A post or two ago, I mentioned my indifference to Tron Legacy. I ended up seeing the film anyway, mostly because there was nothing else that really struck me as worth seeing either. Tron Legacy was everything I expected. A lackluster film taking the skin of a previous movie and stretching it over a trite, uninspired adventure film. But as I think about it more and more, I think a comparison between Tron and Legacy might be worth doing. Why not, right?
Tron is an infinitely better film. Even though its computer generated world is dated and it isn’t a perfect film, it still has a lot going for it. First of all, Tron was the film that dared to say computer animation can be used to make a fantasy film. We take it all for granted at this stage, but at the time, this was damn revolutionary. Tron was also one of the first mainstream films to even posit the importance of computers and how they would shape and influence our lives. War Games came out a year earlier, which is also an interesting film for so many reasons, but we’ll avoid digression.
Aside from its revolutionary ideas though, Tron is actually a surprisingly intelligent film. Especially when you consider that the bulk of the film takes place in a computer and that, in essence, its plot hinges on programs battling for dominance in a digital fantasyland. Yet if you study the action, you can see that everything in the original film is merely a visual representation of various interracting programs. I don’t know how accurate it is, but it certainly is well thought out on an instinctual level.
Let’s begin with Tron himself. A program designed to monitor and secure the system, he is the unwilling prisoner of Master Control. Master Control, an artificially intelligent superprogram, has seized absolute power over the digital realm. Unable to destroy Tron, Master Control has instead trapped him, forcing Tron to compete in endless gladatorial games. Tron is forced to face incredible odds but is simply too powerful to be defeated. This metaphorical struggle basically amounts to two computer programs struggling for dominance with Tron too powerful to be defeated but too weak to do anything but survive.
Eventually Tron escapes (with some help from Flynn, a “user” descended from above via a bit of technological magic). Thus Tron begins his pilgrimage to the node where he can communicate with his own user. This is often overlooked, but what the film has basically done is taken the simple task of receiving instructions and turned it into a holy journey, a sacred thing. Considering that Tron is a program who remains strong and determined and “faithful” even to the users, beings he has never seen nor encountered but simply know exist somewhere, the metaphor is obvious.
When Tron gets his instructions from his user, he embarks on his final step, to face and defeat Master Control. Master Control is the Sauron of the digital world, a program that has achieved full sentience and threatens all programs in the computer. Charged with his new orders and a sacred weapon (his identity disc) he seeks out and wins, saving the system from its oppressive master. In essence, he allows the computer to become a free system, to perform as it was intended to, to fulfill its grand purpose.
Okay, so this is silly if you think about it. Aside from Flynn, the user struggling to free himself, the only thing really at stake in Tron is the functionality of a computer system. But if you use your imagination, if you look at it the right way, Tron’s journey is a fantastic adventure into destiny, faith, and purpose. As an allegory, I think it works well. It also helps to give the film some kind of logical framework, a foundation that makes it work.
Among Tron Legacy‘s biggest flaws is that it lacks this foundation. Without it, the digital landscape seems to be an excuse to have cool people in cool costumes stand around looking cool. But what is it all about? There’s some nonsense about “bringing order”, but what does this even mean? We hear how Flynn is some sort of prophet who wants to revolutionize everythinga about the world, both digital and physical, but we’re never given any proof other than people talking about it.
In the original, programs are forced to participate in death sports in the form of video games. This makes sense in context because its the kind of tool that we can pretend a computer might use. It’s purely metaphorical, but it works. The movie even foreshadows the games by showing them being played at an arcade. Yet in Legacy we’re given lightcycles, tanks, and those flying space invader type things because, apparently, the virtual world is at a dead stop. Video games haven’t evolved. The problem is that the makers of Legacy weren’t inspired by video games, but by Tron. And so we end up with a film that borrows ideas from the original without really knowing what to do with them. Legacy plays like it was made by people who had seen a few scenes from Tron, read a synopsis, and then, with barely a grasp of what the original was about, started designing neon costumes.
Even in little ways, the film misses the point. The identity disc is a stand-in for a program’s soul. It’s a programs primary weapon and also the source of everything important about it. When Tron communicates with his user, his disc ascends, is modified, and then returned to him. The metaphor of a transformative soul isn’t exactly subtle. But apparently, the makers of Legacy missed the point.
So maybe I’m the only one who cares about this or who has given it this much thought. It’s just a movie, right? And it’s not as if it’s a tragedy that a movie that dared so much ended up spawning a film that dares so little, that has nothing memorable or interesting going on. As a novelologist and a person who likes to think of himself as at least a little bit creative, it’s annoying, even a bit soul crushing, to watch it happen.
Which leads me to my point. Thanks for sticking around and making it to the end, if you’re still reading this. I am changing my status on Legacy from indifferent to insulted. I’m insulted that they completely failed to understand the original. I’m insulted that they failed, not because they dared to emulate a great film, but because they thought it’d be cool to try and cash in. Which is normal, I suppose, but if you’re going to try to make a sequel to an obscure film, you might as well take a chance.
Or at least not make it boring.
Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,