Dear TRON: Legacy,
There’s a lot to be said for a movie that can take the axiom of “style over substance” and somehow turn it from a pejorative into a shield. The trick, I think, is to come to terms early and often with that fact that you will never be a deep, thought provoking study of the human condition. Once you’ve taken the time to realize, then, that any attempts at insightful character development are going to be made in vain, you can focus instead on the aspects of your being that will lend you strength, rather than those which will only ever detract from you.
I suppose this is my sly little way of working up to telling you that while your action scenes were a tremendous amount of fun, and your production values and art direction were top notch, you should have tried to ax some of the story points and dialogue that tend to drag your otherwise energetic frame through the mud.
Now, far be it from me to advocate for the dumbing down of a film. That is not at all what I am suggesting you should do in order to improve yourself. Rather, I think that you should have taken a look at your pace and tone, and adjusted either one or both aspects of your story in order to facilitate the flow of the narrative. Your character beats are predictable, and your more original story points are almost impenetrably obscure. You could have taken the time to trim back the character-based moments in order to allow better explanation and understanding of the more Grid-centric plot.
You do an absolutely competent job of establishing your story and tone early on in scenes between a young Sam and his father. There is a lowering sky, ominous yet oddly propulsive techno music, and meaningful glances and weighted dialogue. This tone is only expounded upon in a pretty great set piece that involves an older Sam breaking into his company’s mainframe to steal some data and then base-jump off of the top of the building. From there, you truly hit your stride when Sam is transported into the computer-world of The Grid and is forced into a neon-piped gladiatorial death match against other ‘programs.’
All of this takes place with a great economy of storytelling, but it comes to a screeching halt when Sam is rescued by his father’s protege and brought to see his old man. At this point, you go into a holding pattern while things are explained in open exposition both to Sam and the audience. All of this leads to the inevitable point when Sam must venture forth and try to find a way home, at which point you fall into a pattern of highs and lows that would be familiar to anyone with an amphetamine habit. Your frantic action set pieces cannot sustain themselves during your entire runtime, while you never refine your story enough to allow the reprieves from the action to feel like anything other than a chance for characters to make more half-formed statements regarding motive and history.
Characters move forward in their understanding of events not by the machinations of the plot, but by their actual physical space in the world. They are shuttled from one set piece to the other, which just happen to hold people who are willing to explain the story. Rather than letting action and story moving forward hand in hand to create a flow, you put your action on a rocket-sled that must hit the breaks every half an hour to let the story catch up.
Luckily, you create enough kinetic energy in your action to make up for the lack of a propulsive storytelling engine. This action is aided by a Daft Punk-crafted soundtrack that lends everything an extra level of energy. So it is that your style far outstrips, outshines, and even makes up for your simplistic and cliched substance.
My feelings, in brief, towards story in a movie that so obviously relies on and invests in its action could be summed up thusly; there are only two or three stories that a movie like this will ever really use, and so you can use an economic storytelling method to tell them without detracting from the action. The only choice, then, is to either play it straight or with a healthy dose of irony. It is possible to aim for something higher, but it is obvious that you never had such an ambition – you just never knew how to edit properly.
I still have very little concept of the history or purpose of the Grid, or the meaning behind the God-challenging existence of a computer-based race. I am not sure entirely what I was supposed to learn or what your characters really accomplished at the end of you, but I do know I had a greater-than-expected amount of fun with you, and would not object too strenuously to being with you again.
It was fun, see you around,
Brian J. Roan