Tron: Legacy preview footage: first impressions


29th October 2010

Last night we had the privilege of seeing 23mins 49secs of the forthcoming Tron: Legacy. That has to be about 1/6th of the whole movie, right? Score.

You'd think, from watching such a sizable portion of the film, we'd have lots of new plot points to reveal and answers to give you but, from the seven or so scenes presented to us on the giant-assed screen at London's BFI IMAX cinema, this was still very much a teasing preview only. The whole screening even started with an onscreen caveat from director Joseph Kosinski explaining that all footage was taken from just the first half of the film.

And he also mentioned something that hasn't really been discussed much previously: despite the whole film being presented as a 3D feature, a Technicolor cue has been taken from The Wizard of Oz in that the third dimension doesn't actually kick in until we leave the 'real world' and are in The Grid. This may seem gimmicky to some (either way, it doesn't do much to uphold claims that "3D is the future"), but when it does arrive, the 3D is truly glorious - easily the best on a live-action film since Avatar.

So our first scene to watch is strictly 2D (despite still having to view it through over-sized glasses) and it involves our hero Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund) being established as the heir to his missing father's successful company, which he swears off in order to concentrate on motorbikes and, apparently, the occasional prank at the expense of his legacy. This knowledge comes courtesy of Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner, reprising his role from the original), a friend of our old hero and Sam's father, Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges). We also learn that Sam's father mysteriously disappeared many years before while researching the technology that transported him to The Grid in the first film.

So far, so cliché, right? Father abandonment issues and a protagonist who eschews his responsibilities - quite Spielbergian, but there is still an edge to this scene that defies its Disney roots and, thankfully, all of this is established with only the minimum amount of dialogue in order to get straight to the juicy stuff: Alan has received a signal on his pager (cue snigger at the obsolete technology) coming from the office at Sam's dad's old arcade, Flynns. Alan then presses a set of keys into Sam's hands, as well as the importance that he go check it out. "Alan, you're acting like I'm going to find him sitting at work, just, 'Hey, kiddo, lost track of time.'" Sam says exasperated. "Wouldn't that be something" Alan replies with a wry smile. Oh, it is so on. On like Tron.

[gallery]Cut to the next scene in our presentation: Sam arrives at Flynns arcade, switches on the power and, for a brief moment, allows time for a magical wave of nostalgia as arcade game music clashes against the sway of an unashamedly 80s pop ballad - synthesisers are locked and loaded as we not only catch our first glimpse of the alternate world, via an arcade machine called Tron featuring 8-bit lightcycles, but we are taken back to the very era that the first film was set - Sam may as well be in the 1982 original and the meticulously recreated arcade would vouch for him too.

But wait, what's that behind the Tron machine? A trap door leading to Flynn's secret office? Of course. And as Sam sits at the desk, meddling with the outmoded computer, he foolishly switches on the laser that is pointed directly at his chair and then...the scene gets cut short in our preview screening much to the frustrated sighs of everyone present (but I will put money on the end of that scene showing Sam getting digitised mid-fall much like his father before him in the first film).

So to the stunning 3D visuals of The Grid, as Sam quickly finds himself confused, captured and aboard a Recogniser (a floating Pi-shaped transporter seen frequently in the first film but this time animated into life with detailed moving parts). Sam is then assigned a role in 'Games', which doesn't bode well for him because the poor sap that was previously given that category kills himself by running and jumping off a platform only to get hit by a fan on the way down and is instantly 'derezzed' (which, in this sequel, means exploding into an eruption of particle cubes).

If I got a Tron-bone for any of the previous upgraded sights and sounds of The Grid, that was nothing compared to the geektastic sight of Sam getting his Light Fandango jumpsuit and disc - especially as it involved four sexy female computer sprites tending to him in a bid to make this undressing/preparation scene as erotic as a Disney film set within computer hardware can be.

There's not time to linger though as Sam then finds himself involved in a game of Discs, which, if you'll remember from the first film, is a cross between squash and the old arcade classic Breakout, only this time it is played on a much larger scale, on floating platforms above a stadium filled with thousands of cheering spectators.

Next up is the classic lightcycle battle, but Sam is in the passenger seat of a two-person lightcar as a mysterious helmeted driver rescues him from his opponents (at one point using grenades that fire out the back of the vehicle) and drives through a tear in the arena wall to an arid no-man's land. The helmet comes off and it is none other than a black-wigged Olivia Wilde as Quorra. In the ensuing dialogue, and in the scenes that follow, Wilde really impresses, banishing thoughts of her cynical character 13 on TV's House to play a loyal but seemingly reckless warrior with a maniacal-but-gleeful giggle. It's a fascinating turn for the actress and, with a film filled with morally righteous indignants and emotionless computerites, she already looks like she could be a major scene-stealer here.

And then our last full clip comes in the meeting between father and son which is actually pretty devastating because, if you aren't touched by the poignancy of this rather beautifully realised reconciliation, the real heartbreak comes in discovering that the heroic, care-free Kevin Flynn of the first film is now a broken old man, living in isolation where he can't be found and is now apparently a little crazy for it. As we catch a glimpse of the unused custom-built lightcycle in the room - apparently the fastest one there is, as if that won't feature later in the film - even Quorra seems sad as she comments "it doesn't get out as much as it used to".

It's a surprising scene to include in this screening for us blogger nerds, but it's the one that, more than any other, changed my expectations for the film. For all of the cool flash-bang-whizz of the effects and fast-paced action, this moment summed up a storyline that goes deep into the very nature of existence in The Grid. As old Kevin Flynn ends the scene by looking out at the discouraging view before him, it is noticeably far different than The Grid of 1982: no longer a void of unfeeling nothingness, this is a desolate cyberscape filled with post-apocalyptic lightning and cruel terrain. This, more than anything else I've seen this year, seemed like a true epic of epic epicness.

Not to end on a downer though, we were then treated to a new trailer-like burst of exciting clips that featured stunning effects-filled action, as well as a brief appearance by Michael Sheen doing a brilliant Bowie impersonation as a nightclub owner and, who looks set to be the main villain of the film, Clu 2.0 aka Young CGI Jeff Bridges, acting more realistically here than in previous trailers but, in all honesty, there wasn't much to go on.

And that's it. Notable by his absence is Alan's alter-ego himself, the titular Tron, but we have to remember that these clips all came from just the first half of the film, and these alone looked enough to be an astonishingly awesome movie. At this stage, to still be keeping key plot points close to their chest, we are no doubt in for some serious surprises when the film eventually hits UK cinemas on 17th December, but from what we saw last night, this looks to be an amazing visual experience, in superb, breath-taking 3D, all centred around an intensely profound plot. Jesus Christ, I can't wait.

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