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‘Tron’: 3-D effects, 1-D everything else

The title "Tron: Legacy" makes you wonder what legacy Disney is talking about.

The title "Tron: Legacy" makes you wonder what legacy Disney is talking about.

"Tron" opened in 1982 to dismal reviews, and closed unloved by sci-fi audiences, who much preferred "E.T." and "The Wrath of Khan."

Lousy box-office isn't always destiny, of course. "Blade Runner" made less money in 1982 than "Tron," and is now regarded as a work of great vision, a sci-fi classic that produced a wave of imitations and homage.

But "Tron"? I was there, back in the '80s, and the only people I knew who were high on it were . . . high. On "it." And the only movie that "Tron" inspired was "Johnny Mnemonic."

Disney, however, is betting that "Tron" was simply ahead of its time, and this is no doubt true - modern audiences will be instantly hip to its gamers' fantasy of a digital realm, a fiber-optic Thunderdome (or Matrix) where avatars representing programs and users compete and struggle for survival.

So, its producers invested $100 million or so in a 3-D Tron 2.0, resurrecting "Tron" star Jeff Bridges as software engineer Kevin Flynn, who finds a portal to the digital world and tries to build a virtual paradise out of code.

In this gaudy sequel, Flynn checks in, but can't check out, and is followed decades later by the son (Garret Hedlund) he abandoned. They unite to combat a digital-world fascist who is the elder Flynn's programmed alter-ego (an animated '80s-era Bridges), and who's taken the idea of digital perfection to genocidal extremes.

The geek set will be transfixed by the look of the film, which is a noir-ish, sober "Speed Racer" - nocturnal battles involving light cycles, light frisbees, etc. It's good-quality 3D, and again shows the visual advantages of movies that are conceived and shot in 3D.

The characters, alas, have fewer dimensions, as written. Hedlund is given one note to play, and his sort-of love interest, Olivia Wilde, has little to do but wear Carrie Anne Moss' leather "Matrix" britches (well, I might add). Bridges finds some much-needed humor in Kevin Flynn, sporting a Ghandi tunic and fleshing him out as a disillusioned hippie guru whose utopia has ceased to be "cool" and "rad."

The movie is at its best when it settles for goofy fun - Michael Sheen gets laughs as a night-club impressario and fixer, a sequence that captures the back-to-the future disco/neon/synthesizer mood (the score is quite good) of the piece.

When the movie tries to wear a straight face, the humor is unintentional, i.e., when Flynn Sr. says "Tron, what have you become?" The movie's theme - a pursuit of a souless digital perfection that trumps/tramples humanity - is exactly what's been wrong with movies since the advent of Industrial Light and Magic, and often what's wrong with "Tron: Legacy."

But nothing is funnier, to the cynic, than Flynn's groovy soliloquy about the beauty of a free-information society.

Verily, information may one day be Wiki-free for all. But movies about free information will cost you dearly, and you will be placed in irons if you try to photograph "Tron: Legacy" and distribute it via a file-sharing service. And everyone will be assessed a premium for watching it in 3D.

Maybe that explains the title.

The new "Tron" may be only marginally better than the original, but it will cost you an arm and a legacy.