REVIEW: TRON LEGACY RINZLER and CLU'S SENTRY
Almost thirty years ago, Disney came out with an amazing film called TRON. To call this motion picture "cutting edge" for the time period would be understatement. It postulated a computerized world, inhabited by sentient, humanoid programs. The movie used what was then state of the art computer animation to make the world in which the actors perform appear that much more computerized. Light cycles, fantastic computer generated ships, the whole works.
In the early 1980's, it was jaw-droppingly, mind-blowingly brand new. Nothing like it had ever been seen or even attempted before in cinematic history. Today -- however cool the premise of a computer world might be, however cool the story is, let's be honest, the kindest word that can be used for the special effects would probably be "quaint", or maybe "retro".
The original Tron involved the story of a young computer expert and hacker by the name of Kevin Flynn, played by Jeff Bridges. Recently fired by a large computer corporation called Encom, he was running a video arcade, and trying to hack his way back into the system to prove that the creep who had taken credit for his video games -- and gotten promoted way up the corporate ladder as a result -- a fellow by the name of Ed Dillinger, played by David Warner, had in fact stolen the programs.
Along for the ride were a couple of former colleagues of Flynn's. One of them was an assistant on a project that could "digitize", or computerize, actual objects, turning them into computer programs. It had, to date, been tested on an orange. The other had written a security program, called "Tron", to monitor Encom's Master Control Program, much to the nervousness of Dillinger, and for that matter, the MCP.
Suspecting something was up, and in a sideways way wanting to help Flynn, the two assisted Flynn in getting direct access to Encom's computers, including the MCP, who unbeknown to any of them had become self-aware, and was manipulating Dillinger in the real world to basically help him take over the world -- electronically.
Once the MCP realized that Flynn was hacking into his system, he used the digitizing machine to drag Flynn into the computer world, with the intent of killing him there. Flynn was what was considered a "user", perceived as near-deities by the programs. The MCP had taken over much of the computer world, with the electronic counterpart of Dillinger, named Sark. But the program named Tron proved to be a considerable nuisance, as did Flynn. Flynn escaped from the game grid, and with help from Tron and others, was ultimately able to defeat the MCP, and return to the real world, where he was appointed the head of Encom. Happy endings all around, and an amazing, like-nothing-ever-seen-before adventure in the midst of it all.
The movie was popular, but no sequel was ever put forth. And yet, Tron lived on in the minds of pop-culture fans. The original toy line, which had consisted of four translucent plastic action figures (I have the originals) and a light cycle or two were remade. There was a short-lived comic book. There was a video game, Tron 2.0, which had an action figure line of its own. But there was never a sequel movie.
And, of course, the computer animation world only continued to progress. Toy Story. Transformers Beast Wars. Shrek. The Star Wars Prequels. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Heck, The Patriot, a movie set during America's Revolutionary War, where if you'd said the word "cyberspace" to someone they wouldn't've had the slightest idea what you were talking about, used computer animation to render the massive armies of both sides of the conflict! Tron seemed to have set the stage, given an inkling as to what was possible, and then stepped aside, and let those possibilities take over from there.
Then, at the San Diego Comic-Con a couple of years ago, a teaser was shown. Barely a trailer. Just a little something to gauge reaction. I wasn't there, but seemingly without warning, amidst all of the other previews and trailers, here came something -- unexpected. A stark, dark, artificially lit world. A strangely dressed person. And -- holy cow, was that a LIGHT CYCLE!? Is that Jeff Bridges!? The teaser ended with the TRON logo, with the "O" replaced by a stylized number "2".
Which leads us into TRON LEGACY, the official sequel to TRON, nearly thirty years later, a movie with a storyline that, ultimately, actually needed that much time to pass in order for it to happen.
Personally, when I first learned of this sequel, regardless of the storyline, my initial thought was that I suspected that the greatest challenge faced in making this new movie was: How do you create a computer world that LOOKS like a computer world, and is at least somewhat reminiscent of the original Tron, and still make it at least reasonably plausible within the concept OF a computer world of sentient programs, given how much time has elapsed and how advanced computer animation has become in the time since the original movie? I honestly questioned if it was even possible.
Well, it was. I started seeing more and more trailers and commercials on television, and I realized that Disney had been as faithful as possible to the original, while indeed taking advantage of modern CGI capabilities. The result was not only successful, but staggeringly cool in the process.
The storyline is basically as follows: In 1989, Kevin Flynn, the CEO of Encom, tells his eight-year-old son about a "digital frontier" he has created called The Grid, a virtual domain existing inside the game system. Kevin tells Sam of the two programs helping him, Tron and Clu. Tron keeps The Grid secure, while Clu is tasked with creating the perfect system. Flynn spends time in the digital world when he can, but also must deal with his life in the real world -- until one day, he disappears, and speculation abounds as to where he has gone.
Twenty years later, Sam is haunted by his father's mysterious disappearance, and investigates a page that originated from a supposedly disconnected number at Flynn's long-shuttered arcade. Exploring the arcade, Sam discovers a concealed door leading to a computer laboratory in the basement. Attempting to discover what his father was doing by calling up the command logs and reissuing the last command entered, Sam activates a digitizing laser which transports him to The Grid.
Sam is captured and taken to the game arena where he receives combat armor and an identity disc. When Sam attempts to escape he is pitted against Rinzler, a master of the games, who discovers that Sam is not a program, but a user. Sam is taken to Clu, who Sam initially believes is his father. Clu brings Sam into a Light Cycle match with several other programs, and Sam is nearly killed before Quorra, another program, rescues him, taking him to a distant hideout in the Off-Grid Outlands. There, he is reunited with his father Kevin.
It is revealed that during The Grid's development, the so-called "isomorphic algorithms" (ISOs) manifested out with the potential to unlock mysteries in almost every field of science, medicine, and even religion. Clu saw the ISO's as imperfect beings and, taking his programming to an extreme, betrayed both Kevin and Tron and seized control over The Grid. He then systematically eliminated all ISOs. Clu also has designs on conquering the real world, but the portal takes massive amounts of energy to sustain, and cannot be open indefinitely. Sam's arrival in the Grid has opened it -- for a brief time.
Quorra reveals that Kevin can "re-integrate" with Clu at any time, but that the process would destroy them both. Revealing much more than that would ruin significant plots of the storyline, so I don't intend to do that.
For me, one of the more remarkable parts of the movie, visually, aside from the stunning computer world, was Jeff Bridges portrayal of himself, now thirty years older than he was in the first movie, and playing Clu, who hasn't aged a day. There's something that computer animation certainly wasn't capable of in the 1980's.
TRON: LEGACY is an amazing movie, with absolutely astounding, mind-blowing, incredible designs and visuals, bringing the electronic world to life in a way that would've been unimaginable thirty years ago, and I hope it fares as well overall at the box office and assorted merchandising as it deserves to.
Speaking of merchandising, there's a substantial toy line, certainly more than just four action figures and a couple of light cycles. There are figures in several different sizes (the larger ones with the moving faces border on the creepy), and a very decent line of smaller action figures, and other assorted items.
Interestingly, the license for the Tron: Legacy toys went to a company called Spin Master. I'll readily admit, this isn't a company that I know much about. That's not a name that you think of right off the bat when you think of action figures. Mattel, Hasbro, yes. Bandai, McFarlane, even Playmates, sure. Spin Master!?
But, what's in a name, as long as the toys are cool. And they certainly are that. Among the 4" scale action figures, there's no shortage of apparent bad guys. And I say "apparent" for a reason that will become clear as we proceed with this review. Two of these are an individual by the name of RINZLER, and an "army-builder" that is referred to as CLU'S SENTRY. Let's start with him.
In the original Tron movie, the MCP had an army of soldiers, that were these big, hulking, faceless lugs, quite different from the average program. In the new movie, Clu employs basically two types of soldiers, the Sentries, and the Black Guard. There's also a Black Guard figure available, but I have (yet) to purchase one, and based on what I see in the stores, he seems to be somewhat less popular than the Sentry, I think due in large part to the fact that in the movie, the Black Guards have optional wings, something the 4" scale figure is not equipped with. A larger scale Black Guard is.
The Sentries are described on the figure package as "Clu's general infantry and military police. They maintain the public order and carry out the law and will of Clu." That's a fair statement. Think of them as the Tron equivalent of Star Wars Imperial Stormtroopers. They're the military, but they also do civilian-type police work.
And there's plenty of them. The implication in the movie is that Clu builds his army by reprogramming civilian programs into these cipher-like soldiers, who unwaveringly obey his every command. On more than one occasion in the movie, we see "civilian" programs being taken off the streets, loaded into Recognizer vehicles, and carted off for evaluation and reprogramming. Clu's intention, of course, is to use the portal to the real world to stage a massive invasion, and as we see in the movie, he's got the "manpower" to do it. Nothing like computer animation to give you an army vastly larger than the Screen Actors Extras Guild could ever hope to provide. Easily the biggest assembly of identical soldiers since the closing scenes of Star Wars Episode II when the Clone Army was first gathered for deployment.
The figure has a really cool design. The Sentry is wearing a headpiece with a large, opaque, glossy-black faceplate that leaves the mouth and lower jaw exposed. The uniform is a black bodysuit, with a sort of short tunic wrapped around the waist, and fairly thick boots relative to some other Tron characters.
Orange grid lines are painted across the figure on the helmet, arms, and legs. This is in keeping with the Tron designs even from the first movie, although interestingly enough, the grid lines on the modern characters are actually less ornate than the originals. Frankly, I'm not sure that the more ornate lines of the originals would have looked that good in this movie. Although the computer world is certainly a more complex place than it used to be, the world of Tron is also a more realistic-looking place, so perhaps the need to have extensive visible circuitry has passed. In any case, it's an impressive look.
Orange is the color used for Clu's associates and soldiers. Clu himself, and alone, has yellow. The run of the mill program-in-the-street has a bluish-white color.
The line pattern on Clu's Sentry is fairly straightforward, but impressive enough. There are small orange trapezoids on his helmet, small squares on his back, and various line designs down his arms, and on his boots. Interestingly, his upper legs do not have any patterning on them.
Since in the movie, these lines seem to have a glow to them,. Spin Master has very creatively designed these figures to light up. It's an impressive achievement for such small figures in my opinion, and consider the fact that the original Tron figures didn't have this capability. They did have glow-in-the-dark identity discs, however.
Interestingly enough, the identity disc is the activation button for the new light-up feature, on the figure's back. Clu's Sentry lights up with an impressive bright orange, showing trapezoids at the top of his torso, and tapered lines running to his waist. The light stays on for about seven seconds and then turns off automatically. The battery is replaceable.
Clu's Sentry comes with a display base, a separate identity disc, and a light staff. The identity disc does not attach to the back of the figure, and if you're not going to have the figure hold it in his hand on display, then I recommend placing it in a Ziploc bag for safekeeping. It's only slightly larger than the average Froot Loop.
Articulation of the figure is excellent. Clu's Sentry is poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, and ankles. I do want to offer the following cautionary note -- the heads on these figures, I think because they're painted before assembly and not given adequate time to dry, have a tendency to stick. And the upper torso, being made from transparent plastic to allow the light-up function to work, is a little more fragile than average. If any of your Tron figures have stuck heads, loosen them VERY carefully. I didn't have too much trouble with Rinzler and the Sentry, but the head snapped clean off my Clu figure, and based on checking other Clu figures in the store (it's possible to manipulate the head through the "Try Me" aperture for the light-up feature), more Clu heads are stuck than not.
Paint detailing on Clu's Sentry is nicely done, and painting any color on black plastic is not easy. Some of the orange lines are brighter than others, and there's a couple of spots where the paint might have been a little excessive, but it's to Spin Master's credit that it looks as good as it does given the colors they had to work with. The fleshtone area on the head is also nicely done.
Any complaints? Just one. One leg of the Sentry seems to be slightly shorter than the other. At least on the one I bought. It makes it a little hard to get him to stand up straight, let alone at attention. I don't know if this is the case with every Clu's Sentry out there, and I'm still glad to have the figure and I can get him to stand up steadily, but it's a bit annoying.
Now let's consider RINZLER. I'd love to know where they got that name. I'm wondering if it's an amalgamation of something, of people affiliated with the first movie, or what.
Anyway, Rinzler, in the movie, is Clu's top warrior, both in the games, and in the field when necessary. He is a nearly unbeatable opponent in one-on-one duels with identity discs, and in fact is proficient at using TWO discs. The first time we see him do this, it's a shock akin to when Darth Maul pulled out that double-bladed lightsaber. You just don't expect it. Rinzler has moves that make a Jedi look like a maladroit, and is a lot better at defying gravity. He sort of made me glad I didn't see this movie in 3D.
But who IS Rinzler? He wears a helmet that completely covers his face, and yet a warrior of this capability just doesn't come out of nowhere. He is frequently seen in the company of Clu, and when Clu is in pursuit of the Flynns and Quorra, Rinzler is by his side making life difficult for them. Until -- and at this point I'm going to blow a major plot point, so -- SPOILER WARNING -- If you haven't seen Tron Legacy yet, and you don't want to know, then just jump right down to the paragraph that starts, "So, how's the figure?" and just ignore what I'm about to say...
During a battle towards the end of the movie, Kevin Flynn recognizes the combat techniques -- especially the ability to use two identity discs, as being those of an old friend -- Rinzler... is Tron! As if those four square lights on his chest, forming something that resembles the letter "T", the one mark very distinctly carried over from the first movie, wasn't a total giveaway.
According to the storyline, Kevin Flynn hung around with both Tron and Clu when they were rebuilding the computer world. But when Clu betrayed Flynn, he also betrayed Tron, staging a sneak attack on both of them. Tron gave Flynn a chance to escape, fending off Clu's newly-minted Sentries with his first use of multiple discs. Tron was nevertheless defeated, and Flynn assumed that Tron had been killed, or "de-rezzed". Instead, Clu reprogrammed him as Rinzler, loyal to him.
But towards the end of the movie, Flynn calls out to his old friend, who is able to overcome his programming, and turns against Clu, declaring a line from the original movie, "I fight for the Users!" Sadly, Tron is shot down, and falls into a lake. We do not see him de-rezz, but we do see the coloration of his markings shift from orange back to their original, good-guy white. Tron's fate remains unknown, but then, so does that of the computer world itself once Sam Flynn and Quorra escape. I have to say that if there was one slightly unsatisfying part of the movie, it was that. We don't really know what happened in the computer world after Clu was defeated.
So, how's the figure (okay, those of you who heeded the Spoiler Warning can start reading again)? Very nicely done. There's not a lot to the headsculpt, since Rinzler's helmet covers his entire head, but it makes him look appropriately mysterious and sinister. As with Clu's Sentry, if it feels stuck, loosen it gently.
Rinzler has a distinctive uniform design, but it still starts out with a black bodysuit. Rinzler, unlike most of the programs on the Grid, doesn't really have a lot of distinctive lines and such on him, as he has circular areas and other markings. This makes Rinzler look somewhat darker than the other characters, and maybe even a little more dangerous.
Rinzler has no markings on his arms or upper legs, and just a few on his boots. There are none on the angled helmet, although to Spin Master's credit, they painted the visor a more glossy black than the rest of the helmet. Nice touch, really. Rinzler has a few circles and short lines on his torso, but little else.
The light-up feature is present and accounted for, and once again I would like to commend Spin Master for managing to stuff an LED light-up display and its battery into such a relatively small figure without having to make the figure look needlessly hefty or anything. There's not a lot of space to work with in there. (Heck, there's even a Quorra figure out there that lights up!)
As with the rest of Rinzler's limited markings, the light-up feature makes a few square markings on Rinzler's upper torso glow, and a pair of circles further down. The light stays on for a number of seconds, and then turns off.
Rinzler comes with TWO identity discs, as one might expect, and I recommend the same display-or-storage procedure for them, as well as a display base and a "battle baton". The baton actually takes two forms. There are two small pieces which can be attached to the sides of the figure's legs, and then there's an "operative" version which is the two halves of the baton, connected by an "energy beam" of some sort.
Of course, Rinzler has excellent articulation, the same as Clu's Sentry -- and he stands up straight, too.
So, what's my final word here? TRON LEGACY is the most incredible movie I've seen in years. Sad to say, I think I -- and many of us -- have gotten rather jaded when it comes to computer-generated effects. We've seen it in so many movies, TV shows, and even commercials, that it just doesn't impress anymore. It seems capable of anything, and in its effort to blend in with reality in many instances, it just isn't as amazing to us as it once was.
TRON LEGACY is a shot in the arm, a wake-up call, a bucket of cold water in the face, call it what you will, that the world of computer animation can still produce the incredible and the astounding, and show us a world unlike anything we've ever seen before, and it's an amazing one at that.
Spin Master has done a very capable job with the action figures. They're nicely made, well-articulated, and well painted, especially in light of a color scheme that is not easy to work with paintwise. Anyone who's seen the Tron Legacy movie -- and if you haven't, shame on you -- will enjoy these figures, and others from the line.
The TRON LEGACY 4" scale figures of RINZLER and CLU'S SENTRY definitely have my highest recommendation, right along with TRON LEGACY itself!