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Tron Legacy (2010): ***

Directed By Joseph Kosinski

Ah, Tron. Here's the thing you have to realize about the first Tron movie: It isn't very good. It worked as a state-of-the-art experience: visuals and sounds (it won an Oscar for Best Sound) and things you've never seen before. The same is true of this sequel: it sure is something to behold, even if it isn't a terribly great movie, though I must say I enjoyed the story more than the first movie.

Here's one thing I really appreciated: There are always logical problems inherent when people try to make movies or TV shows about what it's "like" to be "inside" a computer. At no point do the filmmakers try to change the essential rules of the Tron world (the "Grid") in order to have it make any sense. Let's face it; the rules of Tron make no sense whatsoever. Programs look like the people who programmed them? Identity discs are used as weapons? There's weather!? Programs drink? What the Hell are they drinking!? There could have been an attempt to somehow update the way the computer space is represented to more closely match what actually goes on in computers. But you know what? Screw that!

The movie introduced some ideas that really intrigue me, especially the idea of the "Isomorphic Algorithms," which are independent artificial intelligences that arose spontaneously out of the essential complexity of the Grid. Computer Genesis. Flynn seems to believe that they'll be somehow able to revolutionize all of human technology and philosophy, but he's kind of nebulous as to exactly how. I also really liked the idea of programs figuring out how to get out of the Grid into the real world. It makes a weired kind of sense: if a human can be turned into a program, and that program can be turned back into a human, why can't any program be turned into a human?

Such ideas are only touched on briefly, though, and neither really amount to anything. What does amount to something is the look and feel of the film. It is simply gorgeous. The designs are all top-notch. It's all appealing to look at, sleek, and chrome and sexy goodness. Huge lengths of the movie are entirely computer generated (as opposed to the original Tron, which actually only has about 20 minutes of actual CGI in it--bed you didn't know that) and it all works well, and is a marvelous spectacle to watch. At times, though, the special effects were almost too good I think for their own good. One of the charms of the first Tron was the obviousness of the fact that these were real actors walking around in a blatantly unreal setting. Sometimes in Tron Legacy the virtual sets were so realistic that it looked like actors walking around a real location rather than a CGI location, and the magic kind of faded in those instances. I kind of wish there were a little more color in the film, too. The palette is pretty monochrome, with only flashes of red/orange/yellow in the villains' glow lines.

The film is actually very well directed by first-time feature director Kosinski, who is most well-known for making CGI commercials for video games. The action is all very clear and precise, the camera knows where to be when in order to get the best shots, and parts of the film that are supposed to be thrilling are thrilling. He knows how to tell a visual story.

I really, really have to also give credit to Daft Punk for producing an absolutely phenomenal score. I was surprised and delighted at how it weaves both electronic and orchestral music in and out of each other. It at times has the visceral power of Hans Zimmer's score for The Dark Knight, at other times has eerie synthesized mood, and still other times some thumping, kick-ass action. It integrates exceedingly well into the movie. My pal Lawrence recommends you do not listen to it while driving, lest it trick you into speeding and driving aggressively, and I can definitely see that.

So it is not a masterpiece at all. As a movie, it is only middling. But as an experience, Tron Legacy, like its predecessor, is a wondrous state-of-the-art trip. I really enjoyed it. Don't know if I'll want to own it, though. We'll see if its memory grows on me or not.

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