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The Tron Series

Tron (December 12/10)

Directed by Steven Lisberger, Tron follows skilled hacker Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) as he's sucked into a computer by a malevolent program and forced to participate in a series of dangerous games - with the film primarily following Flynn's efforts at taking the system down from the inside. It's an intriguing premise that's employed to mostly underwhelming effect by Lisberger, as the filmmaker demonstrates an ongoing reluctance to explain the rules that govern the movie's alternate reality - with the opening stretch set inside the computer immediately cultivating an atmosphere of almost stunning perplexity (ie how long have these programs been sentient? why are they battling one another? who designed their little outfits? etc, etc). There's consequently little doubt that the film does take a considerable amount of time to get going, with the real-world stuff - involving Bridges' character and his efforts at hacking into the mainframe - providing the proceedings with much needed bursts of context. But given that the majority of the narrative transpires within the computer-generated landscape, Tron's decidedly thin storyline does become more and more problematic as time progresses - which ensures that the compelling vibe established by a handful of early sequences, ie the justifiably legendary light cycle race, is ultimately replaced by an atmosphere of head-scratching indifference (with Lisberger's increasingly overblown and flat-out incoherent directorial sensibilities cementing this feeling). It's finally impossible to label Tron as anything more than a hopelessly dated relic of the early 1980s, with the film's status as a bona fide cult classic nothing short of baffling.

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Tron: Legacy (December 16/10)

An undeniable improvement over its lackluster predecessor, Tron: Legacy picks up two decades after the events of the original and follows Garrett Hedlund's Sam Flynn as he ventures into an expansive virtual world to rescue his father (Jeff Bridges' Kevin Flynn) - with Sam's ongoing efforts hindered by the presence of his pop's much-younger digital doppelganger (Bridges' Clu). Director Joseph Kosinski, working from Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz's screenplay, certainly does an effective job of initially capturing the viewer's attention and interest, as the filmmaker has infused the movie's real-world sequences with an entertaining and frequently exhilarating sensibility that's heightened by Daft Punk's consistently captivating score. There's little doubt, however, that the palpable momentum of Tron: Legacy's opening half hour comes to a dead stop once Sam enters the series' infamous Grid, with the pervasive lack of context - ie what is the Grid, exactly? - resulting in an eye-popping yet hollow atmosphere that is, for the most part, almost aggressively meaningless. The less-than-engrossing vibe is exacerbated by a dearth of wholeheartedly compelling characters - Olivia Wilde's scrappy sidekick Quorra is a notable exception - with Kosinsky's decision to offer up a fully computer-animated, de-aged version of Bridges' Clu nothing short of disastrous (ie Clu, fake-looking and waxy, feels like a reject from a Zemeckis film). It's not until the anticipated light cycle chase that Tron: Legacy finally becomes more than just a mildly watchable thriller, as the scene, accompanied by Daft Punk's pounding score, infuses the movie with a burst of much-needed energy and effectively compensates for the almost total absence of substantive elements. (This is a pattern that holds for the remainder of the proceedings, with the film subsequently possessing an equal number of propulsive action sequences and dull, disappointingly lifeless dialogue-based moments.) The final result is a breathtaking special-effects extravaganza that generally manages to outdo its big-budget cinematic brethren in terms of excitement and audaciousness, yet it's ultimately impossible not wish that the filmmakers had devoted just as much attention to the movie's characters and story as they clearly did to its visuals. (And let's not even get started on the headache-inducing, utterly needless use of 3-D.)

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About the Blu-rays: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Tron and Tron: Legacy in separate two-disc special editions, with both films coming armed with an almost intimidating amount of special features - including behind-the-scenes footage, special effects tests, commentary tracks, and much, much more.
© David Nusair