Here’s a concept that I haven’t visited in awhile, at least since October: Old Versus New. The original concept grew from a conversation with my wife, and I credit her with the idea. At the time I had decided to compare the original Halloween to the remake of Halloween in several key areas, trying to see which one won out on the collected merits. I felt that the choice was a little more obvious that time, and indeed it’s the rare remake that completely slates the original, hence that being a one-time feature.
Now, however, I think I may have hit on something. How about revisitations?
Tron Legacy would certainly fit into that category; created more than 25 years after the original, the sequel shares a basic structure with its predecessor and yet differs in enough areas that a comparison is a little more worthwhile and, I think, fun.
For those who aren’t familiar with the series, Disney released the original Tron in 1982 to a middling reception and box office. As I recall the film basically sunk like a stone, even though I, all of six at the time, found myself obsessed with the film and its myriad details. I had all the toys. The birthday cake at my sixth birthday party featured a light cycle (wish I had a picture of that all these years later). I wept when my original Tron figure vanished, lost in the bushes of some church in Dayton, Virginia, many years ago. I’m telling you, I just could not get enough of it and dreamed about a sequel.
Of course, little did I know that the movie was considered something of a joke, and would only pick up a cult following years later, mostly comprised of people who, like me, saw the movie as a child and obsessed over it as the harbinger of something greater. 2002 saw a minor resurgence in popularity, with the DVD reissue and more toys, most of which sit on my desk now:
Still, things remained quiet until 2008, when Disney showed off a teaser for a movie called Tr2n. The teaser featured the classic lightcycles, upgraded for a new age, sleeker and more exciting. It would be another year and a half before details truly began to emerge about the sequel, but it appeared to be an exciting affair, one that assured an opening-day viewing from me.
Oh, and yes, I also have Tron Legacy toys on my desk.
That brings us to today, and the latest Old Versus New.
Sam Flynn/Kevin Flynn. Yes, Kevin Flynn is a central character to Tron Legacy, but he is not the Kevin Flynn analogue for Legacy; that would be his son, Sam. The central conceit of both films is that an innocent human gets sucked into a world within the computer and discovers a world beyond his imagining. That world is related to the viewer through the protagonist’s experiences, and Sam is clearly the vessel for this as compared to Kevin in the first film. Some fans have complained about Garrett Hedlund’s performance as Sam, that he’s a cipher and doesn’t have the same charisma as Jeff Bridges in essentially the same role; there’s some truth to that charge, but I didn’t have as much trouble with Hedlund’s performance as others. Plus, I mean come on, you’re comparing him to Jeff Bridges. Almost anyone is going to lose out. The original take on Kevin Flynn is goofy and self-assured, but a joy to watch on-screen. Kevin also seems to need less guidance while in the world behind the screen; he definitely rolls with the punches much better than Sam, but Sam’s life experiences seem to have been very different, which gives Sam a little bit of an edge – we do know his background. Still, Kevin Flynn/Jeff Bridges win this one handily.
Tron/Kevin Flynn. This was a tough one, in that Tron Legacy is far more representative of the Hero’s Quest than the original Tron. I found it difficult to really see a complete analogue for either Tron or the elder Kevin Flynn here. Quorra might have worked for Tron, but her blend of wisdom and wide-eyed naivete (one of my favorite parts of Legacy) really doesn’t match up to any character in the original film. Thus, Tron and the elder Flynn, as both serve in something of a mentor role, albeit Tron does so in a much looser fashion, leading by example. Tron is a true believer, a man of faith living in a world that has banned faith. He exists solely to fulfill his role as appointed by his User. As such, he is the pure, incorruptible knight errant, very appropriate for a character who leads by example rather than by word. Flynn, by contrast, is a messy god. He fumbles around. He makes mistakes. Like Tron, he is also incorruptible, but it’s more by virtue of his inherent good nature rather than a feeling of holy purpose. Where Tron felt an indefatigable purpose, Flynn felt mere curiosity in seeing whether he could construct this world. It makes the elder Flynn a lot more interesting and complex, though I’ll always have a soft spot for the original Tron. Kevin Flynn wins here, but by a nose.
Sark/Rinzler. Ah, I originally saw Sark and Clu as the matching pair here, but I was wrong. Rinzler is far more the Sark character of Legacy (and I think their coloration reflects this fact). Both are brutes in their own way, with Sark’s bullish intelligence lending him a far different mystique and feel than the silent, menacing, single-minded Rinzler. Sark is the right-hand man of the Master Control Program (MCP), tasked with carrying out the more physical acts of domination and oppression required to keep the system under control. Sark carries these acts out with a borderline glee, matched at equal turns by his fury at being outmaneuvered. What I’m saying is that Sark is an interesting, but not very complicated character. I’d love to know more about how he rose to prominence, but the film leaves us with plenty of questions about him. Rinzler, on the other hand, is far more complex while being completely silent. He begins as a simple force of nature, Clu’s right-hand man and enforcer, but we see cracks in his surface as the story progresses. He is far more of a tragic villain than Sark, and compelling for that reason alone. Still, it’s hard for me to put him above Sark for possibly personal reasons. This one is a Push.
The MCP/Clu. This is an interesting comparison. The MCP dedicated himself to his megalomania in the pursuit of a higher order and possessed the unceasing belief that he was the superior form of intelligence in all of the world. Like the original’s characters, his ultimate purpose is either somewhat unclear or very facile. One gets the sense that he feels that he could simply run things better than the humans, but he could just as easily feel a cold sense of greed. Clu is possessed of a similar hubris, certain that he can ensure the creation of a perfect system and, beyond that, a perfect world. The interesting thing is that Clu is programmed to believe this, and thus is not sentient in the same fashion as the MCP. Like most of Legacy’s characters, Clu is possessed of tragic flaws, and he is simply unable to comprehend these flaws. Everything that he does is right because he does it. Even to the end, we rarely see doubt in Clu, while the MCP shows doubt and fear very early on. Clu wins this one just by virtue of this fascinating blindness, but the MCP is a bit deeper than I had expected.
I love the original Tron, but I also acknowledge that the plot is incredibly thin. From a high level, it’s about a game designer trying to prove intellectual copyright theft. Not exactly gripping stuff. The most interesting thing about the plot is the core concept of a human being sucked into a world that has been created inside the CPU/network, which was pretty novel stuff at the time. Other than that, it’s pretty much a story that moves the characters from point A to point B with not a whole lot of character development. Legacy suffers from some of the same problems, but it does at least approach some of the concepts from a different angle, as I’ve detailed with the character write-ups above. You have the reluctant god; you have the Lucifer analogue who’s incapable of understanding his own flaws; and you have the idea that AI can spontaneously generate rather than being set up that way, which is actually a fairly intriguing concept. The idea that the programs can somehow get out to our world is kind of weak, but overall I feel that Legacy trumps the original in many ways. Could it have used a stronger plot? Sure, but it’s still way better than the original. Legacy wins.
Just…how can I choose. How. Both have amazing soundtracks that are unique in their own ways. Push.
I thought about comparing effects, but it’s not fair. For its time, Tron was a true innovator; Legacy did some interesting things but never rose to that level. Unfortunately, that was a hell of a lot more difficult to do in 2010 as opposed to 1982. Just look at the budgets between the two – even adjusted for inflation Legacy got the bigger budget and yet would have needed something on the level of Avatar to truly innovate. I love the aesthetic that the new film created, though, and I think that counts for something.
I’m quite surprised to find that Legacy wins this, 3-1 (and would be even more ahead had I counted characters like Quorra and Castor). Two years ago I would have scoffed if you asked me whether I thought Legacy beat out the original, but I actually think that it bears up under scrutiny and is aging fairly well. I’m intrigued to see where they take the concept in the third film.