REVIEW: TRON LEGACY SAM FLYNN AND CLU FIGURES
Nearly thirty years ago, Disney came out with an amazing fantasy movie called TRON. To call this movie "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 massive computer corporation called Encom, he was running a video arcade, and trying to hack his way back into the system to prove that the dirty weasel 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 whether they liked it or not 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 attempt to help Flynn, the two assisted him in getting direct access to Encom's computers, including the MCP, who unbeknownst 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 considered a "user", and 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 fanatics, just at the periphery, never quite going away. 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".
If Disney wanted a reaction to gauge, they got it. I saw a video taken at the Comic-Con, and the crowd erupted so loudly I'm surprised structural engineers weren't called in afterwards to check the stability of the auditorium.
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.
A brief aside here. Clu was actually in the original Tron movie, but you'd hardly know it. He was a program developed by Bridges' character, and was played by Bridges, and designed to track down the information about the stolen video games that Flynn wanted proof of, that he had created. Clu was captured by the forces of Sark and the MCP, and supposedly "de-rezzed", which is a computer world phrase for deletion -- a rather painful deletion. Flynn was mistaken for Clu by Sark at one point, since programs tend to resemble their "Users". The Clu in the new Tron movie is apparently a different entity, or program, yet also created by Flynn.
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 real 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. The last time I recall anything like this being used was in the third X-Men movie, when Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian McKellen had to have a few years shaved off for the sake of a flashback. But this is more than a FEW years...!
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, Playmates, McFarlane, sure. Spin Master!?
But, what's in a name, as long as the toys are cool. And they certainly looked cool. They weren't inexpensive, however, so I decided to stick with the smaller action figures. This review will take a look at two of the main characters in the movie, the protagonist SAM FLYNN, and the main bad guy -- CLU.
The figures stand slightly under 4-1/4" in height, which seems to be something of an industry standard these days. Star Wars, G.I. Joe, the Corps, Iron Man, Marvel Universe, even McFarlane Toys' NFL PlayMakers line all fall within this scale to varying degrees of compatability.
These figures have an interesting light-up feature. The package says to press the chest and watch the light-up feature. Technically, you're not really pressing the chest. You're pressing the figure against the back of the package card, which presses in the button on the figure's back, which is at the center of the identity disc mounted to the figure's back. It's decent concealment, and there is a certain irony to be found here, given that the original Tron figures did not have a light-up feature, but they did come with -- glow-in-the-dark identity discs. Just can't seem to get away from those as being a source of illumination for these guys one way or another, can we?
In the original Tron movie, the characters in the computer world seemed to be "dressed" in bluish-gray uniforms that were interlaced with complex, ornate circuitry. This circuitry tended to glow in a color depending upon that character's alliance (although Flynn proved capable of absorbing another's color temporarily). The good guys glowed blue, the bad guys glowed red.
The color palette is similar but a little more diverse for Tron Legacy. Kevin Flynn, as a human, is dressed in white, and his outfit doesn't appear to have any visible circuitry. Most everyone else dresses in black, although there are exceptions, which from a high-tech standpoint I have to admit does look cooler, even if I tend to think it's a vastly overused color these days, in many walks of life. But it does seem to fit the computer world well, and allows for the glowing circuitry to be that much more prominent. The circuitry patterns are simpler than they were in the original Tron. What this may say about the nature of modern computer technology I don't really know, but it looks cool on the characters in the movie. I tend to believe that if the costumes had gone with the more complex patterns of the original film, regardless of advances in technology and the altered color scheme, it would've looked too over the top.
Good guys in the movie tend to glow a bluish-white. Clu glows yellow, while the rank and file bad guys tend towards orange and red. So it's not too far removed from the original. I'd love to see a Green Lantern show up in this and really throw things off, but he doesn't get his movie until the summer of 2011, and anyway, Disney owns Marvel, not DC.
The Sam Flynn figure has a very human face, underneath a transparent visor. The top and back of Flynn's head are helmeted, but the face is flesh-tone and looks entirely normal. This in itself is a new development for the world of Tron since the first movie, where the characters' faces, however human they may have looked, were pretty much the same bluish-gray color as their costumes.
Although Sam Flynn certainly isn't the only character in the movie to have a normal-looking face within the computer world -- most of the characters do -- it's worth noting that the computerized blue-look face isn't entirely gone from the concept. Characters wear helmets within the games on The Grid, as do Clu's soldiers, and they are occasionally illuminated in such a way at times that their faces take on a modern version of the original Tron-style faces. This can be found in the action figures in the larger scale.
The action figure of Clu, by contrast, has an entirely helmeted face, with no visible features. I suspect in the case of the Clu FIGURE, there was some desire to keep the "young Jeff Bridges" under wraps until Disney chose to reveal his likeness. He's not the only one in the movie for whom that would be appropriate, but if I start talking about that, I'll blow a fairly crucial plotline, and I don't want to do that for those of you who haven't seen the film.
Both figures have light-up torsos, obviously. The device incorporated into the figures works superbly well, and is entirely encased within the torso. Talk about technological advances. Never mind computer animation, I doubt something like this would've been quite possible thirty years ago. They didn't even have to alter the bodily proportions to squeeze it in.
While I'm not about to dissect one of these figures in order to figure out how it works, I suspect there's an LED in there, on a battery and some sort of timed switch. You press the button on the back, and the torso lights up for about seven seconds, and turns off automatically, doubtless preserving battery life. The batteries are replaceable through the back of the figure. The torsos of the figures are molded in the necessary "light-up" color -- yellow for Clu, white-blue for Sam Flynn, and are translucent but not completely transparent. Flynn seems to light up more brightly than Clu, but I think this is largely due to him being a lighter color to begin with, and the fact that one of his light-up markings is dead center in his chest, and right in line with the internal LED. Clu's markings are to the sides of his chest, but both figures still work very well.
Other circuitry details are painted into the figures in the appropriate color on the otherwise black body. Credit where it's due to Spin Master on this score -- in my experience, one of the toughest things to do paintwise on an action figure is to paint yellow onto black and have it show up worth a darn, but Clu's painted circuitry lines, which appear on every single piece of him, look good.
Let's discuss the assembly of the figures. It looks to me like Spin Master took some cues from Hasbro's Iron Man line in some design aspects, especially with regard to that somewhat over-engineered and not as effective as you'd like ball-and-socket with a swivel leg design. Although seemingly allowing for a lot of movement, it can be very difficult to align all of the little articulated sections in such a way to allow for consistent movement or even a decent stance, and can even depend on how the figure was assembled and packaged in the first place. Sam Flynn wasn't too bad. Clu was a little uneven, but that wouldn't necessarily be the case with every Clu figure out there -- or even every Flynn.
Overall, the design of the figures is fairly straightforward, and most agreeable. The heads are on a ball-and-socket design, which usually allows for an excellent range of motion. The shoulders have a back and forth movement, as well as outward motion, and there's an upper arm swivel right below the shoulder. The figures are articulated at the elbows, and have a swivel just below the elbow, which is a little pointless, since it doesn't really do anything except allow the lower arm to spin around, which it really doesn't need to do since the wrists are on a pivot.
There's no mid-torso or waist articulation, but this would be impossible given the light-up device within the torso. From there we proceed to the leg articulation and upper leg swivel. The figures have knee articulation, including a swivel AT the knee, which is certainly more effective and usable than the lower rm swivel. The ankles have a rotation and very limited up and down movement.
Both Clu and Sam Flynn come with "identity disc" display bases, and other accessories. They both have their own identity disc accessories, scaled for their use. Please note that these do NOT fit over the discs already attached to their backs which are part of the light-up activation button. They're also only slightly larger than the average Cheerio, so I recommend putting them in a Ziploc bag, right along with the other accessories. Sam Flynn comes with a small baton, which in the movie is used to activate and create a light cycle (among other vehicles), and Clu comes with a katana sword, which looks for all the world like an extreme lightsaber. Good thing Disney's on good terms with George Lucas these days... It's a curious accessory, since I don't recall it being used in the movie. Something that might have ended up on the cutting room floor.
Any complaints? Unfortunately, yes. A few of the parts are a little too loosely articulated. One of Clu's legs was especially this way. I won't say it was floppy, but it could have been better. Of greater concern, however, is the fact that when I tried to turn Clu's head, and the heads are designed to be turned -- it snapped right off and took the neck stem part of the torso with it. As far as I can tell, the ENTIRE head of Clu was painted a slightly glossy black, and I suspect it was assembled before the paint was fully dry. Since the neck joint was part of the torso, there was no way it was going to turn, and so it broke. This, as far as I'm concerned, is an example of "haste makes waste". It wouldn't kill Spin Master to make sure the paint is dry on these things before putting them together. Imagine a small child getting this figure, and that happens thirty seconds out of the package. I'm not saying EVERY Clu figure is like this. I certainly HOPE not, as I'll be in the market for a replacement at some point (hopefully he'll have a looser neck and tighter legs), but I really do regard it as pretty inexcusable.
Now, I did check a second Clu figure in the store. There's an opening on the bubble to allow a person to activate the light-up feature, and I found it was possible to reach inside far enough to try to move the figure's head. It wouldn't budge. So, maybe they are all affected, or maybe -- although I consider this unlikely -- he's not supposed to be able to turn his head.
And, honestly, some of the paint work could have been neater. Clu's circuitry details were fine. Sam Flynn's -- could have been better. Now, I'm probably being overly critical here. These figures are beautifully sculpted with very intricate detail, and I can't imagine that it's the easiest thing in the world, especially in a mass production setting, to paint, even through a stencil, delicate little lines on every part of the figure. But when I get the figure out of his package and there's a big smear on the leg near the knee that I didn't notice at first because the leg was swiveled around where I couldn't see it, I call that sloppiness. This I was able to fix with some black paint, but, as I have said with similar matters, I shouldn't have to. Still, I would regard this as less of a problem than a broken neck!
Overall, though, I don't want to be too critical. These TRON LEGACY figures are still very cool, and of superb general quality, coming from a company that we don't hear that much of. They're decently articulated and certainly well-detailed, and do a truly superb job of reflecting the look of the characters in the movie, a look that, while respectful to the original, manages also to create a look unto itself that is unlike anything previously seen in the science-fiction world, and which I find extremely impressive.
Anyone who has enjoyed the Tron concept, especially the new movie, will enjoy having these action figures around. I hope the line continues. There are other characters that can be done.
In the meantime, the TRON LEGACY figures of CLU and SAM FLYNN, from Spin Master's 4" scale line, definitely have my most enthusiastic recommendation! And the movie TRON LEGACY has my highest!