I had no idea that I was such an avid Tron fan, until I realised that I had indulged myself in the Tron reboot experience on nearly all fronts available. So I’m in a position now to assess the world of Tron with respect to three works of production, namely, the film, the soundtrack and the game.
Tron: Legacy (2010)
**MILD SPOILER WARNING**
The most obvious place to start is the film, and one that takes advantage of the 3D format(/gimmick?) that is currently favoured by Hollywood’s more bloated movie budgets. I set myself up for the movie by watching the original Tron before watching the new offering. The first thing to say about the film is that it looks absolutely fantastic. The art direction, lighting, set design, costumes and special effects departments all performed their tasks to the best of their craft, and from a visual perspective alone, the film must be a sure contender for the more technical of the Oscar categories. They nailed the style, managing a nod to the original fantastic design work of Syd Mead while still achieving to make a statement using more modern standards of aesthetics. In truth, the movie version of ‘Speed Racer’ was probably a huge reference point, and probably beat Tron to the punch, as far as neon-lit fantasy race tracks were concerned. The big problem with Tron was the script. Mediocre plot line at best. While the first half of the film started to make some exciting promises about the nature of the film, the resolution of the narrative didn’t really deliver on that investment. The final scenes in the film were verging on ridiculous as one of the ‘Grid’ characters somehow emerges into the real world. Science fiction often resorts to improbable events, but the best science fiction ventures are based around a kernel of justification. Ron Cobb, production designer on Ridley Scott’s ‘Alien’, for example, notably designed his space-craft to take into account realities such as fuel tolerances. There is no such reasoning, however behind how a computer program, comprised of voxels is suddenly able to walk, talk and shoot the shit in modern day California, after having popped out of a printed circuit board. The acting performances were quite mixed, with wooden performances by the protagonist, and his beau, alongside the ever dependable and great Jeff Bridges reprising his Flynn role, Michael Sheen pulling an amusing Tron-style Frankenfurter meets Willy Wonka impression, and Bridges also playing synthespian for an extremely dodgy CG clone of himself. Ultimately, it’s a pretty watchable film, that is more visually impressive than it is good. It seems that the relationship between ‘Tron: Legacy’ and ‘Speed Racer’ is akin to the same bond between the poor Judge Dredd movie, and the superior, technical demo that inspired it, ‘Demolition Man’. The strength of ‘Tron: Legacy’ is drawn from it’s concept, but its execution is disappointingly handled.
Tron Evolution (2010)
Tron is clearly ripe subject matter for the world of video gaming, being in concept a game in itself, allbeit a fictional one. The first Tron game came to us party of an old-school Atari coin-op, to tie in with the original movie. The puzzle-like racer dynamic of light-cycle racing was enough to blow the imagination of the early 1980’s gamer. 2003 saw the production of the game, Tron 2.0, which must have been one of the media sources that became proof of concept for the franchise reboot. Now we have the latest generation of Tron gaming with the dual release of Tron Evolution for the PS3 and Xbox 360, as well as Tron Evolution: Battlegrids for the DS and Wii platforms, offering Nintendo gamers their own slice of the Grid. We are introduced to characters from both movies including Tron, and the sinister new Jeff Bridges-alike, CLU.
Tron Evolution sensibly provides a story arc to bridge plot developments between the events of the two movies. Flynn returns to a Grid that he has recompiled, and is faced with the alarming repercussions of the Grid’s spiralling self-awareness and development. The game was developed by the Disney Studio, Propaganda Games. It’s a telling detail that Disney shut down the studio shortly after the game release. The sequences within the game fall into three rough categories. The first being platform-maneuvering, where the game becomes a reskinned Prince of Persia. The player controls a third-person character, a program called Anon, to acrobatically leap from wall to platform around the fantastically neon-dressed grid. The second category involves the various combat sections, in which Anon is required to use a variety of acquired light-discs in combination with his flea-like dexerity to dispatch a torrent of neon-attired goons. Occasionally, the game drops into vehicle sections, where the player controls one of several vehicles in order to get from A to B in linear fashion. Having worked on movie tie-in games myself (The Cat in the Hat, LEGO Indiana Jones etc…) I understand how the pressures of a movie release can play havoc with the normal game development cycle, and clearly the game release was rushed to feed the enthusiasm of the movie-goers’ compulsion to buy merchandise upon emerging from their cinematic experience.
Linear is the word, basically. I felt the vibe of the game was do this, do this, then do this, until I got to a point where doing this made my skin crawl with frustration. The reptitive gameplay could not be salvaged by the awesome soundtrack, or even the chance to run around the wonderful neon environments. The vehicle sections were definitely a highlight, and gave me a sense of escapism. A feeling that reminded me of a childhood memory of playing Turbo Esprit on my ZX Spectrum, whilst pretending I was Michael Knight. The other major problem was the emergence of several bugs. These ranged from the character skeleton spontaneously getting locked into contorted poses that crippled the gameplay, to unwinnable savepoints that required the dumping of checkpoints, and even one weird savepoint that plunged me into total darkness. The character models looked very ropey for next-gen, but it was fairly interesting getting some more background information about the grid from the weird, waxwork fiends featured in the cut-scenes.
In summary, Tron: Evolution is a pretty, but mediocre game that bombed and resulted in an entire development team getting shit-canned. While it certainly was entertaining for a few hours to play around in the grid, the ever beckoning PES disc to the side of my PS3 didn’t really get much chance to cool down before I eagerly loaded it up again…
Daft Punk – TRON: Legacy (2010)
The final part of my Tron review trilogy focuses on the soundtrack album composed and produced by the French techno outfit, Daft Punk. If you are following on from the previous articles, you’ll probably gather that Robonobo has been somewhat underwhelmed with the Tron reboot experience offered by the movie and the game. Daft Punk, the sci-fi themed electro outfit took on the role of Tron score-creator.
The soundtrack offers a mixture of traditional orchestral idioms and signature techno music. Daft Punk do well at this job. While they haven’t been known for working with orchestral material before, they do a great job of combining the two elements together in what could easily have been an uneasy marriage. Brooding brass sections are used to emote impending threat, while soulful cellos detail melancholy. In the mean-time, the thick analog synths accompanied by fat 808 hits keep the movie’s exciting digital heart beating with a clinical euphoria. The techno genre of the music does not pull the album into the early days of the Detroit scene. Indeed, the production-style is very modern and sophisticated sounding. However, the album does give the occasional nod to early electronic music by throwing in a few retro-fitted 8-bit style patches.
After the introductory theme in ‘Overture’, the iconic voice of Jeff Bridges voicing Flynn, frames the gateway to the album. While many of the tracks perform narrative roles which tie them to on-screen events, there are quite a few tracks that have a more independent nature. ‘Derezzed’ is one such track. A piercing and very organic lead line forms the back-bone of this anthemic belter. The analog beat pulses as the beats are sucked inwards with over-compression, framing a track which could surely be extended to a full club-style remix. The descriptively if disappointingly named track, ‘Tron Legacy (End Titles)’ provides a superb crowning piece to the album, incorporating the main theme using a Vangelis-like brass patch, which is fused with orchestral strings as the track progress, while a searing, filter-swept, analog lead line fizzes and races at the front of the mix.
It seems that Daft Punk were genetically engineered to suit the role of creating the new Tron soundtrack. Their understanding of the subtleties of classical music combined with their proven grammy-winning techno ken has resulted in a soundtrack that ranks next to Blade Runner as not just a good sci-fi soundtrack, but also possibly one of the better soundtracks in the bigger field.
Ultimately, the Tron soundtrack stands out as the most impressive production out of the three projects linked to the Tron reboot. While the art direction and look of the whole franchise was well and truly nailed, major flaws in the execution of the narrative projects managed to drag the new Tron material into the realm of mediocrity. But Daft Punk manage to walk away untarred by that brush and can be proud of what they have achieved.