When I asked my son what he wanted to do for his birthday, he said that he wanted to go see Tron: Legacy. Naturally, I was proud of my NDS and, in true Neurotic Disney Dad fashion, I borrowed the original Tron from a friend. We made it a day of Tron. With breakfast we watched Jeff Bridges and Bruce Boxleitner act out the original film, and, after lunch, we saw the sequel over popcorn.
I can say after seeing both movies that I completely understand the fervor that some fans have for Tron. The first film has some really amazing ideas, and the second follows up on those ideas, taking them to the next level. The entire concept of programs in a computer environment acting just like humans and working through the issues of a computer is an intriguing one.
The problem with both films, however, is that for all the incredible visuals and concepts, neither takes a firm grasp of the story and runs with it. Unlike other criticisms of these films, I’ll say that there is definitely a plot to Tron and Tron: Legacy. Unfortunately, though that the plot is there, the real meat of the story is only hinted at, which is a problem that happens often in films these days.
Steven Lisberger was the writer and director of the original film and managed to produce a film that was light years ahead of its time. In the film, Kevin Flynn, played by Jeff Bridges, is attempting to hack into his old software company, Encom, now run by his nemesis, Ed Dillinger. Flynn had created the video games that made Encom profitable, but Dillinger stole them and forced Flynn out.
If the story focused on that particular problem and how Flynn would fix it, the movie would have been better. Instead, it gets derailed by Flynn being sucked into the virtual world, where he is forced to compete in games like the light cycles, disc wars, and more. With the help of some other “programs” like Tron, the security program, Flynn is able to defeat the Master Control Program and restore light and hope to the computer world. Because the computer world is put back to rights, Flynn is installed back at Encom, and all is right with the actual world, too.
The visuals of the original are unbelievable for 1982; they still hold up today if you remember the computers we use today were still in their infancy back then. The issue is that those great themes–games, the concept of programs with free will, etc.–are touched upon, but never developed. The acting is typical 80s stuff, with Bridges carrying most of the load, and everyone else without much range.
Flash forward 28 years to Tron: Legacy, and you find a similar vein, though the characters are slightly more developed here. Sam Flynn, the son of Kevin Flynn, has been antagonizing his father’s company Encom for years, since his father’s odd disappearance. In the new incarnation, enough time is spent in the real world to make the world of Tron more meaningful.
Once on “the grid,” however, it is odd that Sam is directly put into the games without explanation. If you understand why this happened in the first movie, you would know what is happening, but most people haven’t seen Tron, so the choice to have Sam follow Kevin’s path from the first film is very odd. It does, however, allow director Joseph Kozinski to pull off some amazing visuals. The disc battle, the light cycles and the general design of the game grid is unbelievable. From there, however, things devolve quickly.
The plotline follows much the same lines as the original film, which is a mistake. The added wrinkle here is that instead of meeting Tron, the security program, Sam instead meets his father, who has been trapped in the digital world for 20 years. But from there, it’s the same idea – they must travel across the grid to disrupt the plans of the main villain. In Legacy, it’s Clu, a program written by Kevin Flynn. Clu, as a villain, is eerily similar to the Master Control Program from the first film.
It was a definite experience to watch both films in one day. I enjoyed watching them, but I was more struck by how much potential there is in this universe. Both films gave glimpses to a world full of complex ideas, yet neither fully explored it. It’s my hope that Tron: Legacy does enough business that it will allow Disney to make a sequel where we can really dig into the world of Tron for the first time.
Contributed by: Ryan K. (NDD #137). Ryan is our resident film expert and creator of The Disney Film Project.