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REVIEW New Tron is heavy with its own sense of sci-fi cool

December 28, 2010

Almost 30 years ago, the original “Tron” forged imaginatively into the then-new cyber frontier. What would happen, it wondered, if you could actually get inside a computer game? What marvels—and possibilities—would such a place hold?
And what dangers?
Jeff Bridges, who played genius programmer Kevin Flynn in the 1982 cult classic, returns in the new “Tron: Legacy,” which further explores the idea that an amazing parallel cosmos of artificial intelligence exists somewhere “in there.”
As the new movie starts, we learn that Flynn has been missing for…well, since the last movie. His now-adult son, Sam (Garrett Hedlund, from TV’s “Friday Night Lights”) accidentally gets sucked into the same mysterious digital netherworld created by his dad---where he discovers the senior Flynn has become a prisoner.
The world of “Tron” is a fierce future-rama populated by “programs,” spawned cyber-beings that look like people but are made of digitized data bits instead of flesh and blood.
When Sam uncovers the plans of their evil leader, Clu, he realizes that the “real” world has more to fear than anyone, even his father, ever imagined.
Bruce Boxleitner reprises his role as Kevin’s business partner from the earlier “Tron,” and Olivia Wilde from TV’s “House” is a smart, sexy program longing to experience human life. Michael Sheen, who played David Frost in “Frost/Nixon,” practically steals the show in his one scene as the androgynous double-identity proprietor of a hip nightspot where all the programs go to get down.
The movie provides a seamless, sleek integration of live action and computer effects, especially in using Bridges’ features on a younger flashback version of his character, as well as on his computer alter-ego, Clu.
But “Tron” is heavy with its own smug sense of sci-fi uber-cool. Its yawning cyberscape of bottomless black holes, dimensionless gray horizons and glowing neon blues makes you feel like you’ve been sucked inside a big bug zapper. And its “legacy”---unlike that of most other franchise movies, which are released in a time span of years apart, not decades---is a muddle of incidents pegged to an era before computers, and computer gadgets, were commonplace in every home.
Movies can be portals to places of wild imaginative wonder. But Tron’s through-the-looking-glass world is particularly difficult to embrace.
It’s hard to get any emotional traction on a story about a bunch of blips and bytes, no matter how good or evil they happen to be, played out on what looks like the inside of an ‘80s computer game.
Disney obviously spent a lot of money reviving “Tron,” rolling the dice that the new movie would serve a wide audience eager to revisit the code-crunching characters, geeky “data grid” setting and futuristic, hacker-adventure premise of the original.
But it’s hard to imagine many folks of any age, especially kids, will find a holiday-season return to Tron-town very enjoyable.

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