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Disney's "TRON: Legacy" is more visually arresting than it is entertaining

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Disney's "TRON: Legacy" is more visually arresting than it is entertaining

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28 years ago, the original "TRON" dazzled audiences with its cutting-edge visual effects. But then this ambitious Walt Disney Productions release kind of underwhelmed moviegoers when it came to story.

So does "TRON: Legacy" correct the sins of the past? Does this Joseph Kosinski film do a far better job of blending spectacle and story? Sort of.

Don't get me wrong. This new Walt Disney Pictures' 3D tentpole does feature dazzling visuals, some great action set pieces as well as two -- count 'em, two -- terrific performances by Jeff Bridges. But at 125 minutes in length, "TRON: Legacy" is a trifle on the long side. Especially given how dark & convoluted things sometimes get with Adam Horowitz & Edward Kitsis's screenplay. Which builds on the characters & the world that Steven Lisberger & Bonnie Macbird created. But -- at the same time -- doesn't rely so heavily on that 1982 film that someone coming in to see "TRON: Legacy" who hasn't seen the original "TRON" will then be hopelessly confused.

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Speaking of which ... "TRON: Legacy" 's prologue begins approximately seven years after the original "TRON" ended. Where Kevin Flynn (Bridges, who has been de-aged - a la "Benjamin Button" - via CG) is getting his son Sam (Owen Best) ready for bed and talking about of this miracle that has just occurred on the Grid. And as Kevin heads out the door for work that night, he promises to tell his son the rest of that tale the very next time that they get together.

The only problem is that Flynn doesn't come home the next morning. Or the morning after that. And as the weeks & months go by and Sam's Dad remains missing, his young son just gets angrier at being abandoned.

Now jump ahead 20 years or so. When Kevin's company - ENCOM - is being run in his absence by a greedy board of directors. Who now have to deal with the cyber-pranks that a now twenty-something Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund) regularly pulls.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

When Sam's latest stunt (which involves parachuting off of ENCOM Tower) ends with young Mr. Flynn being arrested, Kevin's old friend Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner) drops by Sam's apartment. Not to chide this chronic underachiever, mind you. But - rather - to reveal to Sam that he's just received a page from Flynn's Arcade. From a phone number that's supposedly been disconnected for a decade or more.

So Sam hops on his Dad's old bike and zooms over to Flynn's Arcade. Where he then discovers Kevin's secret workshop. More importantly, the laser that blasted Flynn into cyber-space in the original "TRON." And before you can say "convenient plot device," Sam has been sucked into the Grid, picked up by a Recognizer and then sentenced to battle-to-the-death on the Game Grids.

And it's during this early part of "TRON: Legacy" (which is where the 3D kicks in, by the way) that this Joseph Kosinski film really delivers the goods. At least when it comes to what fans of the original "TRON" will be expecting. So we get seriously amped-up disc wars, multi-level light cycle races as well as a storyline that really builds on the mythology Lisberger & Co. introduced back in 1982.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

But then the mysterious Quorra (Olivia Wilde) comes to Sam's rescue and whisks him off the Grid. Where (in "TRON: Legacy" 's most touching scene) this twenty-something is finally reunited with his long-missing, now-aged father. Who's been trapped in cyber-space for more than 20 years now thanks to the villainous Clu.

And given that the portal that allowed Sam to enter the Grid is due to close shortly, it's now a race against time to get Kevin's son back out to the real world. During which Sam has to figure out whether he can actually trust shady characters like Castor (Michael Sheen) as well as discover Quorra's secret.

Kosinski (working off of the story that Horowitz, Kitsis, Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal cooked up) keeps things moving along at a good clip. And it's honestly hard not to be impressed by "TRON: Legacy" 's epic scale and amazing effects. But when you get right down to it, this would-be franchise reboot still comes up short in the story department. Especially during the last third of this film (when Clu & Co. are pursuing Kevin, Sam and Quorra as they make their way to the portal). Which is when the narrative bogs down and "TRON: Legacy" becomes more visually arresting than it is entertaining.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

That said, I still intend to go see "TRON: Legacy" at least one more time over the holiday season. If only to then see if this film's explanation of what became of Bruce Boxleitner's Tron character actually makes more sense the second time around. Especially if you're really paying attention.

Anyway ... I know that there's an awful lot riding on this new Disney franchise film. What with that "TRON: Uprising" animated series which is due to debut on Disney XD in 2012, not to mention online games, proposed theme park attractions as well as the inevitable sequel. Which is why I genuinely wish that I could say that "TRON: Legacy" is a lot better than it actually is. But in spite of all the cool costumes and neat production design, this new Walt Disney Pictures release never really sucks you in. In short, it's a movie that's easy to admire from a distance but kind of hard to embrace emotionally. Which (ironically enough) is the exact same problem that many moviegoers had with the original "TRON."

Your thoughts?

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  • Jim, I am looking forward to this. Yes the reviews are a bit lame, But I think that it will be an awesome ride. Heading to see it in Brisbane QLD Australia in 2 hours.

    Keeping posting

    End of line!

  • Basically, this was my big fear with TRON, that visuals would overshadow story.  

    Adios plans for a TRON attraction at Disneyland.

    Very sad.

  • Presently, at rotten tomatoes, 44% for the "top critics."  Yeah, that's probably the end of any TRON attraction at Disneyland.  

    Big opening weekend.  Big falloff for the second weekend.  And then limping along through the first week of January.

    Oh well.

  • More visually arresting than entertaining?

    That almost sums up my feelings about the Pirates of the Caribbean films. I swear alot of that first film was more spectacle than plot at times.


    There was a plot in Pirates of the Caribbean?!?!

  • I'm trying to think of any time the sequel to a flop was better than the flop.  But they keep trying.  Maybe Rescuers Down Under, better graphically and storywise, definitely better musical score, than The Rescuers. Same Disney era, too.

  • I will certainly be there to see this. I've been waiting for another Tron for some time. I was born when Tron came out and my son is now born the year the second comes out!

    I'm sad to hear about the story, because Tron is a movie, like Inception, The 13th Floor or The Matrix, that lends itself to a much, much broader story. I keep thinking back to the original story, where Tron "fought for the users," where we in the real world were seen as Gods. I think that the sequel had a lot of room for some deep writing, Plato's Cave levels of what reality, digital and flesh and blood, is. I argue that there was a lot of story that we never saw, that the visuals took so much time that the heart of the story was somehow lost. Perhaps I added something to the story that wasn't there in my head, playing light cycles against each other in my brain.

    I have always had faith in Disney (I'm a great admirer of the site, Jim!) and how they have shaped my creative influences. I think they wouldn't have put so much into the marketing if they didn't think they could get a return off this. Perhaps this movie, even if the story is not there, will have people take these now two stories together and see how this world comes together. I am also firm believer in that a film cannot be judged until it is seen twice. There is nothing like a movie for the first time, but sometimes it takes more than a single viewing to shape our views.

    Here's to hoping the movie the movie succeeds, not for profits or fame, but for kids like me that will be influenced to create their own worlds and find more to a story in the cracks of narrative and flash.

  • I went back to Rotten Tomatoes today thinking that the Top Critics number of 44% was likely to go up.  It's now down to 29%.  It will probably linger now as most of the major reviews are now in.

    What a disaster and disappointment.

    I was so looking forward to this.  

    No need to stay up late and see the midnight showing, I suppose.  

    But worse, this is the Black-Hole-Syndrome.  We can all kiss those rumored E-Ticket, Tron-themed rides for Tomorrowland goodbye right now.   Hopefully WDI was working on a Plan B to fix Tomorrowland as well.

    How frigging sad.

  • I disagree with you completely Jim. I think another watch is in order.

    This has classic written all over it. :) better than anything they have put out in a long time. This had just the right mix of visuals nostalgia and human emotion. Something Avatar never achieved.

    My only qualm is that the scene in Sam's apartment was like a bad play everything else was great.

    Besides, "It's all in the wrist".

  • Also a word of advice, don't judge by Rotten Tomatoes or you'll really miss out.

    Trust your eyes, not the words of critics who don't get it.

  • Also, just sit back and enjoy the ride, if you over analyze you'll hate it...  I'm not saying to drone out either, I'm saying that it's good clean, sexy, sci-fi fantasy. Leave it at that and you'll soon be watching it through the director's vision of it.

  • When I know I am going to see a movie, I avoid reading reviews like the plague - I prefer to watch the film with no preconceptions, so I can be as open as possible to see how it makes me feel.

    I wish you hadn't put the summary of your opinion in this article's headline.  How about "Tron Legacy:  Review" or something neutral like that for a headline?  If I had known this article was to be a review of Tron I never would have read it (or waited until I saw the movie for myself and made up my own mind), but because your opinion was in the headline I had no choice but to hear it, even though I chose not to read the article itself.

    Now when I see the movie I will be biased with the preconception that it (most likely) does not have a very compelling story.

    It's not like this is a movie-review website - of course I expect some coverage of Disney films - but I wish you had been a little more thoughtful when you prepared this article.  I wasn't given the choice to avoid hearing your opinion.

    First spoilers, now this!



  • I also disagree with Jim on this one. I saw it at midnight and THROUGHLY enjoyed it. It's not Masterpiece Theatre, but it's not proported to be either. It's a sci-fi adventure movie and it suceeds at that. Just like the first one, there are story holes and logical holes. But I think this one has WAY fewer holes than the first one and I REALLY like the original.

  • I was pretty bored with the movie.  As a fan I'm disappointed... it's another mediocre movie from Disney.  I want good, quality entertainment from Disney, to restore what Disney stands for, and for it to regain that reputation.  This movie didn't do that.  It frustrates me as a stockholder, too, as it appeared to me there was a lot of money poured into marketing this movie.  So, it's going to have a hard time even breaking even.  Did anybody else think the ending was depressing?

  • I agree you Jim should have put a "spoiler alert" as he did in past articles. But the ending wasn't really depressing... why? "TRON"...

    That's all I'll say.

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