Tron: Legacy. A spolier-free review

The original Walt Disney movie, Tron, was without a doubt one of the most influential films of my childhood and I watched it with great appreciation several times. Tron: Legacy was a long-time coming and is probably the perfect modernisation of this 1982 classic. As a sequel, Tron: Legacy comes full-circle from its origins presenting the audience with a complete picture of today's technological age and the modern human condition. Back in the early 80s, Tron was ahead of its time, and technologically like no other film that had ever been seen before. In 2010 it's pretty much impossible to pull off a feat such as this, so the trend of the present day is decidedly "retro," and one of technological revivalism. The creators of Tron: Legacy obviously recognised this fact and created a new film filled with symbolism and imagery that captures this modern theme.

Much like the original, Tron: Legacy begins in the "organic" world. The story starts by establishing the history of where we started, summarising the events that unfolded since that time, and then setting the stage for where we are now. Present throughout the start of the film is an amusing "good versus evil" presentation of the conflict between open source and closed source, proprietary software. My linux / unix open source friends out there will enjoy seeing a middle-finger subtly and quietly raised in Microsoft's direction. (^_^) From there, we are led on a short trip down memory lane, and then onward into the latter-day Tron: Legacy.

For many viewers, Tron: Legacy might, at face-value, appear to be little more than a 21st century re-make of the 1982 classic. Indeed the imagery, events and characters in the film do appear to be just that: Tron (the original) with a face-lift. The truth is, however, that if the creators had decided upon vast, significant changes, they would have robbed us of a wonderful chance to feel nostalgic and re-connect with a film that many of us hold very dear. This film pays homage to the original by re-capturing its most highly-prized elements, while providing the opportunity to enjoy them in a way that leverages the recent technological advancements in film-making.

While Tron: Legacy is really so much more than a mere remake, it is certainly not without its faults. Much like the original 1982 film, the pace of Tron: Legacy is, at times, very slow. This is an aspect of the film that can easily distract the audience away from the main theme of the story. The movie also utilises time-tested elements of the "good rebels" versus an "evil dictatorship" that will strike viewers as cliché. Furthermore, IMHO, the use of 3D did little to truly enhance the overall impact of the film and would have been equally enjoyable in 2D. Finally, the film also incorporates a fair amount of unnecessary and unavailing motifs borrowed from Japanese culture. I decided, however, to simply chalk this up to a condition of the film-makers' desire to be trendy, and didn't let it bother me. These somewhat-disappointing aspects of the film are actually very easy to overlook due to the fact that the main point of the story was subtly but effectively delivered to the audience in a way that brings simple understanding to an elusive concept. I'm talking about the concept of Wabi Sabi. (Yes. That's right. No, this is not a typo.)

Wabi Sabi is a Japanese concept that encourages us to appreciate the perfection that comes from, or is contained in imperfection. It is only now that I can return to the point I was making at the start of my post: technological revivalism. In these terms, Wabi Sabi is the embracing of analogue over digital, organic over inorganic, "user error" over algorithmic perfection. Among the many different details that grab our attention while watching Tron: Legacy, including well-made and realistic CG animation, wonderful nostalgia-invoking images, interpersonal human conflict, and even a dash of romance, this theme of Wabi Sabi is mischievously evasive. It is clearly there, however, for the attentive viewer to see. The message that's hidden in this Hollywood production is a subtle warning that in our relentless pursuit of perfection through technology, we risk losing something very precious indeed, namely our humanity.

Before finishing this post, I'd like to say a bit about the soundtrack, which of course was created and performed by Daft Punk. The music in this film is a bit of a departure from the bass-thumping dance-floor techno that we've come to expect from these artists. Tron: Legacy is accompanied by a sound that's decidedly more ambient-techno, and works very well as what it was intended to be-- a soundtrack! My thought, while watching the movie, was that Daft Punk did a great job capturing the feeling of Tron and created music that definitely enhanced the overall experience without trying to take center-stage.

I predict that Tron: Legacy will likely be met with its fair share of criticism, and is almost certainly not going to be up for any Academy Awards. I couldn't care less about that though. This movie is for us-- the fans of Tron who fell in love with the film back in the 1980s. For some of us, it's a chance to share the classic story with a new generation, in a way that's relevant for them. My advice is: don't enter the theatre with any unreasonable expectations or preconceptions about what you're about to see; just go and enjoy yourself. I really had a nice time tonight and I'm glad I went. Being able to share the experience with my lovely wife, who had never seen the original, was an added plus. Walt Disney-- I know you and I haven't exactly seen eye-to-eye over the past couple of decades, but you did a good job with this one. Thank you.