My wife and I recently made our first visit to the local dollar theater to see Tron: Legacy. I went in with middling expectations, knowing well that the film was no critical darling, but that many people had enjoyed it as an effects-centric guilty pleasure. At a dollar per ticket, I wasn’t paying a premium for the experience, so the film’s enjoyment level had ample wiggle room.
And, much to the chagrin of my more discerning wife, I was wholly and willingly enchanted by the world of the Grid.
Months ago we rented the original Tron from Blockbuster. I’d seen the 1982 flick years before, but was reminded how thin was the story and how primitive were the dominant effects, as groundbreaking as they were at the time of the film’s creation. I’m not sure why (certainly not because of the old Tron‘s quality), but part of me really wanted to see this glossy new sequel, and I wanted to have done my homework.
The other bit of preparation I did was listening to Legacy‘s highly praised score by Daft Punk (always for free on Grooveshark—are you noticing a pattern of cheapness here?). My first listen was just a curious peek to see what all these geeks were raving about. Hmm, I thought. A fun blend of (simple) Media Ventures ostinati and retro ’80s electronics. Fun, I thought, but nothing great. But then I kept coming back to this score, magnetically drawn to its thumping bass lines, its palatial sonic environment, its infectious melodies. It was fun, yes, but oh so much fun. For all its simplicity, it was transcendentally absorbing and deeply satisfying. It’s the kind of music that bids me hoist the volume and close my eyes, as if in a trance, beckoning me to put all else out of my mind.
Thus was the stage set when we sat down in the slightly odious and barely sloping seats at the maxi saver theater. From the opening refrains against the technologized Disney logo, I was immersed. The jocularly reverential nods to the 1980s were delightful (I loved hearing Journey blaring out of the jukebox at Flynn’s cobwebbed arcade), and the tone at the story’s outset was a perfect balance of Odyssean epic and whimsical adventure movie.
When the protagonist entered the world of the Grid, the perfect execution of an escape into a dream was complete. Brightly glowing space suits against an ink black sky, tetris-like transport ships, gladiatorial disc-flinging battles, throttling light cycle chases, and a petaled airship sailing on a shaft of light over a digital sea—all against the intoxicating, propulsive soundscape of Daft Punk and Orchestra.
It would take a single paragraph to plumb the depths of the plot, although I was pleasantly surprised to find as much story and sympathetic characters as were there. But in this kind of film, the plot is simply a peg upon which to hang an ornately painted portrait. The portrait is more of an impression, a still—someone’s intricately detailed dream world. The music is yet another layer of paint on this stunning landscape (or should I say circuitscape?), and often the layer in the foreground.
The reason Tron: Legacy thrilled me and remains embedded in my mind is because it was an immaculately conceived experience of the way I daydream. It whisked me back to those long car trips in my youth, when I would stare out the window at the stream of trees and power lines surging by while listening to a film score through headphones. The wordless music would inspire a plotless dream world that superimposed itself against the physical world I was looking at. The synergy of music and fantastic images was something hypnotic, and completely transporting.
Tron: Legacy took me back into that world, and did so with incredible finesse. If only in that very special sense, it was truly a work of art.