On the flight home, I watched Tron: Legacy. OK that's not the full story. On the journey from Melbourne to Hong Kong I watched Tron: Legacy and considering that flight happened at the end of April, I noticed in the in-flight magazine some adverts for the movies available in May. So when boarding the flight that would take me back to London I was excited for the new movies I could watch. They had new editions of the magazines, so they would definitely have the updated movie list right? WRONG! I have no idea what procedure they have in place for these things but the software hadn't received its update and the cabin crew was powerless to do anything else except apologise. After watching Runaway Jury (which is a fantastically made movie) from its 'favourites' list, I realised that the sound on that particular monitor was better than the sound I had when watching Tron: Legacy the first time round. So I decided to watch it again, not only to hear the lines I missed the first time round but to also see if the movie held up to the 'is-it-just-as-fun-as-when-you-watched-it-the-first-time' test.
It passed with flying colours, although I couldn't help spot more plotholes the second time round. However, the entire experience of Tron: Legacy left me wondering what the original Tron was like. I had seen Tron before, on the second-hand VHS we have downstairs after my parents bought it at a church fair, but I honestly can't remember much of the viewing experience at the time. My dominating memories are of my inability to pay attention and being confused as a result. At the end I mentally chucked Tron into my list of 'movies that need a remake'. Tron: Legacy is a sequel and remake all in one go. So I sat down and watched it all the way through yesterday and I thought I'd write up the comparisons I drew.
I might as well deal with the aesthetics first.
Music: The original Tron's soundtrack is barely there, and when it does play it either sounds out of place or downright cheesy. For some reason, somebody thought it would be a good idea for adventures taking place inside a computer to be accompanied by music you'd hear in an animated fantasy adventure...what? Yeah, Daft Punk's soundtrack for Legacy beats the original hands down. Although I do find it interesting that you hear Journey's music playing in Flynn's Arcade in both movies.
Special Effects: Well this one's a no-brainer. Legacy, easily, partly because of its much bigger budget.
Acting: I found the acting in both movies to be convincing. No matter how strange the lines or illogical the actions (in both movies) you never questioned if the actors were keeping in character or not. Saying that, Jeff Bridges really outdoes himself in Legacy, possibly at the expense of everyone else in the cast, but I'll get to that later when I explain the plot.
Editing: Tron has an annoying tendency to forget time exists. It's bad enough that its plot isn't always clear (again, will explain later) but when in The Grid, the characters have this wonderful magical power to travel miles in just 5 steps. I'm serious. It has the same effect as seeing a bunch of people walking by a pyramid but upon the obligatory angle-change they're suddenly next to a cube. What truly baffles me is that this terrible tendency is also done in Tron: Legacy, but to a much tinier extent, thank God. The quick screenshots of someplace else in The Grid in place of a scene transition coupled with a change in music imply that a sensible amount of time has passed between Sam going from A to B, but it does mean a couple of lost opportunities. When Sam and the other prisoners are going to the arena, why couldn't we see the view of The Grid from the Recogniser as it flew above for a minute or so? Why couldn't we have seen more shots of Sam wondering through the city before Gem found him? This not only provides a more reasonable passage of time but allows us, the audience, to soak in the magnificence of The Grid. But we rarely get much of a chance to. Did the time/money run out or something?
And now we get to the meat of this comparison: the story. The reason why I didn't go see Tron: Legacy in cinemas when it was first released was because the general consensus was that the movie was a fun, fantastic spectacle with little to no story. Well, those people are a bunch of liars, but that's not to say Legacy's story doesn't have its own problems. In order to properly compare the stories of the 2 films I need to break down the story into plot and setting, in order to properly explain the rules of the world. Also, just to get this out of the way, Tron had 2 writers while Tron: Legacy had at least 4. Not a good sign.
Tron spends a looong time on setup and context, mainly because the plot is actually pretty complicated, a bad move since Tron was marketed on the 'adventure in a new world' concept, so most people (children especially) will just be impatient for the film to get a move on and get to the cool bits already! I will now attempt to simplify the setup. The Master Control Programme (MCP) is absorbing other programmes in order to expand and bring control and order to The Grid. Everyone in cyberspace is scared while the Users (humans) that programmed them are baffled and annoyed by their work being shut down and their programmes being locked away. Kevin Flynn is an ex-employee of Encom (run by MCP) who regularly attempts to hack the central server in order to find evidence of the outright theft performed by Dillinger, who by this point is now Senior Executive of Encom, riding the success of the games "he created" but actually stole. Also, MCP is aware of Flynn's hacking attempts. It's upon this revelation that Flynn sneaks in to Encom's building with 2 current employees, Alan and Lora. Upon doing his hacking, MCP is fully aware of his activities (considering that he's now inside his building) and uses the prototype laser transporter to transport Flynn into The Grid. There, he meets Tron and they plot to defeat MCP. Fun ensues.
I've cut out a lot of little details in this rushed description of the setup 'cos otherwise I'll be typing an essay; no joke. The scenes in which all of this is explained is quiet, steadily-paced and...uninteresting. Unfortunately you have to pay attention to all of this in order to understand what happens later. Basically, this is the Users' view of events, and once in The Grid we get the Programmes' view of events. It's a good idea, but not very well executed. Once in The Grid, the world isn't explained very well. I'll delve more into that when comparing settings but if the audience doesn't understand the setting, they won't understand the story. Couple that with the dodgy editing and you end up with a mess. Unfortunately there's yet another weakness. They're not plotholes per se but the characters don't necessarily act like normal human beings, so I found myself frowning at certain points.
Here's a question I asked about Alan: "Why is he suspicious?" This is the point he complains to Dillinger about losing access to Tron, the security programme he's developing. We learn that MCP is responsible for locking away a lot of programmes, but most people would regard that as a symptom of a buggy programme, not something nefarious. This kind of thing shouldn't occurr to Alan until he meets Flynn, who explains MCP's modus operandi. I had another 'raise-eyebrow' question with Alan, and Dillinger, but I also found a problem with the way the Programme Dumont acted. At first he refuses Tron access to the input/output tower, due to fear of retribution and loss of faith in the Users (understandable) but after some pleading, he changes his mind. That seems too easy. It would have been far more exciting if Flynn had snuck in at that point, explained he's a User and then Dumont experiences a moment of euphoric epiphany of renewed faith. Alas.
Now I can finally explain the plot of Tron: Legacy. Unlike its predecessor, its setup actually contains plotholes, which are so large they border on insulting. I found it instantly obvious that the script writers knew next to nothing about business, computers and the IT Industry in general. Pretty worrying, really. What I found even more obvious was that the writers couldn't properly figure out how to get Sam into The Grid. The very beginning has a very well-made introduction showing us how Kevin Flynn was influenced by his experiences in The Grid, making new games and developing new technologies and such, as well as being an inspiration to his son, Sam. But then the collage of news reports state Flynn's disappearance and the takeover of Encom by somebody else, meaning control is taken from his friend, Alan. So far so good. Cue the hodge-podge character introduction of Sam Flynn in modern day, breaking into Encom to steal their new operating system, despite being the majority shareholder (meaning he can just walk in at any time and declare himself the new manager). At the same time the character of the company Encom is setup through a late-night board meeting (fair enough) in which they announce the launch of their new operating system (which is apparently useless and pointless) and the fact they only that day joined the Japanese Stock Market despite being one of the leading software companies.
That isn't even the entire list of problems. Alan visits Sam later that night revealing he somehow got a page from Kevin's old personal office, which has been disconnected for over 20 years. For some reason, instead of checking it out himself, Alan suggests Sam goes looking around. See what I mean about the writers not being completely sure how to get Sam into The Grid? So Sam discovers his father's secret office (containing technology that could not possibly exist in 1989) and I do love how we don't get to see very long just what codes Sam is typing. Somehow he activates the laser and zaps himself into The Grid.
Since he wasn't 'sent' to The Grid like his father, it makes sense that he still has the same clothes. What doesn't make sense is why he's sent straight to the games without any training. His father at least got training 30 years before. What the hell? Oh and, like Sam needed it. He figures out how to do all the combat and contests just by watching somebody else for 2 seconds. O_O No, I don't care if he's an adrenalin junkie, it honestly makes no sense. Nevermind, as quickly as Sam learns how to play, you learn to forget the plothole. Oh well. After some action scenes, and a massive plot twist, Quorra happens to be in the vicinity, busts Sam out and takes him to meet his father. Then we learn what happened back in 1989.
Kevin Flynn is developed very well here, in fact he's so developed and focussed on that the development of Sam is roadblocked and Quorra doesn't develop. She should be the most interesting character, but she's presented and then just joins you on the journey. To sum up the plot, while Tron is about Tron and Kevin trying to thwart the nefarious programme, Tron: Legacy is about avoiding the nefarious programme...at first. Originally, Sam plans to sneak back to the portal so he can go to his own world and then shut the programme down (good call) but this is an adventure movie, so plans change.
Each Tron movie had an overarching theme. Tron dealt with the relationship between Users and Programmes, which mimics a relationship between Gods and their creations. Tron: Legacy dealt with creation and the consequences of how you treat said creation, since Kevin (pro)created Sam while also creating his perfect system. Tron: Legacy actually explores these overarching themes, giving the audience insight into Kevin's attitude towards all his creations and how they turned out. The original Tron didn't explore anything. The Programmes' reverence of the Users was just established as status quo and simultaneous McGuffin without dwelling on it too much.
As for the setting and rules of Tron, well, each programme that a basic computer of 1982 had is represented as a person, hence their name as 'Programmes'. The Grid is basically the computer world. To be honest I can't quite figure out how far-reaching or limited The Grid is, considering that the first we see of The Grid is the cyberspace view of a lightcycle game played on the arcade, a game that we see later. So does this mean MCP is constantly connected to every system around the world? That seems unlikely, despite the world wide web having already been invented such access implies internet existence, when in actual fact peer-to-peer was more common. So it seems more likely that the lightcycle race at the beginning was just meant to show what goes on 'inside the arcade box'. The amount of work I, the viewer, have had to do to figure out this plot-point shows how little Tron explains. So yes, the entire adventure takes place inside one large system, that being Encom's, with various programmes having been kidnapped from smaller, independent subsystems. Tron hears his User "calling" him (Alan is trying to track him down) and so he spends most of the movie trying to get to the input/output tower so that Alan can give him some new instructions. From Alan's point of view, Tron has to be 'located' so that he can run a systems check with the programme and shut down MCP if it is acting beyond its parameters (which it is).
Now go and read that last paragraph again. Even my basic explanation of what a Programme is is far more than what the movie ever provides. I had no problem understanding the basic concepts listed above but that's because I'm a member of my computer-savvy generation (who also happens to have grown up on Reboot). When Tron came out, possessing a computer was nothing more than an idea for most people, so watching it would have left many in the audience desperate to track down a nerd and have him explain the movie to them. Tron: Legacy was fortunate to not have that hurdle, but while the script writers involved in the sequel don't know much about computers, the writers of Tron did, and it was painfully clear due to the lack of thought given to explanations. Of anything. The golden rule of writing a story around a specialist subject: do not assume the audience knows as much as you.
Speaking of explanation, Tron: Legacy was very good at explaining its story, at least the bits that made sense anyway. Unless you're dwelling on a plothole, the movie never leaves you feeling confused with an urge to do homework. Couple its understandable story with the impressive set design and perfectly appropriate soundtrack and you find yourself sucked in to the world and absorbed in the emotion of the tense moments...unless you're still dwelling on a plothole. As the SpoonyOne demonstrated in his review of Tron: Legacy (in which he trashed the movie) if you keep concerning yourself with plotholes and unsanswered questions, there's no way you can enjoy this movie.
Somehow though, the writers never managed to properly research the world of the original Tron. It's made clear (though could have been better established) that each 'person' is a programme, with specific tasks and abilities to aid them in said tasks. The Grid, as presented in Tron: Legacy, is not how anyone computer-literate would imagine a modern system to look like. If I were to create a Tron world of my laptop, I'd say my iTunes would be a studio inhabited by a team of archivists and technicians, while my anti-virus programme would be an army. But the movie explains this oddity. Kevin Flynn created the system on his own computer (not connected to the internet) in the 80s. The entire thing is basically a polished advanced world using 80s computing mechanics. There is one flaw here: it's not clear what the purpose of any of the programmes are, apart from a minority. Apparently they just...inhabit. I do agree with the SpoonyOne that the team missed a great opportunity here, to delve into a modern computer system. However, considering the team of script writers Legacy ended up with, I don't think I could trust them to create such a world and that choosing to focus on Kevin Flynn as the story's basis was the correct choice.
Comparing the two, while Tron has the better story, Tron: Legacy has the better everything else, making it the superior film in terms of entertainment. Considering that a sequel to Legacy has been announced, I can only hope and pray that the 2 entries in the growing Tron franchise somehow merge to create something truly magnificent.