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‘Tron: Legacy’ is a stylish update

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"TRON: LEGACY" — ★★★ — Garrett Hedlund, Jeff Bridges, Bruce Boxleitner, Olivia Wilde, Michael Sheen; PG (sci-fi action violence, brief, mild language); in general release

It took almost 30 years, but Disney has delivered a sequel with special effects to match the groundbreaking concepts of the original "Tron."

Yet while the selling point of "Tron: Legacy" is mind-blowing CGI, its heart is about the relationship between fathers and sons. It tells the story of Sam ("Friday Night Lights' " Garrett Hedlund), a disillusioned twentysomething who gets sucked into a virtual reality called The Grid while looking for his father, a legendary video-game programmer named Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) who vanished when Sam was 7 years old.

The Grid is a post-apocalyptic cyber world where the sun never shines, populated by digital humanoids called Programs and run by a Darth Vader-like dictator named Clu. Sam's challenge is to fight his way through a series of gladiator-style battles, figure out what happened to his dad, and get out alive — because what happens in The Grid doesn't stay in The Grid. Digital dead is real dead.

After a few obligatory chase scenes, the mystery behind dad's disappearance becomes clear: He's been trapped in The Grid for 20 years, holed up like the dalai lama in a remote hideout that looks like David Bowman's dining room from "2001: A Space Odyssey."

What's worse, Clu is a digital clone of a younger Kevin who has gone bad and is trying to break out of The Grid to wreak havoc on our own reality.

Thanks to the same face-mapping technique James Cameron used for "Avatar," Bridges plays both roles, though his youthful Clu character has that creepy "real-but-not-quite-real" look that CGI humans always seem to emote. But his take as the real Flynn — which seems to be one-part Obi-Wan Kenobi and two-parts "The Dude" from "The Big Lebowski" — is classic Bridges.

Outside of Bridges, Hedlund, Olivia Wilde and the other supporting actors play by the usual sci-fi rules — act cold and ponderous, make sly quips, add lots of cool staring — though "Frost/Nixon's" Michael Sheen has a quirky turn as Grid club owner Zuse.

When it was released in 1982, "Tron" was one of the first films to make extensive use of CGI. It also largely introduced the concept of virtual reality, laying the foundation for films like "The Matrix." and even contemporary websites like Second Life.

Thirty years later, "Tron: Legacy" isn't breaking new frontiers as much as updating its old ones, but it does so with style. The imagery of "Legacy" is impressive, building on the minimalist feel of the original film with the best of modern CGI and a thumping soundtrack from Daft Punk. The 3-D enhancement amplifies the effects, but the upgraded light cycles and game environments should still be plenty of fun to watch in a regular theater.

CGI has come a long way; what better way to showcase that progress than to reboot the story that got it off the ground?

"Tron: Legacy" is rated PG for persistent (but not bloody) sci-fi action violence, some mild profanity and form-fitting body suits.; running time, 127 minutes.

Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photojournalist who teaches English composition for Salt Lake Community College. You can see more of his work at www.woundedmosquito.com.