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Tron (1982)
Director: Steven Lisberger

Tron: Legacy (2010)
Director: Joseph Kosinski

reviews by J.C. Hartley
As I remember it, and my memory may have been corrupted, the original Tron came out after Time Bandits; notable in that the great David Warner was the villain of both pieces. For all its state-of-the-art graphics, and the fusion of said graphics with live performance, I think the original Tron was viewed as something of a gimmick. It hardly broke down the walls to usher in a new cinematic experience in the way that advances in 3D have done today. It remains to be seen of course if the current vogue for 3D outlives its own novelty value.

In Tron, charismatic games programmer Flynn (Jeff Bridges) is taking on the giant ENCOM Company, to prove that CEO, Dillinger (Warner), appropriated top-selling game 'Space Paranoids' to build his own reputation and power-base. Smuggled into the ENCOM building by his buddies Alan and Lora (Bruce Boxleitner and Cindy Morgan), Flynn is digitised by a new teleportation laser and ends up in the digital world on the Grid.

Flynn discovers that this world is ruled by the Master Control Program through its enforcer Sark (the MCP is voiced by Warner who also plays Sark). Bizarrely, the MCP looks like something out of the later Pokļæ½mon series, or even the Billy Crystal character Calcifer in Howl's Moving Castle. The MCP plans to take over all programs in the real world, or something. Aided by security program Tron, who 'fights for the users', and Tron's digital girlfriend Yori, Flynn uses his ability to manipulate the digital world to fight these heinous plans. In a bit of Star Wars rip-offery, a gap is opened up in the MCP's security so that Tron can throw in his identity disc which scuppers the evil program. Flynn returns to the real world and, having revealed Dillinger's chicanery, he ends up as CEO of ENCOM.

It is notable that the digital world of the Grid has fared better at the hands of time than the wacky fashions, sounds, and general hipness of 1982. Tron Legacy begins seven years later, with Flynn re-telling the story to his young son Sam (Garrett Hedlund). The child's mother (Lora? No place for Cindy Morgan in this re-boot), has died. We only see Flynn from behind in this initial piece of exposition, but he turns in the child's bedroom doorway to confirm that he can return to the Grid, a big reveal where we are supposed to gasp at the digitised face of young Flynn/ Jeff Bridges. Sadly this effect is rather underwhelming.

Flynn disappears back into the Grid and, 20 years later, ENCOM turns against the hippy-dippy free anarcho-syndicalism of its CEO. A new programmer Dillinger has created a host of new stuff which will allow ENCOM to dominate the market, but Sam Flynn hacks the system to allow the systems to be accessed free on the Internet. Alan Bradley (Boxleitner) has received a message via his old pager purporting to come from Flynn senior, when Sam investigates Flynn's old Games Arcade he is digitised and ends up on the Grid.

Sam is introduced to his father alive on the Grid but soon realises that this is Clu, a security program run by his father and thought destroyed in the first film. Clu now rules the Grid and is evil and ambitious, having discovered a way to flood the real world with his armies in a reversal of the process that digitised Flynn and Sam. Sam is rescued by Quorra (Olivia Wilde, soon to be seen in Cowboys And Aliens) and reunited with his dad, off-grid in the Outlands. Quorra is the last of the isomorphic algorithms, sentient programs that arose spontaneously in the Grid, essentially a new life-form, subsequently destroyed by Clu.

Sam is betrayed by a contact Zuse (Michael Sheen) who steals his identity disc before being himself destroyed by Clu. Clu's enforcer Rinzler is revealed to be a re-programmed Tron, who at a crucial moment remembers who he is and that he 'fights for the users'. A lot of stuff happens that it would spoil the film to reveal, but suffice to say that Sam and Quorra return to the real world and tool around on a motorbike while Quorra looks at the world through big eyes, rather like the original ending to the theatrical release of Blade Runner.

The digital effects in Tron: Legacy are obviously vastly superior to the original, and I would guess the film worked very well in 3D for its theatrical release. There's a lot of gushy stuff about the 'light-cycles' on various other review sites. The de-res effect whereby programmes are destroyed, which was a sequence of pulsing grid-lines in the original, is here a splashy liquid effect which works quite well. The story holds up well but of course it is basically a re-telling of the original story. Sequels are rumoured, and a 10-part animated series for the Disney channel, 'Tron: Uprising'.

Both films are enjoyable, Tron stands up quite well although the 1980s' ambience seems very alien. Tron: Legacy does not seem to make any great strides forward except to introduce the concept to a new audience. Was Tron so far ahead of its time? Has so little happened in 28 years? Will a sequel take to the clouds? This is Saturday night viewing after curry and a few drinks. You can doze off and come back with little information loss, but try not to miss Michael Sheen.

The films are now available in a plethora of formats, as single discs, blu-ray sets, in boxsets featuring both films, in 3D, and 'classic' editions; all with their own extras.


Tron Legacy

Tron movies on blu-ray

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