Tron and The Conspiracy Of Surfaces

This post contains discussion of the plot
and characteristaion of Tron: Legacy.

Consider this to be your Spoiler

I’m prepared to be an apologist for Tron: Legacy. I am, after all, the
perfect example of the film’s target audience. I clearly remember
going to see the film as an impressionable 15-year-old, and going
to an arcade afterwards that ACTUALLY HAD THE TRON GAME. I was a
late convert to the unsetting pleasures of girls. I drooled over
lightcycles instead.

So, for the most part, I had no problem with the reboot (yes, I’m going there). Tron
is perfectly tooled and cheerfully blatant nostalgia bait. The
acting is significantly better than in the original. The cast do a
sterling job of playing the absurdities of the plot and dialogue
absolutely straight. Apart from Michael Sheen’s green-screen
chewing performance as the treacherous Zeus. Ziggy meets David
Frost. Jeff Bridges somehow gets away with being The Dude again,
and Olivia Wilde plays action pixie girl Quorra with the right
level of crush-inducing flair.

The film sports a perfectly serviceable script that hits the right beats at the right
time. The characters are properly motivated and have a bit of
depth. And I like the idea of the villain of the piece being a not
very good copy of the star. CLU is the creepy new textbook
definition of the Uncanny Valley, and I applaud Digital Domain for
not getting it right.

I mean, I’m under no illusions. Tron: Legacy is rubbish. There are some supremely dumb
bits and longeurs. It’s over-long, and over-earnest. But the
original had what Leading Man Clive called “plateaus”. I, being
less charitable, consider Tron to be a film of one half that slows
to a crawl when Flynn and Tron reach the portal. Legacy is pacier,
prettier, and understands the audience. The little nods to the
earlier film and to eighties rivals such as WarGames made me

So why, then, did I walk out of the BFI IMAX with a frown and a headache?

It’s that bloody stereoscopy again.

Tron: Legacy should be the perfect film for 3D. It is a film about transparent
surfaces, of action glimpsed through slabs of glass, of characters
framed through the empty centre of discs. It It provides us with
the illusion of depth.

This is, in essence, my problem with the 3D process. It’s the “deck of cards” effect. There is no real sense of depth and solidity. Instead elements in the frame are
placed in a series of flat planes, much like a toy theatre where
paper cut-outs are slotted in and out of a proscenium arch. This
isn’t such a great idea when all you have to play with is a
close-up, and the nose is on a different plane to the

There are tricks to make this less apparent. Selective
focus becomes vital. Objects that we are supposed to perceive as
being further from the viewing plane are carefully defocused in
post. The problem is that this is frequently misjudged, especially
in shots where you are looking through windows, or in the case of
Tron, transparent walls. There are innumerable shots where
characters will walk towards camera and stay in focus throughout.
It’s as jarring as the split-screen effect used to keep two actors
sharp when they’re at opposite ends of a room.

3D claims to be a technique for enhancing storytelling, for involving the viewer more
deeply in the story. All it does is constantly remind you that you
are watching a 3D film. Things are shoved in your face – sort of.
Things rocket overhead – kind of. You have to wear a silly pair of
plastic shades. And then you have to pay extra for the privilege.
Tickets for the IMAX set me back £15, and got me a seat that was so
close to the screen that my eyes were watering after ten minutes.
And I can tell you, it’s disconcerting when odd eye-protein amoebas
start swimming around in the imaging plane and bumping into Jeff
Bridges. I can see a situation where you’re asked to pay extra
extra for the seats in the central sweet spot of the

The sad thing is, that IMAX projection does a much better
job of allowing you to lose yourself in the image. 3D depends on
the proscenium arch effect, pushing elements backwards and forwards
from a flat imaging plane, the screen. An IMAX image is so big that
it extends past your field of vision. You are engulfed in the
picture. You are not being poked at, or peering through a window.
You are inside the picture, and it’s an utterly overwhelming

A reminiscence. There was a fairground attraction when I
was young that involved a 70mm film of a rollercoaster ride
projected onto the inside of a canvas dome. You stood in the dome,
gripping rails that had been driven into the ground. You needed
them. When the film started, the huge image fooled the brain into
thinking that you were on the ride, and you tilted and swayed
accordingly. No specs needed. You were elsewhere, and it was an
amazing ride.

Much in the same way as The Dark Knight moved between
35mm and Imax to pull the audience into the action sequences, it
would be interesting to see what would happen if, rather than 2/3D
to show the differences between our world and The Grid, Kosinsky
had chosen to shoot the Grid in IMAX. Imagine that first shot of
the Recogniser coming down through the clouds suddenly filling the
whole height of the cinema.

I think you know where I stand on 3D by now, Readership. I find it distracting, irritating and until my eyes settle it simply doesn’t work for me. I spent the first 45
minutes of Avatar thinking that there was either something wrong
with me, or that some pranker had swapped the lenses of the glasses
over (if you do this, according to Mark Kermode, the 3D is
cancelled out. Might have to try that).

I’ve given it a try, and I can now state as a New Year Resolution that I will never
see a film in 3D again. It’s a fake, a parlour trick, a conspiracy
of surfaces that makes a poor shadow play out of the most immersive
form of entertainment there is. 3D adds nothing to a film, and in
my opinion distracts from its pleasures. I was quite prepared for
Tron: Legacy to be a bit of silly fun. I walked out of the cinema
feeling both frustrated and disappointed, for reasons that had
nothing to do with the film.









Also, I look ridiculous in the glasses.


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Writer. Film-maker. Cartoonist. Cook. Lover.

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