Tron: Legacy recap: aimed at the 8-year-old in me

On Saturday at 8pm, BBC2 are showing the 2010 Tron reboot shortly after the Jeff Bridges-starring original. That may not be the best idea of all time

"Tron, what have you become?" - Kevin Flynn

There's some weird scheduling on BBC2 this weekend. At 5:30pm, it's showing Tron; the still-startling, immediately identifiable 1982 movie that captivated me – and millions of children like me – back in the 1980s. A little later, it's showing the terrestrial premiere of Tron: Legacy, the film's enormously anticipated 2010 follow-up.

These films aren't being broadcast back-to-back, though. As soon as Tron finishes, there's an hour-long programme about Nelson Mandela to get through before Tron: Legacy begins. This gap might have been necessitated by current events, or it might just simply be a quirk of scheduling. However, you can't help feeling that the 60-minute buffer was put there to lower expectations. Tron was such an important film, so idiosyncratic and iconic, that Tron: Legacy couldn't possibly hope to match up to it. But is Tron: Legacy really that bad?

"Your old man's about to knock on the sky and listen to the sound" - Kevin Flynn

The thing that struck me most about Tron as a kid – apart from all the motorbikes playing proto-Snake in a giant arena – was how it sounded. The film, at least the section of the film that anyone remembers, had a sort of constant ambient thrum to it; a whirring that made everything onscreen seem distant and staged. It was one of those rare occurrences – a film about another world that felt as well as looked otherworldly. Add in the blocky effects and glowing outfits and Tron stands as a perfectly-realised moment in time. It's The Wizard of Oz for boys who grew up playing Atari. It's Star Wars for people born a year or two too late.

The same, unfortunately, cannot be said for Tron: Legacy. Like the modern-day revival of Doctor Who, the revamp is so scared of losing our attention that music constantly swells and crashes regardless of the action onscreen. Where there was once a machine-like hum, now there is the sort of relentlessly urgent soundbed that everyone starting ripping off The Dark Knight came out. It's also sad to see characters interacting with physical sets, or at least to have the obvious artifice of the virtual sets scaled back. There's no pitch-black void surrounding anyone any more, just endless neon glassiness. You don't feel nearly as cold or alone watching Tron: Legacy as you did watching Tron. And surely that was always the point.

"In there is a new world! In there is our future! In there is our destiny!" - Kevin Flynn

The problem, I think, about Tron: Legacy is that everyone involved seemed to assume that it'd be a hit. Watching the original Tron back, you get a sense that it was a punt for everyone involved; a cheeky hat-toss to make some money from the Star Wars fad. I'm convinced that everyone involved presumed that Tron would go the same way as Battle Beyond the Stars or The Black Hole. But by 2010 its reputation had built to the point where the producers made the mistake of treating it with a bit too much respect.

Tron: Legacy
Hot wheels ... Tron: Legacy. Photograph: Disney Enterprises Photograph: Disney Enterprises/PR

It looks gorgeous, obviously. It's beautifully designed and meticulously realised, but the simplicity of the original has given way to an unsettling bloat. Jeff Bridges – real life Jeff Bridges, not the waxy computer version who doubles as the film's antagonist – has become an annoyingly zen spiritualist who may or may not be Jesus. The Grid isn't just a computer programme in the new film; it's the key to uniting the religions and unlocking the secrets of the universe. It believes its own hype to an absurd degree. It's as if nobody learned anything from the Matrix sequels.

But, despite all this, there are still plenty of bright spots. Michael Sheen, whose performance I initially wrote off as stagey and unconvincing, provides a very necessary chink of light. Weirdly, for an eyebrowless computer program who apparently runs a bar inside a computer, he's the most human element of the entire film. If this film had been about him cackling and dancing during fight scenes like a 1960s Batman villain, there's a good chance that this would be one of my favourite films of all time.


• Apparently an earlier draft of the Tron: Legacy script was binned for being too Matrixy. Given the Matrixiness of the end result, I can only assume that it was a word-for-word copy.

• It's sad to see that Virtual Jeff Bridges hasn't had any roles since this film came out. One day, though, I'm sure there'll be another film that needs a horribly unconvincing dead-eyed avatar that looks like it belongs in waxworks museum for celebrities with mumps.

• The Grid has clouds in it now. I can't work out if this is a sly comment about the wave of server-based computing, or it's just because they really wanted to ruin Tron for me.

• "Biodigital jazz, man". Eight-year-old me would not have liked this film. Not one bit.


Stuart Heritage

The GuardianTramp

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