Five movies to watch instead if 'Tron: Legacy' sucks

Let's be fair here: I haven't seen Tron: Legacy yet, and it's likely you haven't, either. And despite the suspicion that so often swirls around CGI-filled blockbusters--especially remakes, reboots, and other extensions of geek-friendly franchises that often threaten to ruin happy memories--it's not our call yet as to whether or not this movie is going to be a complete turd pile. But it might. The general critical consensus is that it's an elaborate visual spectacle without an engaging script or plot, which can be a deal breaker for the kinds of people who like to mull over movies for an hour or so after they've left the theater. And despite its hi-tech background, the original's charm largely rides on its quiet digital austerity, a vibe that sci-fi action movies don't often exhibit today. So, in the possible event that Tron: Legacy pushes your childhood down a flight of stairs and laughs at it, here's five movies that could help take the sting out.

The Young Jeff Bridges Movie: Fat City

When you're nursing a bummer grudge against a disappointing 21st century action epic, a boxing picture about dashed-hope losers in a go-nowhere town seems like a pretty weird alternative, especially one from the existential-crisis heart of the early '70s. But if you're wondering what Jeff Bridges was doing when he really was young, rather than the avatar for a ginned-up and kind of creepy CGI facsimile of his youth, this picture by the legendary John Huston is one of the best things going. As a young fighter who first re-inspires and then drifts away from his grizzled, disillusioned mentor, a washed-up pugilist played with harrowing brokenness by Stacy Keach, Bridges exudes the kind of unassailable resilience and cool that first manifested in his Academy Award-nominated performance in 1971's The Last Picture Show and would carry him throughout much of his career.

The Daft Punk-Scored Movie: Interstella 5555

For all the anticipation that surrounded Daft Punk's soundtrack to Tron: Legacy, a lot of fans were somewhat disappointed that the final release of the film score sounded... well, like a film score. Then again, the French house duo had their own success working the other way around a few years ago: Instead of writing music for a film, they hired someone else to write a film around their music. That movie, Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem, was a full-length animated music video for their 2001 classic album Discovery, a completely dialogue-free narrative created under the supervision of '70s-vintage animation legend Leiji Matsumoto. Its retro-anime look, classic sci-fi overtones, and over-the-top depiction of pop-star futurism hit the same evocative nostalgia buttons as Tron: Legacy hopes to, but with great music acting as the key to it all rather than just incidental atmosphere.

The CGI Milestone: Young Sherlock Holmes

Early in his career, Disney animator John Lasseter was invited by a couple of his co-worker friends to check out an experimental animation project they were working on--which turned out to be the lightcycle sequence from Tron. Thus inspired, Lasseter took a proactive stance in advancing CGI animation, which eventually led him to Pixar and a long career in directing and producing some of the most enduring watershed efforts in computer animation. But one of his more notable breakthroughs is often overlooked: in one scene from Barry Levinson's 1985 film Young Sherlock Holmes, overseen by Lasseter and animated by Industrial Light and Magic, a knight from a stained glass window appears to come to life during a hallucination sequence. The special effect is considered to be the first appearance of a fully computer-generated character in a full-length motion picture, and while it's only onscreen for a short time, it still looks cool today.

The Other '82 Sci-Fi Flop Turned Landmark: Blade Runner

A 1982 science-fiction movie with elaborate, memorable special effects, dawn-of-MTV style, an indelible electronic score, and a plot heavy on ruminations over what divides humans and artificial life comes out to mixed reviews, underwhelming box-office receipts and an eventual cult fandom--stop me if you've heard that one before. Granted, Blade Runner is practically nothing like Tron in most other respects--most notably, its franchise potential has gone largely unexploited unless you count Ridley Scott's increasingly fine-tuned director's cuts. Thankfully, ever since Scott's 'Final Cut' came out, that means that a movie which thrives in part on its ambiguous ending and its unanswered questions doesn't get everything all neatly tied-up or overexplained in franchise-friendly cinematic offshoots--and that's the best way to let a classic film stay classic. (Then again, Ridley and Tony Scott have been rumored to be working on a series of prequel shorts for the web--though not necessarily based around the same characters.)

The Unfortunate Scarcity: The original Tron

This is probably the most obvious antidote to a disappointing sequel--just go back and watch the first incarnation of the movie you originally loved. But here's the catch: If you don't own a copy already, you're pretty much screwed. Right now, Netflix doesn't have it on physical disc or instant streaming, and if you want to actually buy a DVD copy, it'll run you $65 on Amazon... used. (New? Try nearly three times that.) It's suspicious and kind of crazy that Disney would stall on re-releasing Tron to retailers in time for the sequel, but the easy prediction is that it'll be held until Tron: Legacy hits Blu-Ray and the original can be packaged together with it. Which would only invite further potentially-unfavorable comparisons, but what're you gonna do?

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