Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Guess She's An X-Box, I'm More Atari [Review: Tron: Legacy]

My own Cassandrean prophecy has come to pass: Tron Legacy does indeed have no plot, no characters and no dialogue (or at least none worth speaking of) and is indeed just a two and a half hour flythrough of the virtual city - and I probably will see it again. It's visually inspiring, lots of fun, surreal, bonkers, true to the spirit of the original - and utterly lacking in point.

First casualty: that beautiful Comic-Con Trailer sequence where a man finds himself hiding amongst some rocky buildings by the side of the digital highway.

You know - that one.

In one respect and one respect only the world of the Grid still symbolizes cyberspace: Moore's Law. Computers have doubled in power, and therefore the Grid has doubled in coolness, every 18 months since the original Tron was released. So now it admittedly looks pretty cool, and by pretty cool, I mean... words fail me. The neon landscape of the Grid is the most beautiful place the cinema has ever taken me. Ever. I want to live there, with or without Olivia Wilde, and unlike dear sunrise-obsessed Cora I am gutted to find myself back in the boring old real world.

But cyberspace has changed in other ways. The Internet happened for one thing. The original Tron was about a kind of war between users, programmers and the system itself for ownership of the programmes: Kevin Flynn's original victory was the proof that he was the author of some computer games, while security programme Tron's victory was to prevent the corporate computer from controlling everything.

This war hasn't gone away, and the lines of power are still shifting: who really controls the Internet now? We the users create content and think we're in control but (for the most part) we're not really the programmers. Around us are companies we rely on - facebook, YouTube, Myspace, wikipedia, blogger that appear philanthropic yet are still turning a profit somehow, and are still fighting each other tooth and claw for dominance - and watching over us, the All-Seeing Eye of the aptly named Google.

Gaming has changed too - multiplayer immersive worlds, themselves heavily inspired by Tron, are ten-a-penny, The Sims still manages to eke out a meagre living for itself, and families gather round the Wii or the SingStation while the most hard-core gamers of all are out on street corners playing ARGs on their mobiles.

What has the above to do with Tron Legacy? Nothing. The Grid never seems to have signed up to the Internet, it's running on a separate computer underneath an arcade and just happens to have rather a lot of processing power. And rather than taking over the Internet where the real power lies [SPOILER] the best plan that its corrupted leader can come up with is to somehow invade the Real World with Real Physical Force. That's so 1940s, man! Meanwhile, the Grid's gladiator arenas are still playing host to the same two Atari games: Pole Position and Pong.

If you can appreciate a thing of beauty for what it is, and you can forgive and forget the missed opportunity to make this anything more than a show, then like me I think you will enjoy this light cycle ride. It's great seeing Jeff Bridges in action and the play-off between his older and younger selves makes for an interesting cat and mouse game; heroine Cora is captivating, perhaps because she's played by Wilde as a geeky ingenue rather than, say, another Trinity. Sam Flynn's character is more of a standard action hero type thing and he doesn't stand out in the same way, also there's always the feeling that he's out of his depth and the real game is being played by his father and his former digital best friend.

Tron excels in another way too: the sound. With the help of a Daft Punk score and the kind of attention to sonic detail that made Wall-E sound outstanding, this is a powerful, recognizable and potentially award-winning soundscape.

[edit 31.12.10: not actually Sam in the Comic-Con trailer]

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