Tron Legacy Review

When you think about it, Tron Legacy has the same narrative arc as the original film from 1982. Someone is sucked into this digital world known as The Grid, they’re forced into service as a combatant of “the games,” they hook up with some rebels via a light cycle race, and begin a mad dash to the central location… aboard the exact same ship from the original.

Of course, a lot changes have been made technologically in close to 30 years, meaning the world of Tron has been completely revamped. What was once a glorified light show has become an even better looking glorified light show. The Grid is fabulous in its design, carefully constructed without ruining the original film’s grandiose style, or the core of what holds it together: lots of light.

Legacy has the addition of a somewhat deeper narrative, this sequel concerning the son of former ENCOM CEO Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) searching for his father. He’s zapped into the world we know as Tron, seeking answers. Unfortunately, what his father built as a utopia has turned into a disaster, overrun by Flynn’s own program, Clu, who is also represented by Jeff Bridges, only younger. There’s a far deeper dynamic running through Legacy, the romance stronger, the characters richer, but it’s still all a show.

Everything is dominated by the visuals, the actors overrun with technological prowess and design that in today’s digital world, simply don’t have the same impact. They’re spectacular no doubt, but we’re used to viewing such outstandingly well crafted computer generated pizazz. It’s not the milestone or the marvel its predecessor was simply because the breakthroughs have already been made.

It’s not as if Tron needs this character development either, the father/son bond there through a few scenes, while the rest feel like throwaways. We’re here to see light cycles clash, discs de-rez people, and become immersed in the world as its presented. Legacy feels bogged down, sluggish, and overcooked, playing most of its cards after Sam Flynn (Garret Hedlund) first enters the Grid. After that, we’ve seen what we paid for up until the finale when Tron fans are treated to a spectacular aerial battle that was a long time coming. This is a fantastic world that has struggled twice now to prove itself as a narrative paradise.

Movie ★★★☆☆ 

Tron Legacy comes with switching aspect ratios, the movie intended for IMAX 3D. As such, there’s about a 70/30 split between those scenes shot in 2.35:1 and 1.78:1 respectively. The switches are not jarring, but handled with care. It’s actually great to see the photography explode into these wondrous, screen-filling visuals, and then taper down to the tighter, carefully constructed and focused ratio. There’s purpose in the world of Tron for a switch like that.

Onto the good stuff, everything was shot digitally via the Phantom HD and the Sony CineAlta. The result? It’s a digital image. The one thing digital seems to have been made for though are those expansive exteriors, and they are jaw-droppingly beautiful here. All of those fine lines that make up this world of circuits and lights are razor sharp, only a handful falling victim to light aliasing. The ships, the structures, and the cycles are given added life because of the power afforded to them by this disc. The fine, glowing lines of the costumes are meticulous in their definition.

This AVC encode is up for a lot too, forced to contend with an array of fast-paced movement. Destroyed programs de-rez into a swarm of tiny, pixel-like polygons, the transition rarely slow moving. Artifacting never becomes apparent. Light cycles whip by the screen as does the landscape, everything remaining in full focus without fault from another encode winner from Disney.

Also of great importance to the world of Tron are black levels. Just about everything that’s not lit here is black, unless of course you’re Michael Sheen who is a pasty white. The ground, the buildings, the flying machines, the… everything. It’s all given a complete and intense level of extravagant depth, the blacks never showing any sign of weakness. Bright lights are pure, free of any artifacts, keeping the contrast of a relatively dark film vivid and intense.

However, despite all of that, this was shot digitally, and there are more of a handful of distracting shots that tell that side of the story. A slight mist of noise is strewn about the majority of shots, generally hidden well enough that any detriment to the visual pizazz is minimal. Facial detail is a concern, medium shots rather poorly refined, smooth, and overly glossy. There’s a shot of the grandparents prior to The Grid entrance that is actually flat out awful at 5:38, but we’re talking out one shot out of an entire movie.

The color palette also ditches the simplified red and blue of old for a new coat of teal and orange. Why? Because it’s “modern.” The effect this has on flesh tones cannot be overstated, though we are not talking about reality. Programs don’t get much sun, so the typically ugly, death-like hue skin takes on is just a side effect of The Grid. It’s rarely pleasing to the eye. Seeing it in theaters, it wasn’t much to look at in this regard either. The world of Tron is what we’re here for though, and all of the digital anomalies combined can’t dilute that portion of the experience.

Video ★★★★☆ 

Disney gets it right, transferring their theatrical 7.1 presentation to the home and in the process, creating utter aural bliss. Legacy is an active, lively place, constantly under assault from the engines of something, digital bleeping, or a generally fine score.

While there is plenty to go on even before entering the virtual world, ranging from low-end accompaniment thanks to the score to the spectacular recreated ambiance of an ’80s arcade. The two extra surrounds come into play early. However, the first shot of this battle for audio supremacy comes as Sam is transported into his father’s world, his actual landing greeted with a blast that doesn’t take long to be bested.

Sam’s combat experience, beginning with disc wars, is a secondary highlight only to the final aerial dog fight. Disc wars captures the tossed weapons zipping side-to-side, eliminated players shattering with a fantastically crisp, clean glass breaking effect. Onto the surface, light cycles that meet their fate explode right where they should: in the subwoofer. The engine hum is more than adequate; it’s awesome.

This DTS-HD home mix excels on every level, not just the action. The Grid is completely alive, Castor’s (Michael Sheen) club exploding with a throbbing bass line that simply absorbs the listener. Clu’s speech around 1:37:00 envelopes the sound field with a realistic, believable echo, pinging off each channel with the utmost care and precision.

Audio ★★★★★ 

Legacy comes with a feature set that is not quite as impressive as it may seem, and it is surely all set up for the eventual double dip. No doubt something this complex took a monumental amount of work to bring together, and this disc doesn’t exactly present that. We begin with The Next Day, a recap of the events between the films as well as what happened after this one, a competent short. There’s a sneak peek of the new animated Tron series, followed by the first featurette, Launching the Legacy. This 10-minute look is the “how it came about” portion of the disc, creators and producers chatting about the project.

Visualizing Tron details how everyone envisioned a new, updated edition to this franchise, with the main focus being light. Installing the Cast is a brain-dead thank you to all of the actors, as sugar coated as they come. Disc Roars showcases a great idea, that of the Comic Con panel recording session eventually used in the film for the games backdrop. You’ll get a music video and the now familiar Disney 3D promo before finishing off with Second Screen. This allows you to sync your iPad or PC to your networked Blu-ray player and gain access to storyboards, schematics, ship models, and more while watching the movie. Cool idea, and while it’s a bit more robust and interactive than a pop-up feature would have been, that certainly could have sufficed.

Extras ★★★☆☆ 

  • I think it’s time for you to embrace digital cameras. 🙂

  • Anonymous

    I’ll embrace digital when it can hold a candle to film. For now, I can totally understand it for indie films, TV, and other low budget productions. For $100 million+ Hollywood affairs, it’s totally unacceptable and far too limiting.

  • The budgets of those films would most likely not be that high if it weren’t for the price of film stock.

    The problem I have with your reviews is that you constantly mention supposed “smoothness” in regards to digital productions. I rarely see. You did this with The Social Network and when I popped in my Blu-ray, I just didn’t see anything remotely objectionable.

    Now, this is what I find objectionable:

    http://media.cinemasquid.com/blu-ray/titles/black-swan/17983/screenshot-lrg-02.png

    http://media.cinemasquid.com/blu-ray/titles/black-swan/17983/screenshot-lrg-14.png

    http://media.cinemasquid.com/blu-ray/titles/black-swan/17983/screenshot-lrg-30.png

    Somehow that’s brilliant, but I think it’s disgusting.

  • Note that I still read your reviews because you seem more objective than other review sites.

  • Anonymous

    16mm has plenty of benefits, notably really rich blacks and deep color, in addition to the gritty look. In the second screen, you’re looking at something the encode simply didn’t resolve well. That’s not grain on her face but splotchy noise that would probably not be detected in motion (maybe). The first shot is gorgeous, setting a mood. That’s what it’s about, a bleak story. The Wrestler was the same. Plus, keep in mind that as we move forward, we will have the tech to fully resolve the grain structure. Blu-ray just isn’t up to the task, which is why I wished we waited a bit longer before forging ahead with new formats.

    In all honesty, Tron being shot digitally probably makes sense; I understand that argument. It’s an artificial world after all. The problem with digital is that it rarely has texture. The grain isn’t the texture, it’s preserving the texture. Digital looks plain and flat. Everyone has a texture to their face, but look at screen 16 for Legacy. There’s nothing. That’s unnaturally smooth, and that’s what digital does far too often (not to mention failing to preserve black levels, but that’s another debate since Tron does quite well). It’s simply not ready for prime time. Plus, if grain is an issue for you, why isn’t digital noise? Noise is an artifact of the source, grain is necessary to preservation of detail.

    And film costs are not that ridiculous, especially in comparison to effects, the cast, etc. Productions use thousands of feet, and the discount they get is probably heavy. So, for a $100 million feature, film cost is meager, but to something running $500,000, that’s a heavy burden, which is why digital makes sense.

    I thank you for reading my stuff. I try to strike that balance, and some digital efforts look great. Gamer and Zombieland are some of the best examples of what the tech can do. Most of what I’m seeing is simply poorly done, and I’ll always call it out. I can’t help it when it’s distracting me, and the same goes for poorly resolved grain structure. It’s tough when you have a director decision to shoot digital, say Scorcese and Public Enemies, but there’s an instance where the smooth flowing digital pulled me completely out of the movie, not to mention the lackluster image quality.

    I would also rather be harsh and knock something down a few notches than lazily say, “It looks great.” What doesn’t necessarily bother you or me might drive someone else crazy, which is why I try to find EVERYTHING.

  • Thanks for the clarification on the second screen. Digital noise is sometimes a big issue for me. There’s an episode of the Shield where the noise is so prevalent that it makes me uncomfortable.