Lina Lamont

"What do you think I am, dumb or something?"

It’s bio-digital jazz, man

Tron: Legacy

I did my usual spot of market research beforehand, which consists of asking young people who’ve seen the film what they thought of it.  The overriding feeling was “it’s AWEsome” and that the latest Tron experience really ought to be maximised in 3D, and Imax if possible.  As I have both at my disposal, I paid top dollar for the privilege of watching some unknown director’s take on a sequel of a 1982 sci-fi revolution I had not seen – and it was a digital blast.

Tron: Legacy starts with a brief backstory of young Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund, in a 2-dimensional yet strangely charismatic starring role that will surely catapult him into the Big-Time) being effectively orphaned when his technology mogul father (Jeff Bridges) disappears at work one night.  Years later – about 19 by my count – Sam is the stereotypical renegade heir who wants nothing to do with his father’s business that has been turned into a commercially profitable operation by a vaguely malevolent board.  Prompted by the avuncular Alan, Sam visits his father’s old office, types in some code and slips down the rabbit hole into a parallel, computer-programmed world.

So far, so Batman/Matrix/Narnia.  Fathers abandon their children all the time, but few kids expect to find their erstwhile dad running a futuristic universe known as the Grid, and presiding over brutal, gladiatorial games like something out of The Running Man.  Accosted by four beauties straight out of a Daft Punk video and re-costumed in a reflector-strip wetsuit, Sam is immediately hauled off to meet his end in a deadly game of “Wipe-Out” which is basically stupid, but quite simply the coolest stupid I have ever seen.  Strangely, Sam encounters each surprising development with the typical cool of any arrogant, tech-savvy, rich kid who has dropped out of CalTech (presumably out of boredom rather than stupidity) and simply wants to find his dad inside a computer program.

Jeff Bridges, now an Oscar winner, donates as much depth and pathos as is possible for a fairly thin plot that has cannibalised a lot of sources.  There are elements of Star Wars (although the immortal line here is “Sam, I am not your father.  But I am very happy to see you”), biblical references galore (Cain & Abel, the Creation story, fallen angels and sacrificed sons), and the underlying dramatic arc is a pretty basic one of “save the world (real, and programmed)/girl/dad”.  So, too, some of the key characters are pastiches of classics past – British actor Michael Sheen steals his scenes doing a rendition of Frank-N-Furter-meets-Clockwork Orange, throwing in a few Charlie Chaplin moves but thankfully eschewing a stutter or limp.

If soundtrack can be considered a key character (and I think it can), this too borrows – seemingly on long-term loan – from everything that’s ever worked in cinema before.  The overriding theme echoes Inception with its heavy bass, we have the exhilarating string ostinato of the Bourne movies, flourishes of Danny Elfman from his Batman phase, and towards the end a rewarding punch of Vangelis-inspired ’80s pomp, reminiscent (of course) of Blade Runner.  Notably, the aforementioned Daft Punk produced original music for Tron: Legacy and this heightens certain scenes to an almost unbearable level of excitement.

All in all, Tron: Legacy is about style, not quite over substance, but certainly it’s the aesthetic that makes the movie work.  It’s amazing what a glow ring and some fluoro-reflector stripes can do to an otherwise drab, utilitarian (and ubiquitous) outfit.  The stark white production design of Father Flynn’s house, set against the dark, foreboding world he originally created, extends the heaven and hell metaphor with scant concern for subtlety, but this is a spectacle worth experiencing.  And the bigger and more dimensional, the better.

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10 thoughts on “It’s bio-digital jazz, man

  1. I thought Michael Sheen was doing Ziggy Stardust meets Cabaret. Either way his five minutes were a highlight of the movie: if only his character could get a spinoff – can you imagine it!

    There were a lot of references to the original film, especially in the soundtrack (the eighties synth sound is referencing Tron as much as Bladerunner). Alan is the lead from the original film and Tron is his digital alter-ego.

    I had worried – especially after the first trailer – this was going to ruin something that I had remembered fondly from my childhood. While it is not the revolutionary jolt that was the original it is still spectacular viewing and a good deal of fun.

  2. Oh yes, forgot to mention nice re-use of original cast – Bridges and Bruce Boxleitner – and Daft Punk’s appearance as the DJs in the club scene. Special!

  3. Pardon my frankness, but your argument for TRON: Legacy having a ‘this plot’ is not actually supported by your premises. The pulling of sources from classic epics like Star Wars and The Bible does not qualify as a proof of a work having a ‘thin plot.’

    The plot is actually quite meaningful and draws many allegories to real life dealing with hope, sacrifice, and the human condition. The phrase “biodigital jazz” actually holds more meaning than any other line in the movie. Anyone who has studied jazz knows that it as an art is something very particular. It tries to capture both the chaos and the structure which which flow through life much like a double helix, and ultimately represents what is referred to as “the human condition.” That is what TRON Legacy is about, and IMO is a masterpiece of plot, score, and cinematography.

    • Your comment is appreciated Forerunner, frankness included. But I must draw the distinction between plot and theme. Granted, the themes in this film are manifold, universal, and well-interpreted (unoriginal, but timeless – hence affecting). The plot however is as straightforward and unchallenging as it gets – boy loses dad; boy searches for dad; boy finds dad; boy helps dad fight evil to save the world/girl/dad; boy achieves some/all of this. There is nothing interesting or new in this; it’s no Inception that’s for sure. Ergo, a thin (IMO) plot. The themes, however, as you argue above, make the film more rewarding for the viewer. But even then – Tron: Legacy won’t go down in film history as much more than a CGI/technological marvel that “looks really cool”.

      • What she said! 🙂

      • Hmm. I think the film will also be remembered for exactly for the subject matter Forerunner has mentioned. There are some weighty concepts(and timely IMO)concerning new ideas and tech that are just around the corner. I also thought the digital jazz line was the most important in the film. New DNA discoveries, the potentials of human experience and creation with quantum technology, not to mention the concepts of other universes and dimensions being accessible. I mean, Flynn discovering other-dimensional beings in the Grid is pretty amazing and inspiring- not to mention cool sci-fi,and a nice expansive jump from the first film.
        There is quite a lot of tech-merging-with the spiritual in this film, and Flynn being very aware of it and in awe of it, as well as knowing the whole of it is unknowable; as he mentions at the end- is so inspiring and refreshing to see in a modern blockbuster. It reminds me a little of ‘The Last Mimsy’ which also dabbled in progressive, expansive new thinking. I think a lot of this will go over a lot of people’s heads and not realize what the grander scope of the film is putting out there to the audience in the form of inspiration to new thought and experience and human potential for a future that is right here and now and getting super advanced before our eyes; forcing us to look at ourselves and the universe we live in with different eyes.

      • I don’t disagree, but I think you’re right in saying most of this will go over people’s heads, and frankly that’s because the film is trying to be an Imax-3D-sci-fi-spectacular – and I’m sorry, but I don’t think it can purport to achieve all that AND propagate new (or at least, “deep”) ideas. There is no way the general teenage audience will come away saying anything less than “it was AWEsome!” – and it was – but it will be the film scholars and cinenerds who choose to take on the themes and espouse theories which, you can bet your bottom dollar, neither Disney nor the first-time director would have been focused on. So it’s nice you’re giving it this much thought, and got so much out of it, but let’s be honest – Tron: Legacy was a commercial venture from the beginning, viable in that it sought to take contemporary developments in technology and apply them to an age-old story. It looks great, it sounds great, it’s a great night at the flicks. But philosophy? (and I say this as someone with a very firm philosophy of her own, who is not beyond seeing meaning in the 80+ films I see each year) – this is not what most viewers will have got for their twenty bucks.

    • Crashgrab on said:

      I found the “biodigital jazz” line hilarious and thought it was Bridges bringing The Dude into Tron. Many of my friends felt that way too. I didn’t read that much into it, but I like your take on it. If the writers really meant that intent why did they let it get hidden behind the cheesy delivery? Don’t get me wrong, it’s one of my favorite lines in the movie, but because it was funny, not because it was deep.

  4. Bryson on said:

    I didn’t really think about it until reading this post and the comments, but this movie is packed with basic archetypes of a mythic hero story. Sam Flynn is a unique individual who is alienated from his world. He crosses the threshold (Campbell’s version of “down the rabbit hole”); he’s faced with tests and aided by helpers; Quorra is the Nourishing Mother who reveals the source of life; Clu is the Terrible Mother who is all-consuming; there’s father-atonement, descent into the Underworld, and theft of a boon; but the kicker is the return back across the threshold with transcendental knowledge. I love it.

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