Like The Matrix and Avatar before it, Tron Legacy is the rare type of movie that actually causes you to still feel like you are in a virtual world on your drive home from the theater. As I was driving home from the most immersive big screen experience I've EVER witnessed, I found myself seeing beltway traffic in a different light (more on that later). Needless to say, this film is completely meant to be seen in a movie theater and in 3D and with a kick-ass sound system. This is the movie that may save the big name movie theater chains from potential extinction (as Bluray, Netflix and home theater systems are taking over).
Tron Legacy is a loose sequel to the original 1982 cheesefest (which at the time was technically groundbreaking in its own right). The story picks up with Jeff Bridges' character (Kevin Flynn) mysteriously disappearing, leaving his tech company ENCOM in disarray. His son Sam (played via a wooden but effective performance from Garrett Hedlund) finds his dad 20 years later stuck in a virtual world created during the 1982 film. The plot is a bit suspect and I won't get into details but the story really doesn't matter with this movie. If you want an intriguing story, go see Black Swan or The King's Speech (both movies I need to see). If you want to be blown away in your stadium seat, see this movie.
I can't stress enough how brilliant the cinematography, art design and visual effects are in this movie. Most of the film is shot against a dark backdrop and is accented by vividly luminescent day-glo neon shades of reds, yellows, whites and blues. The CGI and 3D effects are insanely good and actually may surpass those delivered by James Cameron in Avatar. The depth of field is essential to the effectiveness of presenting a computer generated reality. Everything looks so crisp and detailed in the virtual world and you can actually believe that it is a world totally manufactured by computers. The stunt casting of Jeff Bridges playing both a younger and older version of himself is well done. You can tell the younger version is CGI but it is very believable none-the-less and as the movie progresses you forget about the gimmick factor.
The assault on the optical senses is only half the fun of Tron Legacy. An extremely effective and engaging score by acclaimed electronic French music duo Daft Punk pulses throughout the movie. The driving beats of Daft Punk's music is the PERFECT companion to what you are witnessing on the screen. This may be the best marriage of a score to a film in the history of cinema. Fortunately the persona and look of the musicians (see image) allow them to fit exactly into the virtual world of the movie as they make a guest cameo in the club sequence. Accompanying the amazing soundtrack is a well constructed sequence of bleeps, bloops and other authentic computer sounds that explode from the theater walls (make sure you see this in a digital theater).
The other supporting players outside of Hedlund and Bridges give their all. Michael Sheen is hardly recognizable as an eccentric club owner and Olivia Wilde is a product of supremely accurate casting as she plays a computer-generated human in the virtual world. Wilde has that perfectly flawless face (see here for example) and angular bone structure that makes it seem that she's been manufactured rather than born. The extras and bit players all look like they belong in the computer environment. It's obvious that a lot of time was spent in the pre-production phase of this movie.
With respect to Chris Nolan's Inception, this movie deserves the visual effects Oscar without a doubt. Daft Punk's score better be nominated as well. Due to the overall less-than-stellar acting and the underwhelming ending, I can't quite give this one 5 JR's. I will settle for a reluctant 4.5 (probably 4.75) out of 5 JRs for Tron Legacy. This movie falls solidly behind Inception and Shutter Island as my third favorite movie of 2010. I encourage all of my readers (especially those in the IT industry) to go out and see this on the big screen. As with Avatar, if you wait to rent this movie then you might as well not even bother. I only hope this movie is re-released in a few years when my sons are old enough to experience it. By then we may have a third Tron coming our way.
PS: Back to the beltway reference. Throughout the movie, the "good guys" are dressed in suits lined with white light while the "bad guys" are clad in red accented costumes. As I drove home at night from the film I stared at the red lights in front of me and the white lights coming the other way and felt that I was still "on the grid" in Tron. In my book, when a movie affects your experience on the drive home, it has done a damn good job of entertaining you.