Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Thoughts on... 'Tron Night' - A 25 minute preview of Tron Legacy

With Tron Night taking place tomorrow we take an early look at the special 25-minute 3D preview of Tron: Legacy...

All throughout the internet, a whisper has been slowly growing to a shout, a chorus, a chant - ‘Flynn Lives!’

Tron LegacyLike many other kids of the 80s, the original Tron burned an indelible image onto my retinas. Whether you were lucky enough to see it in the cinema or catch it on TV later, if you saw it as a kid you should know what I’m talking about. The lightcycles, the glowing costumes, the ominous electronic music, that little thing that went ‘Yesyesyesyes.’ We just hadn’t seen anything like it. It may not have fared that well at the box-office but it became a landmark for computer & visual effects as well as being a shadowy foreteller of many things to come. 90s rave culture, computer-animated films, saying ‘end of line’ at the end of conversations. Just me on that last one? Ok, but eitherway, when I first heard they were making a sequel to Tron, I went through all the emotions. Excitement, intrigue, concern, resentment. Then, when test footage started to appear online, I was straight back at excited again. By the time the trailers were showing in cinemas I was feeling like I was eight years old again.

So when I hear that Disney are previewing an entire twenty-five minutes of footage a month and a half before the film opens, you can imagine my excitement. So here’s a brief breakdown of what we get...

We begin with a message being typed across the screen from Tron: Legacy helmer, Joseph Kosinski, before the sound of Sam’s (Flynn’s son, played by Garrett Hedlund) bike revs us into the first footage, an early scene between Sam and Flynn’s friend Alan (Bruce Boxleitner from the original). The scenes are all numbered so we can gauge roughly where we are in the full-length feature, with what we see at first mostly the introduction to the story we get from the trailer. Alan explains that he was paged from Flynn’s office at the arcade, even though the number was disconnected years ago. Following this we’re treated to the entire scene from the trailer where Sam goes to his father’s derelict arcade to investigate.

As he switches on the power, all the arcade machines spring to life, with music and sound effects blaring out from every side. At the far end of the room, lies the Tron arcade cabinet. Pulling off the plastic sheet, Sam uncovers the lightcycles doing battle on screen and bemusedly puts a coin in the machine. It falls through, and bending down to retrieve it he realises that the machine is on a giant pivot, which he pushes to the side revealing a secret door. He enters an underground tunnel, The Eurhythmics booming from the noisy arcade hall upstairs, before finding a huge computer terminal. Trying to access it, he inadvertently activates the laser behind him and….FLASH! He’s in the grid.

The next scene begins with Sam swamped in bright light, as a jaw-droppingly realised ‘recogniser’ (the giant flying things) descends upon him, capturing him and holding him with other rogue programs. The jump going from the real world into the grid literally sent shivers down my spine – the 3D kicks in (the ‘real world’ is in 2D, a nice touch I thought) and the stark contrasts of black with streaks of white, blue and orange is startling.

From here Sam is assigned to ‘Games’ and is sent to be fitted out in his Tron suit by four female programs all dressed in white. They stride robotically towards him, removing his real world clothes and donning him in a black bodysuit streaked with the familiar blue glowing lines. They also provide him with his disc, on which his data is to be encoded. As they attach it to his back, his eyes flash with a cold, computer blue, as if pure electronic data is rushing through his body. Finished, they back away, leading Sam to ask, “What do I do now?”, to which the white-haired program simply replies, “Survive.”

Disney and Kosinski don’t tease us. They give us what we’ve all been waiting for. The following scene is a modern update of the original’s gladiatorial-style games, the action set in a giant electronic stadium, complete with a baying crowd and several battles taking place in glass domes suspended in the centre of the arena. Programs face off against each another, the combatants using their data discs as frisbee weapons. After a fast-paced battle Sam manages to defeat his opponent by smashing a hole in the floor which the other program falls through, while a mysterious hooded figure watches on.

We jump ahead several scenes to see Sam and a helmet-wearing program escaping the main grid in some kind of car hotly pursued by lightcycles. They release bombs to blow up the cycles, and in one fantastic birds-eye view, slow-motion shot, the cycle-rider flies off his exploding bike, spins round in the air, then creates a new cycle out of thin air, landing on it as he hits the ground!

The helmet-wearing program helping Sam escape is revealed to be Quorra (Olivia Wilde with a black bob), a warrior program (and obvious love interest) who takes him to a secret, off-grid base where Sam comes face-to-face with his father. There’s a tangible emotional connection between Jeff Bridges and Garrett Hedlund’s characters, as they embrace for the first time in twenty years. It’s here that we see the real driving heart of the story, that beneath the incredible special effects is a realistic father/son relationship. Sam explains that Alan got Flynn’s page, leading Sam to the secret lab under the arcade, which seems to confuse Flynn. This is one of the preview’s most revealing plot points, that the message was actually to lure Sam into a trap.

Finally, we get to see Michael Sheen’s gleefully over-the-top character Castor, as well as Daft Punk (who score the film) at the decadent ‘End-of-Line’ club, before a swiftly-edited sequence of clips get us further salivating over the rest of the film, including a young Flynn (Clu, a digital replica of the real Flynn and Tron: Legacy’s antagonist) goading an off-screen Bridges.

It’s the Tron we’re familiar with, but amped up considerably for a modern audience, with the spectacle of the original more than matched by the vast digital landscape Kosinski has crafted. There appears to be a constant electronic storm over the grid, adding a feeling of foreboding doom or oppression, a smart metaphor for the character of Clu, and one that Sam must undoubtedly overthrow. The booming, pulsing synth music, the sleek, stunning visuals and the teases of an epic story all left me ecstatic. Come December, the eight-year old in me is going to freak out. Can’t wait.

Roger Holland

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