“Tron Legacy” in 3D IMAX — Sadly Disappointing

“Tron Legacy” in 3D IMAX — Sadly Disappointing
by Oliver Dean, LA 3D Club Competition Director.

I was hoping that “Tron Legacy” in IMAX 3D would be a 3D showcase rivaling “Avatar,” but it fell far short of my expectations, especially in its limited use of stereoscopic effect. Almost all the stereo was restricted to the narrow range between screen distance and infinity — I don’t recall seeing anything appearing in “negative 3D space” — the audience space closer than screen distance. The result is a total lack of intimacy, one of the most important advantages of using 3D to begin with. Close-ups, instead of giving us the illusion of being only a couple of feet from the subject, end up looking like giant, almost flat pictures suspended the other side of a screen that is 30 or more feet away from us. In all fairness, some of the close-ups in “Avatar” fell into this category, but nowhere near as much or as often as they did in “Tron Legacy.” “Avatar,” at least, maintained enough stereoscopic effect in each scene to generate memorable realism and that all-important sense of intimacy lacking in “Tron Legacy.”

This lack of boldness in the use of 3D is an alarming trend I am seeing in more and more commercial 3D cinema. In contrast, earlier IMAX 3D films had not hesitated to bring objects into audience space. I remember one of the early 3D IMAX scenes from “Wings of Courage,” in which I delighted in the intimacy of seemingly being seated at a dinner table along with the characters in the scene. The famous (not IMAX) Arch Oboler shot of the tray of drinks floating out of the screen over the heads of the audience only a row or two in front of you was equaled in IMAX 3D in several films, such as “Transitions,” “T-Rex, Back to the Cretaceous,” “The Last Buffalo,” and several undersea productions. Audience reaction to such scenes was almost always delight, often expressed with shouts of amazement and attempts to reach out and touch the illusion.

In “Tron Legacy,” its ultra-conservative use of 3D, although free from any possible risk of eyestrain, left all the images so flat that they were only a marginal improvement over 2D. In fact, the first part of the movie WAS in 2D (a message at the beginning had to explain that this was done on purpose!). You would expect that this would result in a thrilling transition to the 3D mode, similar to the great transition from black-and-white to color in the classic “Wizard of Oz,” but the 3D effect was so reduced that I wasn’t even sure exactly when the transition took place!

To make matters worse, the cinematographers and editors seemed oblivious to certain kinds of shots that are inappropriate to 3D. Many of the action shots are only fractions of a second long and cut rapidly from one blurry, fast-moving impression to another. The viewing audience has difficulty fusing such rapid-fire scenes stereoscopically, as well as finding such scenes difficult to follow in making sense of what is going on. As a result, the cinematographers and editors apparently opted for flattening the stereo effect even more than in other scenes! Also, a few distant shots either had no foreground, or the interaxial separation was so timid that there was not any hyper-stereo effect, usually desirable in such circumstances to avoid almost total flatness. The overall impression I had was that the production was designed for 2D, and 3D was added as an afterthought without re-thinking what would make the most effective use of this powerful extension to cinematic expression.

While the 3D was disappointing, many will find the surreal vision of a world within a computer fascinating, even though the story was mostly action-powered glitz with little substance. The special effects and scenic designs were inventive, interesting and even exciting in spots, but were frequently hazy or murky and often puzzling. Daft Punk’s sound track, along with the deep bass sound effects, made full use of the grandiose IMAX sound system, often adding power to scenes showing the giant, fantastic machines and vast environment inside the computer world. Sometimes, though, the repetitiousness of the music and its overpowering volume got overly intrusive, IMHO.

Worth mentioning, however, was one amazing effect — the processing of aging actor Jeff Bridges’ face for the scenes in which he played the young Kevin Flynn and the character Clu, who was a non-aging clone of the younger Kevin Flynn. The result was a completely convincing animated reconstruction of what Jeff Bridges looked like over 20 years ago.

Acting was competent in spite of the shallow, comic-book-like script, but nothing was overly memorable. On the other hand, Olivia Wilde (Quorra) and Beau Garrett (Gem) were winsomely decorative, and it was nice to see actors Jeff Bridges and Bruce Boxleitner aging gracefully.

Before you go to see this film, I recommend going to the “Tron Legacy” web site at:


Wait for it to load — this takes a while! When the “menu” appears on the left, click on the “world of Tron” entry and view the options. When watching items under each option, click on the item for further descriptive details, which can be illuminating and will make the movie much more understandable.

I thought I would never write a review that says this, but I don’t recommend wasting your money on the 3D version unless you are an IMAX junkie, a state-of-the-art IMAX sound addict, or are a die-hard 3D fan who has to see everything that comes out in 3D. If you need to see this movie only for other reasons, you won’t miss much by settling for the 2D version. Let us hope that this trend does not continue!


  1. Ray Zone says:

    Thanks, Oliver, for a great review! And, after seeing the (3D?) Tron trailer, speaking to the producer and seeing his presentation at 3DU about the film (and the fact that he and the DP decided to dispense with the services of a stereographer on the film), I have to sadly say that my sentiments are exactly in accord with yours.

    It’s very bizarre that, after years of 3D movies with extreme negative parallax, we are being offered “3D” movies, like Toy Story 3 and Tron, that are barely stereoscopic and hardly worth the extra bucks we are expected to shell out to see them.

    Ray 3D Zone

  2. Ana Glyph says:

    Thank you! This is the first and only HONEST, INTELLIGENT review of the quality of the 3D effects in this movie that I have seen. All other reviews actually rave about how great the 3D effects are. And the director boasts about how revolutionary his use of 3D is. I completely agree with your assessment. The lack of overall depth is alarming considering that this was shot with the latest state-of-the-art Sony 3D digital cameras. I too saw little difference between the limited depth of this movie and that of the CONVERTED 2D ‘Last Airbender’. And I saw this at an IMAX theater that is usually noticeably better than the usual digital 3D theaters. I thought it was a 2D conversion until I read the reviews. Even close-ups of faces of two actors looked like cardboard cutouts. And I have to say, I noticed the same lack of depth in ‘Toy Story 3′. I mentioned this to a guy in the theater after watching ‘Airbender’ and he made the point that Disney probably limited the depth intentionally so there was no chance that the few people, who claim headaches while watching 3D movies (and therefore shouldn’t watch them), could complain. I’m afraid he might be right. It’s another case of the tail wagging the dog. And thanks Ray Zone for commenting! I love your pioneering work in the realm of 3D comics and respect your opinion on the subject of 3D. I totally agree with your ‘barely stereoscopic’ comment.

  3. Jing says:

    I totally agree with your assessment but have to say that watching Tron has made me give up on movies unless the 3D is AAA quality. Toy Story 3 looked great, along with Avatar but Tron Legacy was too dark, the 3d effect did not enhance the film at all (when it was noticible) and the 2D parts looked better without the glasses on (being brighter and less blurry). Plus 3D worked best in Avatar when the camera was not moving. In Tron Legacy, the action scenes ended up becoming a blurry mess since it was difficult for the eyes to focus. In this film I actually did get the eye fatigue as the 3D effect moved all over the screen in short spaces of time. I’m glad that they didn’t go heavily with the audience space 3D, as that would have looked gimicky when rewatching the film in 2D which is really where Tron belongs.

    So I’ve decided that I’m going back to 2D films (paying less for the privilege) and only watching 3D on the odd occasion a film is actually supposed to be seen in 3D. So that’s Avatar 2 only.

  4. gnigl says:

    Exactly! Great review. Yesterday I was on Tron: Legacy and I asked myself if this was 2D conversion or not. I was almost sure it was conversion. Why do they do that? If I go to see 3D movie I want to see real 3D not pseudo-3D with cardboards people and no depth. I have the best 3D experience from computer generating movies (Ice Age 3, MegaMind…)

  5. Hi All,
    Don’t flame me for this, and I realize that my opinion of the movie is completely the opposite of many of the respected stereo professionals on this site.
    However, I would be lying if I did not say that I was actually impressed overall by the use of stereo in this movie.

    If I were to dissect it scene by scene, then yes, I would love to see more roundness on closeups of faces, the depth and “bump map” as it were of skin pores etc, but in totality, I feel it all fit together well.

    Don’t forget that in the older days, an Imax movie was just one feature. Today in a multiplex there may be two or more 3D movies playing.
    I actually saw Tron and then went to the next cinema in the multiplex to watch Gullivers travels (Big mistake and totally waste of 3D on that movie btw).

    The point being that today if we completely “max out” the 3D budget on a feature length movie, we risk “taxing” our eyes and brains too much to actually watch a second 3D movie.
    Why anyone would want to watch two 3D movies in a day today does not make sense, but give it a few months when all movies go 3D, and you’ll see that a day at the movies is more enjoyable when there is no extreme 3D.

    Just for the record I am totally against newbie Cinematographers/stereographers with their 3D calculators and ant like interaxials, but in the case of Tron I think it was well balanced.
    Here’s my review: http://realvision.ae/blog/2011/01/stereo-3d-depth-study-of-the-movie-tron-legacy/

    Best Regards

  6. tg says:

    Thanks for your analysis, it’s the first sensible opinion I find on tron legacy.

    I was deeply disappointed with the movie and I blame the 3D for most of it.

    I found that the entire 3D-part was just to dark and blurry. I had great difficulty focusing. Also, in many scenes the depth of field was just wrong. In a dialog between two persons, one was in focus and the other one was excessively blurred. I don’t quite understand the process but I believe that in 3D mode you should have bigger DOF’s because your brain will try to focus that other bits of the shot. I found myself constantly trying to focus things that just weren’t shot in focus.

    Perhaps you could clarify if that makes sense :)


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