When the movie Tron hit theaters back in 1982, my twelve-year-old self was totally obsessed with it. I glommed onto the soundtrack album, the storybook, the action figures and toys ... if it had the Tron logo on it, I begged my parents to buy it for me. I even made myself a "computer world" outfit out of white (actually I think it was a light heather-grey) fleece, using a blue Marks-a-Lot marker to draw the circuits all over it ... even topped it with a makeshift helmet that I fashioned from something I now can't remember ... and of course, I had to have an "identity disk" (frisbee) to complete the ensemble. It was crap compared to the work of art that The Tron Guy came up with, but for me it was just perfect.
So, considering I was so in love with Tron as a kid, you'd think that I'd have been first in line (camped out for days before, even) to see the long-awaited and recently-released sequel, Tron: Legacy -- especially since I'd been wondering for years before it was announced what mind-blowing things they could do with Tron if it were remade nowadays ... but no, I didn't see it until this past weekend, a month into its run. Hey, an adult does have more going on in his life than a 12-year-old does, making "getting around to" things take a little longer, but still, shouldn't I have been chomping at the bit more than I was? I usually only see one movie, maybe two, per year on the big screen, so by that measure I did go out of my way to see Tron: Legacy as soon as I could.
I guess what it comes down to is that I was afraid I'd be disappointed. So many movies nowadays sacrifice the substance of a story for the style of eye-popping digital effects, assuming that the audience won't notice (and, as far as the roughly under-20 demographic is concerned, their assumption would be correct). But it turns out that the writers of Tron: Legacy took the care to provide enough of a story to satisfy those of us who get bored with too much visual razzle-dazzle, and to give it enough continuity with the original film to satisfy those of us who have been waiting 28 years to see whatever became of Kevin Flynn and company.
Now, I knew before I even set out for the movie theater that I wasn't going to be blown away by the visuals in Tron: Legacy nearly as much as I was by those in the original film. After all, digital effects were in their infancy back then, and no movie audience had ever seen anything like Tron before. By contrast, digital imagery has not only grown by leaps and bounds -- if it can be conceived, it can be put to film -- but is also so ubiquitous that it's got to be seriously impressive to make a lasting impression on the audience. But the makers of Tron: Legacy were smart ... they knew that, as far as the visuals are concerned, less is more. Case in point: arguably the biggest light-show of the original film, the main character's transition from meatspace into cyberspace, was understated here -- shortened from over 60 seconds down to about 2, and consisting only of a comparatively colorless but still kind-of trippy 3-D pixelation sort of thing.
Whereas the live-action elements of the computer-world scenes in the original film were photographed on a "blank" stage àla green-screen, with all the digital scenery inserted photographically in post-production (remember: there was no digital film editing back then!), the actor-centric scenes in the virtual world of Tron: Legacy were filmed on actual sets, with only the finishing touches (the glowing trim of the costumes, the digital landscapes, etc.) added in later. That adds a certain "realness" to the scenes that no amount of digital trickery can replicate. The same is true of the digitally de-aged face of Jeff Bridges, used quite necessarily for the Kevin Flynn flashbacks and the central presence of his program, Clu -- impressive and splendidly done, but there's something about the human face that will never be convincingly faked by computers.
All in all, I rather enjoyed Tron: Legacy, and I considered it a perfectly fine payoff for the 28-year wait. It had a sufficiently substantial story, impressive visuals (up to and including the studly Garrett Hedlund himself), and enough nostalgia thrown in to make us '80s kids happy. There was a Journey song playing on the arcade's jukebox (Journey recorded a song especially for the first movie), lines of dialogue from the original film were uttered on a few occasions, and seeing good ol' Bruce Boxleitner reprising his role of Alan Bradley was like seeing a favorite uncle I hadn't seen in 20 years. Sure, it wasn't a perfect movie, but Kevin Flynn wouldn't have it any other way (you've gotta see the movie to get that reference).