Thoughts on Tron Legacy

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It's rather late - but my eldest boy is keeping me up so we can see the eclipse in another hour so I figured I'd do a quick write up of my thoughts on Tron Legacy. Everything above the word SPOILER will be spoiler free. Anything below, including comments, should be considered free reign for anything folks want to say.

There are a few movies from my youth that hold a warm spot in my heart. Star Wars (and Empire and Jedi of course) are one of them obviously. Tron is another. In fact, I'd probably say Tron had the biggest impact on me as a young computer programmer. Tron came out in 1982. I was 9 then and to be honest - I don't remember if I had even used a computer at that point. But I remember being in awe of the special effects and even more so - at the idea of a living, breathing world inside of computers. I know that when I did begin to program (Apple IIe FTW!) that the idea of my programs being actual living creatures was always there in my mind. All thanks to Tron of course.

Tron was one of those magical films of my youth. I had no expectations that Tron Legacy would be magical. Computers aren't a brave new world for kids today. My own kids are living in a house where our phones have more power than I had until college. Right now my eldest is next to me on an older Macbook Pro while I type on a laptop and another desktop is about 10 feet away. My wife's laptop is nearby as well. That's 4 machines in this room alone. I certainly don't think anything is wrong with that - but a lot of the magic of the original Tron is something that can't quite be recreated today.

So with that in mind, my hopes were simple. Let me see what transpired in the world of Tron and let me be impressed by the visual design and effects. As cool as Tron was in terms of CGI, a lot of the iconic designs are what impress me today. Take the Recognizer:

Pretty simplistic - but I remember being in awe of them on the big screen and they still look menacing to me today. The entire movie was full of design choices that just... felt right. And this is where Tron Legacy succeeds well. Obviously the effects are top notch. But frankly, we live in a world where crap SyFy shows have more than passable decent CGI. Tron Legacy does a good job by both being impressive and imaginative. The updated Recognizer reminds me of comparing Windows 7 to 95. You can see a similar hand in the creation of both but the newer model is quite a bit shiner.

The story is full of many nods to the past. When Sam first returns to his father's arcade and turns on the power - the wave of nostalgia was overwhelming. I love my XBox 360. But growing up I spent a heck of a lot of time in arcades. The "wall of sound" you experience surrounded by a hundred or so arcade machines is just not something you experience now. The movie captured it perfectly. Unfortunately it will probably mean nothing to most kids today. The actual plot - and I don't think it's a spoiler to say that most of it occurs in the digital world - is a bit muddled at times. This is a show about the visuals above all else. But there was certainly as much depth as Avatar and most other films. This is no "Inception", but there was enough of a narrative to keep me interested in between the hyper-kinetic action scenes.

And let's not kid around. I can remember the first time I saw the light cycle scene in the original film. The new light cycle scene is damn good. It's not just 'prettier'. It's like moving from 2D to 3D (literally in terms of game play for the characters). The action scenes in Tron Legacy are both high paced and just darn plain cool looking.

All in all - I enjoyed Tron Legacy. Will it be as good for folks who don't have quite have such fond memories of the original? Probably not. But even then it's worth seeing on the big screen. (I can only comment on the 2D showing though. Frankly I'm sick and tired of this 3D bull crap and I'm going to do my best to not put any more money into a 3D showing if I can help it.) I'd recommend seeing it - but if you've not yet made time to ever watch the original, do try to do so first. It will add quite a bit of context and make for a more complete viewing.

Ok, stop reading now if you want to avoid spoilers....


A few things in no particular order.

  • I love how a company that is made out to be like Microsoft has a grand total of one fracking rent-a-cop guard. Seriously? One guard?

  • I love how the fact that the OS was leaked on the Internet was a big deal. Aren't all OSes leaked on the net? And isn't it not much of a big deal outside of us nerds? I doubt if more than 2% of Microsoft's customer base know what a torrent is and would have any clue that a leaked version would exist on the net.

  • Did you notice the OS was "OS 12" - a Mac shout out? Sam also had a Mac as a child. If any computer is a dystopia on the inside it's a Mac. ;)

  • One incredibly creepy scene: In the night club, after the violence has started, note the quick shot of a woman holding the "bits" of her lover and crying in agony. That came out of nowhere and surprised the hell out of me.

  • Absolutely loved the music. Daft Punk's sound track is great.

  • Speaking of sound - there were more then one throw back to the old movies. During the light cycle game the sound was a direct reference to the first movie. That really sold the scene for me.

  • Clu's "creepy" young Jeff Bridges was great. If there was ever a case of where the "dead behind the eyes" look works - then this is it.

  • I really with the Iso's background had been fleshed out a tiny bit more. It felt forced. One or two more lines of dialog would have really helped here.

  • Loved Flynn's line about how he had the original idea for wifi. Speaking of Flynn - I liked him in general. His whole vibe was very much like a man out place in the modern world. It really worked well in the film.

  • Alas - I still miss the MCP. My number one complaint about the Matrix series is that when we do see the big bad guy - it's an boring old white man. To me - nothing will ever be as cool as the big giant spinning MCP. I'd kill to see that on the big screen again.

Raymond Camden's Picture

About Raymond Camden

Raymond is a senior developer evangelist for Adobe. He focuses on document services, JavaScript, and enterprise cat demos. If you like this article, please consider visiting my Amazon Wishlist or donating via PayPal to show your support. You can even buy me a coffee!

Lafayette, LA

Archived Comments

Comment 1 by Scott P posted on 12/21/2010 at 11:47 AM

Was on fence about seeing it but guess I will go now. 3D - think we're pretty much screwed. They'll keep shoving that at us.

Comment 2 by Josh Curtiss posted on 12/21/2010 at 12:16 PM

I read just the non-spoiler part and it looks promising. I was too young to see Tron in the theatre but I wore out the video tape we had. Tron and Star Wars were some of my favorites as well. :-D

Hope I can see it by the end of the week at the latest...

Comment 3 by Louis posted on 12/21/2010 at 3:08 PM

Haven't seen Legacy yet, looking forward to it.

A shout out for Tron 2.0, the PC first-person shooter... It's getting on now but I fired it up the other day and was reminded of just how brilliant it is. Really adds another level to first-person shooters, awesome graphics (still), a brilliant story and clever game play, plus the Tron geek-ness fully intact. I'm sure it's available cheap now, if you haven't played it, give it a shot :)

Comment 4 by Greg Nilsen posted on 12/21/2010 at 4:41 PM

Regarding 3D, I'm sticking with the Field of Dreams "If you don't buy it, it will go away" approach. Eventually it will go the way of Betamax.

Comment 5 by Vishal posted on 12/21/2010 at 5:46 PM

Absolutely agree. Thought the story was so-so in terms of being fleshed out (Haven't seen the first TRON so I am not sure how it compares) but had stunning visuals and audio which alone made it worth it. My only complaint - I wanted more of the spectacular light cycle race. I plan to grab the dvd when its out.

Comment 6 by Brian Rinaldi posted on 12/21/2010 at 6:28 PM

Generally agree with your review. I really enjoyed it because the visuals and the music were awesome. Both myself and my son thought much of the best action was over way too early (the lightcycle and disc war scenes came early and ended too quickly) but they were well done.

I saw it in 3D at the IMAX. I agree 3D is overdone but this movie was one that seemed fitting to see in IMAX 3D.

Comment 7 by Vic C posted on 12/21/2010 at 6:47 PM

"I saw it in 3D at the IMAX. I agree 3D is overdone but this movie was one that seemed fitting to see in IMAX 3D. "

Couldn't agree more. I especially liked how not every second of this movie was in 3D, if more film makers took this approach I would be more on board with the whole 3D movement. All in all a pretty spot on review. Though I thought the final escape scene deserves mention as I thought it was pretty damn awesome.

Comment 8 by Kerr posted on 12/21/2010 at 6:48 PM

I saw TRON: Legacy in 3D with a bunch of friends on premiere night. I agree with Ray in that both the soundtrack by Daft Punk and the visual flair of the film are its most redeeming qualities. I will also include 3D in that statement. I'm not against it, and when it's done well I think it provides a very enveloping experience. Granted, I have the luxury of seeing 3D films at AMC's flagship theatre.

For me and some of my friends though, that's where those positive qualities ended. I felt the new film was completely bereft of any character. The original, while rough around the edges, was a bit whimsical and at least had some charm. Legacy is a visual and technological tour de force, yet a screenwriting flop. The screenwriters bludgeon you with the plot as if you had but a couple brain cells to string it all together, and the dialogue nothing short of cringeworthy. But that's Hollywood, and films like this are largely why I avoid most big budget blockbusters. See it for the audio-visual experience if that's your thing, though don't expect much else.

Comment 9 by Tom Mollerus posted on 12/21/2010 at 6:49 PM

I generally agree that the plot was good but not great, the iso's needed development, and the effects were fantastic, especially the vehicles in the climax. And I liked how Clu had just a bit of emotion at the end, some resentment and need for approval from Flynn.

Comment 10 by James Edmunds posted on 12/21/2010 at 7:05 PM

SPOILER CONTENT IN THIS COMMENT - I'm with you on the ISOs and see that as a small missed opportunity, especially when there was a hint that they somehow "spontaneously" generated. Would have loved even one more exchange of dialogue exploring how life of a kind is likely to spring forth from any complex system -- if in fact that's what they meant ;). Or, that they were able to be present because in Flynn's brain/identity there was some kind of correlative or embedded knowledge because he was in on some early phase of the genome project, etc. Plus, the only ISO we got to meet was pretty hot!

Comment 11 by James, F.E. posted on 12/21/2010 at 7:16 PM

If you've seen The Big Lebowski, the portrayal of Flynn in TRON Legacy made me think of The Dude gone digital.

Comment 12 by Kerr posted on 12/21/2010 at 8:05 PM

Re: The Big Lebowski - It's funny you mention the reference, as Jeff Bridges' opening monologue on SNL last weekend was about the general populous associating him with his portrayal of The Dude.

I forgot to second Ray's thought about the sheer creepiness of Clu 2.0... uncanny valley for sure.

Comment 13 by Chris Long posted on 12/21/2010 at 8:23 PM

I always felt that if there were a "big bad guy" to the Matrix Trilogy, that it was either Smith or that ball of machine that Neo talks to at the very end. The Architect (the old white guy) from the second film was just another program - a middle-man - just doing his job with regards to the anomoly (Neo). And honestly, the ball-of-machine does remind me of the MCP.

Comment 14 by Hatton Humphrey posted on 12/21/2010 at 8:24 PM

Heard on an NPR article last night that while there is a lot of CGI in this movie, the designers used a lot of real - most of the light is not CGI, rather there were lamps in the costumes and lines of LED's on the sets.

Comment 15 by Raymond Camden posted on 12/21/2010 at 8:30 PM

@Chris Long: Hmm. I thought the Architect was the simple representation of the bad guy - and the big ball was the physical representation.

Comment 16 by MikeG posted on 12/21/2010 at 11:20 PM

I liked the Bar owner's (named Caster) comment about not having to worry about the bar patrons he called "a bunch of primitives" The movie is full of those types of references.

Comment 17 by Kevin Marino posted on 12/22/2010 at 12:48 AM

Nice review (skipped reading spoiler and comments) and on NPR other day they where talking to set director and he talked about the light cycles being truer to the original Syd Mead designs.

Comment 18 by John Hofmann posted on 12/22/2010 at 11:35 PM

My mom was the main buyer for Cray Research in the 70s and 80s. TRON used the Cray for a lot of the scenes in the movie. Because of Cray's involvement we got to see the premier at a large, old, movie palace in Eau Claire, WI. I loved that movie. FYI the first time I met Seymour Cray I was messing with the Wang computer in her office. Pretty cool for 1978. This guy comes in wearing a plaid shirt and jeans, empties the trash and is sweeping the hall. Mom pops in the office just then and says "Hi Seymour." He was a unique genius.

Comment 19 by Raymond Camden posted on 12/22/2010 at 11:41 PM

Wow, thanks for that story John. I can't imagine Steve Jobs doing that. ;)

Comment 20 by John Hofmann posted on 12/22/2010 at 11:54 PM

Hi Ray. I owe a lot to Seymour Cray. He (through Cray Research) established an employee scholarship program that put me through college debt free. I often wonder where computing would be had he not passed. One last boring story. I was in the lunch room while mom was working and he came over to say hello. He started talking (he would get real excited) about the next generation of supercomputers and how they would fit on top of a desk. I had a hard time swallowing that one. :)

Comment 21 by Rick O posted on 12/23/2010 at 2:21 AM

If you wanted to see more about the ISO storyline ... congratulations, you got hooked by their marketing department. The video game tie-in is a prequel designed to address exactly that plotline, and to explain more about Quorra's beginnings. You're supposed to now be curious enough to go spend cash on the game.

Comment 22 by Fruitloop posted on 4/20/2011 at 5:06 PM

By leaked OS to the net, it was fairly obvious they were talking about source code, not pirated binary installs.

Still, disappointing movie overall.