell | Spout December 17, 2010 at 4:21AM
You should go see "TRON: Legacy" this weekend. Preferably in IMAX 3D. See it for the pretty visual effects. See it for Michael Sheen's part as David Bowie as Willy Wonka (thank you Karina Longworth for recognizing the performance as one of the year's best). See it for Olivia Wilde as Louise Brooks as, ultimately, Ariel the mermaid. See it for Jeff Bridges, obviously, as Jeff Bridges and Jeff Bridges. Hear it for the Daft Punk score, while seeing how it enhances the visuals, especially the moment featuring Daft Punk (or maybe they're stand-ins? we'd never know). But see it, let it wash over you as a spectator and nothing else. Never mind that it's a film about the user and there's nothing for you to do. Identify with the slaves in the digital coliseum passively enjoying the gladiatorial games provided to them by the grid's evil emperor.
Yes, I'm serious, because as a sequel to 1982's "TRON," which broke new ground in special effects while featuring a much simpler yet quite sufficient sci-fi/fantasy narrative, "TRON: Legacy" is at least as good as the most disappointing returns to great franchises (the "Star Wars" prequels, the "Matrix" sequels, the "Back to the Future" sequels, etc.), and yet it was never really a great franchise to begin with. So I think that's a step up? Or a balance out? Either way, it's a movie that looks and sounds and feels far better than its predecessor probably deserves while for whatever reason is not as great as you would wish.
I know people always compare big blockbuster spectacles to fireworks, but this time it's really appropriate. It's like how every year you get excited and you watch the 4th of July display and, well, it's as fine as it was last year. Maybe there's finally a new kind of burst of lights -- like when fireworks started looking like smiley faces -- but overall it's familiar. This year that smiley face is seeing Jeff Bridges made younger, which is only technically a variation on effects developed for "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," and the rest is just the same old dazzle. The point is that the dazzle is still dazzling.
Plot-wise, just tune out. The movie starts out involving a tech industry commentary that rivals at least the one in "Iron Man 2" (though here the only competition of brands seems to be when Bruce Boxleitner uses an iPad during the ENCOM meeting -- unless it's an EN-Pad or something), as well as a seeming endorsement of free and open source software. Some may take this more to be an ironic encouragement of piracy, but there's a difference. And anyway the irony would be amusing given that "TRON: Legacy" is one of the few movies this year that necessitates a theatrical experience and would not be so good in bootleg form.
That introductory storyline is abandoned and never returned to once the bland protagonist played by Garrett Hedlund enters "the Grid" (apparently the transition to "the Grid" is when the 3D kicks in, like the way "Wizard of Oz" turns to color when Dorothy reaches Oz, but I honestly didn't catch this, and if it's meant to be then it was not successfully achieved), to search for his long missing father, to kind of fall for a sexy algorithm who likes to read Jules Verne and wants to be (sing it) a part of your world, to prove that nerds can be "athletic" heroes in the game world and, most importantly, to ride in some new and improved light cycles for the delight of the slave-like spectators, on screen and off.
And I guess there is a correlation to be made between how we "use" computers and how we experience "TRON: Legacy." Compared to the olden days, more of us are "users" and partake in interactivity, but the ways in which the computers and internet are used is so much more passive, for the masses anyway. Thanks to sexy algorithms and the real creators and users out there we have it pretty easy and easily pretty. Whereas "TRON" was centered on video games, the sequel is focused more on operating systems, which help the laymen navigate the computer grid without much effort on their part.
There is at least one way to interact with "TRON: Legacy," however. It's not a game likely intended by the filmmakers, but it is nonetheless a fun way to "use" what we're given. Tally up a list of every movie that "TRON: Legacy" reminds you of, whether obvious ("The Matrix," "2001: A Space Odyssey," "Star Wars," "Avatar") or not so much ("Back to the Future Part III," "Mannequin"). Compare with your friends afterward, instead of just expounding on the movie's obvious problems (though you can see the derivativeness as a problem). Whoever finds the most influences wins!
As a final note, regarding the moment I associate with "Mannequin," I can't stop thinking about the ending. Maybe I'm the only one fixated on it, but I want someone to tell me what is up with that over-extended final shot. For once I'm not going to write any spoilers in a post -- maybe if I discuss the movie further at a later time I'll go into the shot more. I'll just say it's a very odd way to end the movie, for a number of reasons.
So see "TRON: Legacy," share your thoughts on that ending below and also list as many of those influences you spotted.