The original Tron was, for its time, a visually groundbreaking film. Embracing the arcade gaming culture of the early ’80s, it was a colourful, highly original visual feast. It was a love letter to the computer generation and it made no apologies for that.
But it hasn’t aged well. Not at all.
The story is still light and fun but it’s getting harder and harder to look past the dated imagery and effects. Now, I know a film shouldn’t judged solely on these things, but Tron leant on them so heavily that it makes it difficult to enjoy if you’re watching it now for the first time.
Tron Legacy, on the other hand, is a film that I feel is better equipped to withstand the test of time. It kept the iconic parts of Tron, like the light cycles and the neon-drenched visuals, but it wasn’t as reliant on computer-generated imagery.
Tron Legacy was released in 2010 and the scenes with a de-aged Jeff Bridges are the only things that are starting to look dated. In fairness, I imagine CGI faces to be an absolute nightmare to get right. The only reason those scenes in Legacy are starting to look dated is because there are newer, better examples of that effect out there.
Take Rogue One for example; Peter Cushing’s face was cleverly CGI’ed into that film, although the camera admires the effect a bit longer than necessary here. It’s an impressive effect, but it doesn’t look quite so impressive under prolonged scrutiny. Quick shots from further away and intelligent use of reflections would have made it more effective.
It’s hard to say which plot is superior between Tron and Legacy because they’re both effective in different ways. Tron sees Flynn (Jeff Bridges) seek recognition for his life’s work only to hit a brick wall in the form of an ambitious, sociopathic artificial intelligence. Legacy sees Flynn’s son, Sam (Garrett Hedlund), seek out his father after disappearing some years before. Legacy‘s plot is perhaps more human and therefore slightly more engaging, but both films offer entertaining stories.
In the end I think this boils down to an argument over CGI. Whether you like it or not, the fact is that it’s invariably cheaper to implement CGI than practical effects and there’s far less danger to the actors and stunt-persons involved. The downside, however, is that as technology continues to improve, CGI shows its age much quicker than practical effects.
I think nostalgia plays a huge part in Tron‘s continued acceptance as a cult classic. Even though I didn’t see it in its entirety until years after its release, meaning that I don’t feel particularly nostalgic towards it, I still can’t deny its importance. It deserves its status as a cult classic because it was groundbreaking for its time. The director, Steven Lisberger, had somehow found a way to transfer his vivid imagination to the big screen and, in doing so, opened up different avenues for future filmmakers to explore.
When I look at both films and compare their differences and similarities, it’s easy for me to declare Legacy as the superior. In terms of plot and performances there isn’t a discernible difference in quality. For me it’s the visuals that set them apart. Legacy‘s less aged look and simplified effects makes it more watchable today than Tron.
This isn’t to say that newer films are better by default because movie making methods continue to improve. Far from it. Nor is this a thinly veiled jab at CGI-heavy movies. From the easy implementation to the safety for all involved, there are many benefits of CGI which means it will always have a presence in films.
I just feel that Tron Legacy‘s decision to not rely as heavily on CGI as the original means that it won’t seem as dated to future audiences…
… But I could be wrong.