Blu-Ray Review: TRON LEGACY - The Live-Action High-Definition Experience of the Year

The original Tron, which is also released on blu-ray this week (alone and also as part of a Tron double-pack alongside Legacy) was something of an oddity, far more visually impressive than it was involving for the audience. But somehow the characters gained as much of a cult following as that iconic aesthetic, and the idea of The Grid standing as an oddly prophetic insight into the future of MMO's and the invasion of gaming sub-cultures into mainstream cultures. And I have to say it holds an esteemed position in my own personal film collection. Tron Legacy then, no matter how unexpected, was always going to represent an exciting prospect- especially since the advances in the technology of film-making have now caught up with the scope of the original film's desired special effects, and what was once astounding and ground-breaking is now as possible as seamless motion capture and entirely CG characters. And what better way to show off those stunning visuals than in high-definition, as Tron Legacy is released on blu-ray tomorrow. Way back when I reviewed it during its cinema run (as part of my Film Diary column) I said that I thought Tron Legacy was one of the best looking films I have ever seen, and almost certainly the best sounding one, and those assertions still stand. The second fact was less than a revelation: the decision to go to Daft Punk for the film€™s soundtrack must rate as one of the greatest choices in soundtrack history, and the fact that they didn€™t simply produce a new Daft Punk album and tag the Tron name onto it speaks volumes of their value to the final product. Only Hans Zimmer€™s Inception soundtrack comes close in terms of quality, but Daft Punk€™s outstrips even that glorious body of work thanks to a tangible authenticity that makes the created sound perfectly matched to the spirit of the film. I have since listened and relistened to Daft Punk's soundtrack- as well as the equally exceptional Reconfigured re-release that hit shelves a couple of weeks ago- and they just get better with repeated listening. Never have I heard an electro-album with such orchestral scale, nor depth of sound, which also stands as one of the greatest albums ever released to that genre's market. Even the revelation that the film looked so good wasn€™t all that much of a surprise: after all it had to. Back in 1982, to mass audiences at least, Tron looked nothing like anything that had come before €“ it was aesthetically unique (and pretty fucking brave as well) and set a precedent for innovation that Legacy had to address as a matter of priority. And they did it bloody marvelously €“ though not quite innovative, the film is startlingly atypical in its visual manifesto and the effect is incredible. The one reservation I have with the visuals is the slight clunkiness of the CGI used to de-age Jeff Bridges - there simply aren€™t enough imperfections in the CG-clone€™s face to really convey humanity, and until the problems are ironed out I just don€™t see the dream of bringing dead stars back to life as a viable possibility. One pressing point here: if Tron Legacy feels a lot like we are all trapped in a video game, that's because it is the film's intention. Look at the plot break-downs all over the net: I'm pretty sure a good 80% of them will in some way make reference to the fact that the story takes place within a grand computer-generated prison. So surely that should be a quality to be applauded, not castigated- it's like watching Shawshank Redemption and complaining that the scenery doesn't change very often. We aren't supposed to be engaged emotionally by the setting, we are supposed to be in awe of its grandeur and its splendor- and Legacy accomplishes both wonderfully. Ok, so that criticism usually carries the secondary quantifier that the characters aren't engaging either, but I would suggest otherwise- although Jeff Bridges seems to be playing a slightly mellow Dude, rather than an older Flynn, it isn€™t really a huge issue, and every one else, almost without exception play their parts perfectly- never intruding too much on the visuals, or the mythology of the first film, and never making a play to dishonour that original's legacy. But that isn't to say the cast remains unblemished... The one character I did have a little trouble with was Michael Sheen explosively flamboyant tribute to David Bowie, which became way too pantomimey by half at certain turns. But he did fit with the idea of a sci-fi influenced alter-reality, which shouldn't be ignored: and that reveals something of a problem for Tron Legacy. Although the Grid is an arena of utter difference- a programmed Utopia that ultimately becomes a dystopic prison (i.e. both extremes), there is something approaching familiarity here which somewhat destabilises proceedings. Having thought it through a little more, I think the "blame" lies at Sam's door, as Garrett Hedlund's performance is too typical and too familiar in itself, which makes it feel like we have been here before narratively as well as geographically. Hedlund is also criminally let down by a script that continually feeds him the kind of one-liners that early 90s action heroes would have felt more comfortable with. At the end of the day, it€™s just a shame the storyline doesn€™t quite match up to the visuals or the sound. Tron was accused of similarly being empty, strung together by a very silly plot that even the critics who loved its style couldn€™t stomach and it seems that Legacy fits that trend, whether consciously or otherwise. Stripped back, it€™s essentially a very similar circuitry chase plot to The Matrix, but too little time is spent on any one element of the story to make it substantial, so instead the experience of watching it is something similar to walking through a museum, it€™s very arresting and the individual exhibits are great in themselves, but its definitely a fragmented experience.

Quality

I initially suspected, back in the Film Diary post, that Legacy might lose something in its transition to home video- but I can safely say the experience still manages impressive grandeur, even on the relatively small (40") screen that I watched it on. The quality of the transfer, is impeccable, both in terms of visuals and sound, and it is a great showcase for the film's impressive aesthetic and original sound mix. Visually, Legacy is astonishing: the cool overall pallette of the Grid world looks great, and the punctuating primary colours of characters' light-suits, with black levels in particular looking particularly strong, which was important considering how much of a presence the colour has on screen for a good deal of the time. Detail and texture are both exceptional, in the Grid world and in the real world, and in foreground and background shots, which gives the image an unbelievable depth- all in all the transfer looks very demo-worthy in that respect. With as perfectly a suited soundtrack as Daft Punk's, which does so much more than merely add on ornate flourish to scenes, the transfer had to make sure that it was as clear and crisp as possible so as not to detract from the impact. And thankfully, no such concerns abound, with the mix working perfectly for the score- and not just that, despite the obvious capacity for musical bias (playing to their strengths), dialogue and sound effects do not disappear into the background, with each given appropriate, unblemished priority. Overall, this is the new benchmark for live action films- it's easily the best of the year, and rival studios would do well to take Tron Legacy's lead from here on.

Extras

I've been spoiled recently with some excellent Picture-in-Picture extra features, so I was somewhat disappointed that Disney haven't included one for Legacy, and that there isn't an audio commentary to make up for the fact, but there are some good features here. Chief among them is the The Next Day: Flynn Lives Revealed interactive feature, which features sections from a cleverly-wrought in-universe mockumentary, messages from the "Flynn Lives" underground movement, news clips dedicated to Alan Bradley and Sam Flynn's company takeover of Encon, and scenes from an Encom expose. There's also a preview of Tron: Uprising, Disney's excellent looking animated TV series, a very insightful FX featurette, and most valuable of all the Launching the Legacy feature that shows the original test trailer used to convince of the viability of a sequel. Great stuff- and as a bonus, we also get the music video for Daft Punk's flag-ship track from the OST- Derezzed. The Next Day: Flynn Lives Revealed First Look at Tron: Uprising (2 minutes) Launching the Legacy (10 minutes) Visualizing Tron (12 minutes) Installing the Cast (12 minutes) Disc Roars (3 minutes) Music Video (3 minutes): "Derezzed" by Daft Punk. Disney Second Screen Tron Legacy is released on Blu-ray from tomorrow.
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