Friday, 17 December 2010

Tron Legacy (PG)

When the credits roll, the lights return to the theatre and you find yourself stood outside in the freezing British weather, you may be stricken with a terrible indecision; were those previous two hours really worth the wait or did I just witness an overly long ejaculation of sci-fi superficiality? There’s no denying that Tron Legacy straddles a precariously fine line, struggling as it does to weave an effective humanism alongside its more visually gratifying counterpart. Yet even acknowledging its faults, this reviewer finds it almost impossible to heap anything but praise upon such a towering achievement. 

Tron is, undoubtedly, a film littered with peaks and troughs. Much like its predecessor, what little content there is proudly takes a backseat to the technical dexterity which permeates practically every shot. Not that the style completely overwhelms substance; indeed, the attempt to build a compelling father and son story as an emotional counterpoint to all that running and jumping is admirable, if not entirely successful, although this is never the fault of a script which for the most part evades any hackneyed dialogue. A mid-point dip in which a bloated and indistinct backstory spews forth more exposition than you can shake a screenplay at does little to alleviate the notion that Tron is all filler, no killer. Yet arguably the least successful thread of this multi-faceted tapestry is the brooding, almost joyless atmosphere which refuses to lift during even the relatively few lighter moments. It’s this lack of ‘fun’ which has attracted the wrath of many a critic and it’s sure to alienate family audiences expecting something a little frothier; not a wholly unreasonable assumption given the Disney moniker and PG certificate.

So how exactly can this be viewed as anything less than a disappointment? Well, because somehow it all feels right. Given the original’s rather downbeat depiction of a digital dystopia, it should be seen not as a failing but a remarkable accomplishment that Legacy is able to replicate the same sombre tonality and alienated sense of foreboding which made its forebear so iconic; a feat which is all the more laudable considering the 28 year gap between movies. Oppressive the ambience may be, but it does at least reinforce the severity of the situation in which our characters find themselves and it’s refreshing to see a blockbuster pursue darker material. Commendable too is the decision to steer clear of the moody, Daddy-never-loved-me teenage lead in favour of a more mature protagonist, competently depicted by an amiable Garrett Hedlund, while Olivia Wilde’s Quorra is equal amounts independent, vulnerable and utterly enchanting. Unsurprisingly, Jeff Bridges is on fine form, delivering not one but two impressive performances as both Flynn Senior and the evil Clu, whose dodgy CG modifications thankfully don’t detract from a generally satisfying portrayal.

Of course, no one really cares about such things, least of all the teenage boys at whom this film is clearly aimed. Like last year’s Avatar (2009), the appeal of Tron Legacy rests entirely upon its visual merits which have been heralded by even the most disparaging of critics as nothing short of breathtaking. Is the hype justified? Emphatically yes, although trying to describe the experience would be an exercise in futility – like explaining sight to a blind person. Suffice to say, director Joseph Kosinski does a phenomenal job of imbuing each set piece with a childlike energy, wielding the camera throughout live action and CG backgrounds with graceful ease; this isn’t just a film, it’s an experience. Never before has the integration of actors into a digital environment looked so effortless. High octane sequences are littered with beautifully mastered slow motion shots juxtaposed with a frequently increased frame rate, the combination of which produces a hypnotic kaleidoscope of balletic-like imagery. It’s a truly immersive world, whose effect is only heightened by the excellent use of 3D which avoids the pitfalls of lesser productions that so often resort to gimmicks. Here it’s implemented not as the main event, but as an extra tool. Impressive without being showy, stimulating but not overbearing, it’s arguably the finest use of 3D since A Christmas Carol (2009). 

Even without all the bells and whistles, Kosinski demonstrates a deft awareness of aesthetic design and composition. The real world appears in good old-fashioned 2D, a clever technique which helps underscore the disparity once those glasses come out. Better still are the Kubrickian settings whose sterile, minimalist furnishings recall those found in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). I’d like to think if old Stanley were watching, he’d be flattered by the comparison.


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A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001) ***
The Matrix (1999) *****
Minority Report (2002) *****

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