By Dennis Callahan

Yeah, that’s right. You heard it. Avatar may have broken box office records, developed new technologies for use in future generations of filmmaking, and jumpstarted 3D theatre on a worldwide scale, but Tron: Legacy, I tell you, is much more significant. Why, you ask? Certainly not because of story or script? Nah. Tron succeeds in what Avatar and the “3D movement” strive to do and that is transform popular theatre into a new type of visual experience. It does this not by throwing lame, glowing butterfly creatures in your face but through a pure, original take on cinematography.

Let’s face it, 3D just wasn’t really coming through for us. Novelty may not be the right word, but it just has always seemed like…well, novelty (okay, maybe that was the right word). 3D has so much more potential than simply extending current CGI to a new spatial dimension, but I don’t think we saw any of that potential until Tron. Don’t get me wrong, it’s quite impressive what James Cameron has done, and I suppose it’s admirable that he has played a large role in creating a new era for popular cinema, but if all that means is making terrible movies slightly more interesting by shoving their boring characters a little closer in your face, I’m not sure it was worth it. Tron makes Cameron’s achievement worthwhile, and it makes me more excited to see what 3D has to offer in the future.

To be honest, I don’t even know what the hell this film was about. Something about computers, I don’t know. I remember seeing The Dude a couple times, anyway, the point is it doesn’t matter what it was about, it looked freakin’ AMAZING. Director Joseph Kosinski and cinematographer Claudio Miranda begin with a perfect, pure black canvas and lavishly paint a hauntingly beautiful fluorescent landscape that not only serves as an epic backdrop throughout the entire film but which also dynamically changes with the on screen action. Miranda is already acclaimed for shooting The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, the first entirely digital film to be nominated for an Academy Award. Now, though, he has made what I believe to be the first important achievement for the digital format. Concerned with issues with resolution and color range, detractors of digital filmmaking will argue that it will never compare with real film stock and that digital should be treated a its own separate entity with its own set of possibilities and potential. Whether or not this is true is beyond me, but one thing is for sure and that is that we have started to finally see digital’s (and 3D’s) unique potential begin to emerge with Tron.

Trust me, I love cinematography for the sake of cinematography. I once sat through Wong Kar Wai’s 2046 with the volume muted so it wouldn’t distract me from the visuals. And that film actually had a good script, unlike Tron. There seems to be a point that some cinematographers get to where they just utterly master their art. They know their film stock, they know their lighting, they know their colors and perspective and everything is just beautiful. I will watch film after film by these artists who have reached this point and enjoy every second of them regardless of what is going on in the story. There is, however, something that these masters cannot do for me and that is to show me something new. This is what Tron does and this is why I loved it. I’m not saying Tron is a better photographic achievement than any of these works, just that is it different. It is beautiful in a very original way. It’s the same reason why my bedtime playlist has “London Calling” by The Clash mixed in with piano sonatas by Mozart and Chopin. Or, more appropriately, why my Friday night playlist contains equal parts Rolling Stones and Daft Punk.

It’s nice to see visuals which on some level represent the digital age in which they exist instead of seeing familiar pastel, aquatic alien worlds and animations full of chubby, doll-faced caricatures. Avatar may have had a strong story and characters actually worth caring about, but this is nothing new.  It’s true, both films would probably have had a similar impact without the funny glasses, but Tron at least truly makes it that much better. For the first time, they have taken visuals which are actually WORTH extending to a third dimension. If there is any permanent future to digital and 3D format, I believe it will be ushered in by films which share the innovative visual spirit of Tron, let’s just hope that next time they can get the story right.