There's a good reason why Disney pulled 1982's TRON out of circulation in advance of its tardy sequel, TRON: Legacy. Anyone watching that wildly outmoded movie for the first time wouldn't show up for seconds.
Find a copy if you can — mine was a VHS borrowed from a library — to appreciate how far computer generated special effects have come in 28 years. And to realize that wrapping a compelling plot around all those pretty pictures is still an afterthought.
The original TRON is a day-glo Etch-a-Sketch compared to the complex vibrancy of motion on display in TRON: Legacy. There's enough eye candy in this movie to put cybernerds into diabetic shock. Plus enough twaddle about genetic algorithms and quantitative whatchamacallits to make them believe the Grid as Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) envisioned is true, somewhere out there.
If there really were people depressed about not being able to visit Avatar's planet Pandora as reported, they should now qualify for suicide watches.
TRON: Legacy wisely catches up anyone who missed the original, with a prologue showing Flynn (with an impressive CGI age rollback for Bridges) leaving his young son Sam and never returning. A decade later, Sam (Garrett Hedlund) is majority stockholder in Encom, the corporation spawned when Flynn wasn't around to keep bean counters from taking over.
Sam doesn't want anything to do with the business. He prefers making an annual hacking raid into the security system, vaguely amusing his father's partner Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner) who also doesn't like the new regime. Alan tells Sam he received a beeper message from Flynn at his video game arcade. Sam investigates and winds up tapping into Dad's laser molecular transfer system, sending him into the Grid.
It's a much more dangerous netherworld now, with Flynn's cyber-doppleganger CLU (Codified Likeness Utility in TRON-speak) raising a Third Reich-style army, after a Holocaust-level genocide of unwanted programs designed to look like humans. In a possibly unintentional swipe at gamers who'll drool over this movie, the Grid funnels all that magnificent technology into playing games like electro-Frisbee and vehicular chicken with light cycles.
When director Joseph Kosinski flips the switch on action, TRON: Legacy is entertaining enough. Especially in 3D IMAX, with a mega-audio system booming Deft Punk's droning Xbox-ready musical score, nearly drowning out the collisions. Programs losing those Frisbee and light cycle battles shatter into pixels, which is a neat idea. Anything in TRON: Legacy looking like a video game prototype is just fine.
But the long passages of cyber Zen exposition, with Bridges appearing as the aged Flynn and sounding like Jeffrey Lebowski, gradually sounds like something made up to explain what's coming next. Hedlund adds athletic beefcake, while the sexy program Quorra (Olivia Wilde) will be every nerd's imaginary girlfriend before the weekend is over.
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at tampabay.com/blogs/movies.