'The Grid. A digital frontier. I tried to picture clusters of information as they travelled through the computer. Ships, motorcycles. With the circuits like freeways. I kept dreaming of a world I thought I'd never see. And then, one day...I got in.'
-Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges)
For me this year in terms of sheer cinematic spectacle nothing has come close to the neon contours of the digital simulacra known as the grid in Disney’s Tron: Legacy. Whilst the plotting, performances and script are altogether outlandish and perhaps deliberately ridiculous, this is a film concerned entirely with conveying what is an extraordinarily multi layered and palpable sensory cinematic spectacle. I think the first thing that has to be said is that this film should be viewed in the appropriate context. I saw Tron Legacy in IMAX 3D and whilst I have never been entirely convinced of 3D technology it seems to have found its most complete expression so far in the universe of computer hacker and WEB 2.0 controller Kevin Flynn. Interestingly, the user as hacker has emerged as a popular thematic this year – both The Social Network and Kick Ass represent the computer nerd liberating their intellectual ideals via the democratisation offered to them by the Internet. In Tron: Legacy, the conflict between the users and programs references the collision between democracy and corporate power currently being played out in reality with the now iconic figure of Julian Assange.
In the opening sequence, Kevin Flynn’s rebellious son Sam breaks into the headquarters of his father’s estranged IT corporation Encom so he hack the servers and liberate a software application that the company intends to sell to the public. The notion that some software should be free to the point of access underlines a pertinent debate in which programs created by users should remain part of the public domain and fulfil the ideological belief that the digital world is self regulated by an open source philosophy. The hacker/user represented in Cyberpunk films including The Matrix, Johnny Mnemonic and Minority Report is depicted as a pure and even revolutionary figure fighting to save the system/digital world from becoming part of the corporate world. In many ways, Tron: Legacy repeats such a motif of the user/hacker as a new age symbol reconstructing identity in the realms of post modernity – dissent is treated as endlessly pleasurable and dangerously chic.
In terms of the science fiction genre, the critical dystopia witnessed in the digital world of the grid as manufactured by the creative imagination of its creator Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) is exemplified in the figure of Clu, a clone created by Flynn in a failed attempt to create utopia. Much of this draws on familiar dystopian imagery and narratives from classic science fiction and cyberpunk literature including Rollerball –the concept of gladiatorial digital games not only taps into video game culture but illustrates the idea that user generated content can be altered to suit the demands of those participating online. Jeff Bridges reprising his original role of Kevin Flynn was crucial to the concept of Tron and his performance shows him having great fun with ‘The Dude’ persona. With a pulsating and impressive score by Daft Punk, Tron: Legacy is a wonderful post modern spectacle that may turn out to be somewhat unmemorable in the long run but the audience pleasures it offers may actually rest in Gunning’s observation of early cinema as the ‘cinema of attractions’.