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Tron: Legacy

Jovana J. Grbić, C&EN Contributing Editor

poster It has been 28 years since the release of the groundbreaking science-fiction adventure "Tron," the story of Kevin Flynn (Bridges), a video-game programmer who gets sucked into the virtual grid of the very game he created, only to disappear forever. Flash-forward to a 27-year-old Sam Flynn (Hedlund): reckless, bored, apathetic, but a regular chip off the old techie block—a geeky rebel without a cause.

Encom, the developer of the Tron video game, has now become a software hegemony—think Atari meets Apple—and has strayed far from Kevin's principle that software should be open to all. After sabotaging the company's grand operating software launch, Sam is visited by his father's old partner, Alan Bradley (Boxleitner), who has never given up on Kevin.

Alan tells Sam that he's received a mysterious page from Kevin and begs him to go to the old arcade that he frequented as a kid. There, Sam discovers his dad's secret underground office and the portal that transports him to the digital grid of Tron, far different now from the utopia his father envisioned.

Sam is first grouped with other deficient "programs" for inspection, outfitted with a sleek gamer's costume and disc (half memory-storage device, half weapon), and thrust into a world of brutal gladiator games where the only goal is survival and the rules change with each treacherous level. His father's avatar, known as Clu, is no longer the brave warrior and digital replica of Kevin. He is a brutal overlord who committed virtual genocide, hacked the program, and has ultimate plans to teleport to Earth to be with humankind.

Sam is rescued from the grid by Quorra (Wilde), an advanced program not initially designed to go off the grid, as well as a self-evolved isometric being or "iso," which is an entirely new life form—the last surviving one. When reunited with Sam, Kevin recounts getting trapped in the grid after a violent overthrow by Clu and his partner, Tron. In addition to bringing about genocide against the isos, closing the portal to the outside world, they stole Kevin's original disc for their nefarious purposes. With the help of Quorra and Sam, Kevin has only eight hours to overthrow Clu's digital army before the portal closes again ... forever.

"Tron: Legacy" largely has the feel of a two-hour interactive video game, aided both by the color-coded costumes and a catchy, techno-pop soundtrack by Daft Punk. Sci-fi fans, geeks, and gamers will be able to feast on astounding visual mastery, life-size video games played out before their eyes, and science-fiction/fantasy existentialism staple questions such as Who are we? What is humanity? What are the limits of technology and what we create?.

With self-aware robots being developed, digital teleportation a looming advancement, and Internet growth set to double every five years, the concepts explored in the movie are a thoughtful commentary on our own age of digital reliance and scientific future. Without upstaging the original, "Tron: Legacy" manages a sleek, stylish, fun sequel utterly germane to the times we live in.

Jovana J. Grbić, Ph.D., is the creative director of ScriptPhD.com, which covers science in entertainment and media, and tweets as @ScriptPhD.