Man vs. machine: Techno babble
By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, December 17, 2010
There are worse things than being trapped inside a computer game with Olivia Wilde.
In "Tron: Legacy," the loud, long and less than wholly satisfying sequel to "Tron," that's the bittersweet fate of Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), the computer-nerd hero of both the 1982 sci-fi cult classic and its high-tech, 3-D update. When we first meet the now-grizzled Flynn - who we learn in a prologue has been missing since 1989 - he's literally trapped inside a video game he created, a flesh-and-blood fugitive from a digital fascist state whose primary form of entertainment is gladiator-style combat using lethal flying disks and lightning-fast motorcycles.
But it's not all bad: He also lives with a smoking-hot babe in a body suit named Quorra (Wilde, from TV's "House").
In the two decades since Flynn disappeared from the real world, he has managed to not only stay alive but also to carve out a sweet life in hiding, far from the deadly gaming "grid" he designed.
In the years since he has gotten stuck in this parallel universe, Flynn, it seems, has grown philosophical about his situation. More specifically, he has turned into a geek-chic version of the Dude, the laid-back slacker character Bridges played in "The Big Lebowski." Flynn spends much of "Tron: Legacy" meditating - he calls it "knocking on the sky and listening to the sound" - and addressing everyone as "man." The best way to fight, he says, is to "do nothing, be still." All that's missing is a white Russian in his hand.
Quorra, as it turns out, isn't exactly Flynn's girlfriend, but his protege. For one thing, she isn't actually a girl, but an "isomorphic algorithm." (Don't ask. You take it on faith, like warp drive.)
Into this cozy domestic situation comes Flynn's son, Sam (Garrett Hedlund). Like his father, Sam is a geek. After getting a telephone page - how last century! - that seems to have originated from the elder Flynn's old office, Sam manages, with a few keystrokes, to get sucked into the same virtual world that his long-lost father and Quorra live in. Sam awakens in his father a yearning for the outside. Now it's up to the three of them to get there.
Let the games begin.
Much of "Tron: Legacy" involves heart-pounding if protracted sequences of video game action as Quorra and the Flynns make their way toward the exit. (If you have the Light Bike app on your iPhone - or have seen the original "Tron" - you'll get the picture.) There's a lot of smashing, crashing and flashing lights as evil humanoid "programs" pursue our heroes and are summarily "de-rezzed," a word derived from de-resolution, which is what happens when bad computer programs go boom. At times, the soundtrack is so loud that you feel it more than hear it.
Kind of cool, if you like that sort of thing.
Another cool thing? Bridges gets to play not one but two parts in the film. Using digital technology, the actor appears both as he looks today and as his younger, "Tron"-era self, a digital doppelganger of Flynn called Clu (for "Codified Likeness Utility") that Flynn originally created to run the digital universe he designed. Clu is the hero's evil twin, a CEO run amok. It's a pretty neat effect.
British actor Michael Sheen also shines as one of Clu's mid-level managers, an evil imp with a cane and a mane of white hair. He runs some sort of nightmarish nightclub, where the members of the electropop duo Daft Punk are house DJs. They also scored the film, which explains why, much of it sounds like a rave.
This brings us to a fundamental contradiction at the heart of "Tron: Legacy" (or, for that matter, "Tron"). Sonically, visually and conceptually, it's a richly imagined world. So richly imagined, in fact, that it's easy to see why gamers would fall in love with the idea of it. It fulfills the ultimate escapist fantasy of the user entering what can otherwise only be experienced from the outside, with a game controller.
But if that noisy, adrenaline-addled universe is so wonderful, why are Quorra, Sam and his father so all fired up to get out of it and back to a world of long walks on the beach and quiet conversation? Written by Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, and directed by Joseph Kosinski, the movie argues that doing nothing and being still are better than the frenetic activity of the game grid.
But can the movie have it both ways?
When you finally stumble back into the relative peace and quiet of the lobby, it'll hit you. "Tron: Legacy" may be nice place to visit, but you wouldn't want to live there.
Contains computer-game violence.