NOTE: I started this article the day TRON: Legacy hit cinema screens, and now here we are like a year after it was released on home video. I guess you could say it takes me a while to complete things. *sigh* It has now magically transformed into a column entry! Yipee!
TRON Legacy debuted on screens around the world and unfortunately has met critical panning, almost across the board. The funny thing to notice is that nearly every review compliments the visuals, the score and the action. From that point on, they use those same praises to either compliment the film, or tear it apart. I guess it stands to reason that people either “get ” this film or they don’t.
The Sequel That Seemed Unlikely:
Now I love TRON. Please don’t read the next part of this without knowing that. However, the original TRON is (honestly) a silly film, created at a time when Disney was trying to gain some “cred” with the older crowd. They didn’t really succeed at the time, but they planted great seeds for the future. TRON arrived in 1982; five years after Star Wars had brought audiences to a galaxy far, far away. In many ways, TRON felt like a rip off of Star Wars. It contained a basic “mythic” story following the Joseph Campbell hero’s journey formula, it had strange visuals, and a young cast. The visuals would go on to be snubbed at the Oscars because “they used computers to cheat“.
That’s pretty funny.
By and large, TRON was considered a failure of the mainstream and quietly fell to the background of pop culture. The place films go that may not be understood at the time, or are full of an undeniable spirit that won’t be ignored forever.
Yes. As you may understand, TRON became a “cult film”.
In the minds of a lot of today’s 30-40 year olds, TRON came out during a seminal time. Video games were the rage. You would spend hours after school at the arcade pumping quarters into the latest hit arcade machine. Pac-man, Space Invaders, Donkey Kong. These games and others like them were responsible for 7.3 billion in revenue from just arcades alone in 1982.  The games were a doorway to another world, an escape. With your pocketful of quarters, you could dominate your favorite game and feel like a hero. The protagonist of the first TRON movie, Kevin Flynn, was a champion. He was great at video games and owned his own arcade. He also wrote many video games, and that brings us to another segment of the population that was “sucked in” (pun intended) to the story laid out in TRON: Computer Programmers.
Computer programmers found validation while watching TRON. Everything they were doing was suddenly made alive and vibrant. The monochrome letters on the screen gave way to a digital world. A colorful, exciting world inside the computer. These programs they were creating had life, feelings, personalities, and quirks. These things programmers knew from working with them, but now others -the mainstream- could see. The rest of the world could appreciate what the programmer saw and felt about their creations, thanks to the visualizations set forth in TRON. Well, the rest of the world that bothered to see the film at least could. Critical reaction was mixed, where Roger Ebert praised the film for “a technological sound-and-light show that is sensational and brainy, stylish, and fun”, and Jay Scott of the Globe and Mail wrote, “It’s got momentum and it’s got marvels, but it’s without heart; it’s a visionary technological achievement without vision”. Sound familiar?
All Visuals, No Story?
TRON: Legacy has been criticized for “effects that are above average while the plot is a mess”. It’s my claim that the critics just don’t get this one. It’s an action-adventure movie, with dense computer references, and deep philosophical themes. It has too much action for the art house types to get interested, and too much philosophy and story for the ADD action junkies. It’s an extremely well-rounded film that is fun, exciting and makes you think afterward… if you want to.
TRON: Legacy does not require that you deeply ponder the film afterwards. It ties up at the end and leaves you with a sense of conclusion and it is very easy to leave it at that and leave the theater satisfied. If you are the type to pursue ancillary materials, there is much more to this TRON world than which is shown on screen. I know film purists get upset about this and complain that what is on the screen should make sense on it’s own, but this universe as imagined is quite large and dense. Think of it as when Star Wars actually opened up in the middle of the story. Joseph Kosinsky and crew created a whole universe here, and we just received a glimpse of one part of the action. There is currently a TV show in development for Disney XD, and hopefully we get some sequels to the film down the line to help further explore this massive world.
If you DO want to search deeper, that layer exists. TRON: Legacy is rich in philosophical and religious allegory. Upon repeated viewings, the movie matures for you. The story of an absentee father trapped in his own world and a fatherless youth avoiding responsibility contains subtle and painful comparisons to most males in today’s society. We are either the father lost or trapped in his work, or the son that grew up without a father and trying to find their own way without guidance. I think most of us are both – to some degree. We desire to be reconciled to each other so that life makes sense. The Flynns get this chance and it brings new focus and vision for Sam.
What do you think? IS TRON just a simple story that looks pretty? Or is there more to chew on?