A world of limited interaction and encroached-upon freedom, punctuated by bright lights and buzzing technology. Such an environment, not unlike our own right now, was brought to the screen ten years ago with the release of Tron: Legacy. Since then, despite a possible sequel, it has not garnered the appreciation it deserves. The science fiction blockbuster follows the story of Sam Flynn who responds to a message from his long lost father Kevin and by so doing is transported into a computer programme called ‘The Grid’. Sam, his father and the algorithm Quorra must stop the tyrannical programme Clu from invading the real world. In a completely digital world Kevin is not just a programmer but a titanic presence with a meditative, even Buddhist persona.
When Disney released the film as a late sequel to the 1982 original Tron, they must have been looking to reboot an old franchise but critical response was very mixed. The colossal entertainment conglomerate had just bought up Marvel and in five years would go on to release the first Star Wars film of a new trilogy. With the success of these investments and despite its own success at the box office, Tron: Legacy undoubtedly fell by the wayside.
The film initially makes an impact with the mesmerising visuals of a digital yet dystopian world with its clean surfaces and lines.
However, there are imperfections in the production. Notably, the de-aging done to Jeff Bridges’ computer generated face for the character Clu is rather uncanny valley, but I’ve never been overly distracted by it, especially next to the booming neon aesthetic that imbues the rest of the film. There have been great improvements in de-aging actors as we see in The Irishman but given that the success of that film’s efforts were not without debate, there is a lot to be said for the work done on Legacy. The look of the film may not be as cutting edge now but the director Joseph Kosinski’s visuals still dazzle in all their voltaic brilliance. Awesome light cycles and elegant aircraft light up the screen, creating breath-taking sequences which have gripped me on multiple viewings. The regimentation of ‘The Grid’ emulates the tidy user interfaces we use every day and yet the landscape of the computer programme is full of a foreboding, eerie beauty.
Next is the greatest production quality of the film: its soundtrack. Every pixel of every sequence is welded together by the pulsating groove of Daft Punk’s masterful score; they even make a well-placed cameo from beneath their sci-fi robot helmets. The evolutionary electronic duo created a soundtrack which has reverberated far too quietly over the last ten years. It brings so much energy to the film, perfectly synchronising with what you see on the screen.
What has been most overlooked in Legacy is an intriguing and exciting story which happened to have a budget of more than a hundred million dollars.
There is so much of what you would want in a big action movie and yet the main characters have genuine and intriguing developments. At the beginning, the protagonist Sam is a wayward orphan, sitting back instead of taking action in his life. Bridges’ Kevin has a fascinating role as a godlike figure disillusioned with his creations. The faults of his electrified world are mirrored in his own character and despite his power, he is never more than a man juggling his status between a visionary and a father.
Then we come to the most memorable character, Quorra, a unique programme brought to life by Olivia Wilde. Instead of being a stock love interest, we have an intriguing androgynous figure whose image chimes with Joan of Arc. She represents a way in which technological growth can lead humanity in the right direction toward genuine betterment rather than short term gains.
Beyond a fun ride, this is a film with thought-provoking subtext about dictatorial regimes and the worth of technology.
Ten years on, the influence of technology on our lives and the direction in which it is taking us is even more pertinent. The plot is much more than a conflict between good and evil. On the electrified landscapes of Tron: Legacy, programmes declared imperfect are pitted against one another for the raucous pleasure of less disposable individuals. The issue at heart is one of control versus freedom, uniformity versus identity. Despite its sleek, symmetrical appeal, there is a burning desire, not unfamiliar to us all, to get off grid. Whether you’ve dived into ‘The Grid’ before or are yet to be downloaded, I highly recommend giving this film a watch.
Image: Loren Javier via Flickr & Creative Commons