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TRON: Legacy

Year: 2010
Studio: Disney
Director: Joseph Kosinski
Producer: Steven Lisberger
Writer: Edward Kitsis/Adam Horowitz/Brian Klugman/Lee Sternthal
Cast: Garrett Hedlund, Jeff Bridges, Olivia Wilde, Bruce Boxleitner, Beau Garrett, Michael Sheen

Talk about full circle. Almost 30 years ago the Tron came out displaying then-cutting edge special effects, among the first films to use rudimentary CGI. Though history remembers it as a flop on release and you can still find plenty of people who say they didn't like it, you can't deny the dexterity with which it tapped into the cultural zeitgeist, channeling the new love kids everywhere had for personal computers and videogames.

Now, when CGI has moved on from being a sci-fi staple and is as much a part of movies as tabloid gossip, where can you possibly go in making a CGI movie? Even the original Toy Story beat it by 15 years.

The buzz started building as soon as the project was announced, even more so with the appearance of the teaser trailer in late 2010 showing a young Jeff Bridges, apparently some sort of evil overlord watching a light cycle battle. Trading on enormous property recognition, Disney could afford to give the helm to no-name director Kosinski and an army of computer technicians and ride the wave.

Kosinski, working off a script that feels like it was cheap, is more George Lucas than David Fincher. Like the Star Wars films, Tron Legacy shows a mastery of the cinematic arts in everything apart from performing and scriptwriting, both of which are terrible – even from Jeff Bridges despite now having an Oscar in his hand from last year's Crazy Heart.

In fact, it shows everything that's both right and wrong with Hollywood. It shows the most extraordinary creativity and leaves no stone unturned in the pursuit of artistic perfection – the visual and sound effects and the astounding soundtrack by Daft Punk will leave you reeling and thrilled if you see it in 3D on a giant screen. But Garrett Hedlund as Sam is third-rate at best (only Olivia Wilde as Quorra displays any real naturalism and most of that is her winsome figure, cute bob and huge, doe-like eyes) and the dialogue feels like a first draft.

The single ill-advised special effect is the rendering of the young Jeff Bridges, shown in an early scene as Flynn and throughout the film as Clu, Flynn's evil Grid-side twin. The actor playing the body (onto which Bridges' computer-built, motion-captured young face is digitally painted) is both too animated and too stiff, the digital eyes too devoid of humanity, dropping us deep into the Uncanny Valley.

The story, if you're interested, is both simple and full of holes. Thirty years after Flynn disappeared, his rebellious, grown up son Sam (Hedlund) is a misfit who plays pranks on the now multinational Encom for fun. His only ally is Flynn's partner Bradley (Boxleitner, reprising his original role), who visits Sam one night to report the incredible. He still carries a pager Flynn told him to keep close before he disappeared, and Sam's father has sent it a message.

Sam goes to the videogame arcade late one night (it's not clear why, in the first of many story problems), and makes the same mistake his father did, finding himself in the grid where the lines are sharper, the colours starker and the landscape more sweeping after thirty years of continued programming.

He's immediately taken prisoner by Clu, who's turned bad and decided to try and build an army and get out to rule the real world just like Flynn and Sam have got in. After some exposition about the new world and a light cycle battle that references and amps up the original idea to a breathtaking degree, Quorra rescues Sam and takes him to the outlands where his father is a reclusive Howard Hughes/The Dude hybrid.

Flynn wants to sit tight and let the programs rise up against Clu, but Sam wants to run for the portal while it's still open and get them all out (it's no surprise that he gets out with Quorra, though how she obtains an organic body in the transition when she was a computer program is anybody's guess, another major gap in logic).

But like the Star Wars movies, plot is merely an excuse to take us from one breathless chase or battle scene to another, which is where the movie shines. Any time it has to rely on dialogue or character it falls flat on its face. If they'd got Sorkin and Fincher on this instead of The Social Network, it would have been as close to perfect as any movie's ever been.

And yes, that is an uncredited Cillian Murphy as the sneering, snarly son of David Warner's CEO Dillinger from the original.

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