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 films soundtrack must rate as one of the greatest choices in soundtrack history, and the fact that they didnt 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 Zimmers Inception soundtrack comes close in terms of quality, but Daft Punks 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 wasnt 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 arent enough imperfections in the CG-clones face to really convey humanity, and until the problems are ironed out I just dont 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 isnt 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, its just a shame the storyline doesnt 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 couldnt stomach and it seems that Legacy fits that trend, whether consciously or otherwise. Stripped back, its 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, its very arresting and the individual exhibits are great in themselves, but its definitely a fragmented experience.