Friday, December 17, 2010

Longing For A Legacy...

You're messing with my zen, man...


28 years, 161 days later, Tron's legacy lives on. Joe Kosinski's understated long-awaited sequel to Steven Lisberger's game changing electronic mythos is a visual triumph, a world unlike anything we've ever seen before, transforming the iconography of its predecessor into an awesome 3D spectacle, but it is an imperfect world, its breathtaking three dimensions propped upon the two dimensional pillars of its problematic plot and one that would be looked upon with the consternations of its biggest adversary who, ironically, is the one who nearly completely undermines and very nearly derezzes it… Clu.

The film's biggest special effect is also its biggest failure. The technology that I had hoped would be the promise of taking Tron once again to a new revolutionary cinematic level and breaking new technical ground in much the same way as the original film had ushered in a new era at the dawn of the digital film making frontier cannot raise the bar set by its own ambition and demonstrates that we still have quite a ways to go before digital actors can convincingly look indistinguishable from real human performers. The CGI animation used to make Jeff Bridges look 20 years younger metaphorically resemble the poor prosthetic makeup of a cheap rubber mask and rendered like cut-scenes from its video game counterpart Tron: Evolution. Having watched numerous films starring Bridges throughout his career I can tell you that he did not look at all like his poorly rendered doppelganger at that age. The eyes, the brows, the cheekbones, and the mouth have an unconvincing artificiality about them that betrays the illusion and takes us out of this fantastic visual world and Bridges raspy aged voice also betrays the effect. In a creepy sort of way it almost works for the character within the context of the story because he is supposed to be an artificial construct and we can almost buy that he doesn't look quite like a real human being, but during the film's opening scenes when we see Bridges in flashback playing younger Kevin Flynn telling bedtime stories to his son, Sam, it robs the moment between a father and his son of its already forced sincerity and dehumanizes it in a cold and unsettling way.

The plot is almost video-game like in its objective as the competing faction of Clu's militaristic forces must obtain elder Flynn's identity disc which is a master key to unlock the door to our world so that he and his army can take it over. It is never explained how exactly virtual programs existing in the digital world can somehow manifest themselves into tangible living matter in our physical world just as it does not attempt to explain why a User like Sam can bleed in its digital realm other than the fact he is simply a User and "he's different," nor does it attempt to explain how Kevin Flynn has aged 20 years trapped in his digital confinement when theoretically he shouldn't have physically aged at all as a digital avatar of himself. Narratively it misses the opportunity to explore such philosophical questions and complex idioms of science fiction as it so masterfully eluded to in the film's promising test trailer shown at Comic Con and either completely ignores or avoids those questions it raises and is the other major disappointment of the film. The original Tron explored such intriguing philosophical ideas around the religious beliefs of its programs and their creators but Tron Legacy's most astonishing revelation delivered by Alan when he tells Sam that his father was about to change science, medicine and religion in such a profound way is simply thrown away in a single line of expository dialogue. We never learn the real reason why Flynn created this world in the first place other than the fact that it was far out biodigital jazz, man.

Once again Jeff Bridges is the cement that holds the foundations of the Troniverse together solely with his strength and conviction of his performance as zen guru cyber-Jesus Flynn to his Judas megalomaniacal alter-ego Clu in some sort of virtual yin and yang. Garret Hedlund is surprisingly likeable as his son, Sam. Thankfully, he's no wooden Hayden Christiansen (although he would have made a much better Anakin Skywalker) and plays the cliched angst-ridden rebellious youth with convincingly noble admiration. Reciprocally, Olivia Wilde plays the character of Quorra with a truthful childlike innocence and wonder that demonstrates she has more to offer as an actress than just luscious fanboy eyecandy. Michael Sheen livens the film with his jestly rendition of David Bowie circa glam rock era Ziggy Stardust. And once again Bruce Boxleitner returns as Alan Bradley aka Tron… sort of. After all it's called TRON Legacy, right? Though, like the first film, the story is centered around Flynn's character and his legacy of which Tron is merely incidental to. The enigmatic character of Rinzler is Clu's badass henchman, one part Darth Maul wielding two discs, and one part Boba Fett as a mysterious tracker whose helmeted identity is concealed and it doesn't take half a nerd to figure out who he is.

As a 3D film Tron Legacy works perfectly in most part because its illuminated electronic visuals naturally lends itself to creating brightly rendered 3D images which has been the downfall of all other 3D films. Tron Legacy is by far the real Avatar. It makes the world of Pandora look like a cartoon by comparison. It's a place I would want to visit again because it is unlike anything seen in our world or any other. The brilliantly 3D rendered Disney logo showcasing the Magic Kingdom "Tronified" is appropriately memorable for setting the tone of the film which is then 2D until Sam is transported into Tron's colorful three dimensional illuminated world like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. As a first-time director Joe Kosinski proves that he has the technical prowess to design a fully immersive world much like Ridley Scott did with Alien and Blade Runner but his weakness is marshaling a cohesive script equally as interesting to support it, but then again the original Tron, to be fair, didn't have a strong script to support it either so in that sense they are both equal in that they are both great visual spectacles but lack any real cohesive structure and substance. The numerous homages to the original film are carefully and cleverly handled, however the cascade of homages to other sci-fi films like 2001, Blade Runner and Star Wars seem almost out of place in Tron's world. I could have done without the banal Lucasian dialogue of the Light Jet sequence with lines like "Here they come" and "I got him!" without expecting the next line to deliver a "Great kid! Don't get cocky!"

As a fan of the original Tron I am torn. Part of me is protective of its mythos and at the same time heartbroken that what was once a unique, groundbreaking film has now been rendered obsolete by its own sequel that has taken the technology and improved upon it in nearly every visual way. The Lighcycle and Disc Wars sequences, for example, are spectacularly exhilarating and render the graphics in the original film relics of the Atari age by comparison and why Disney has wisely kept the original film hidden away in its vaults and not releasing it on Blu-Ray yet. Fortunately as a sequel it delivers without the bitter disappointment of something like Star Wars or Indiana Jones. It's no Phantom Menace or Crystal Skull, thank God, but it's not the potentially epic masterpiece it could have been either but rather just another tent-pole blockbuster special effects film. If it performs well there will no doubt be more Tron films that confident Disney has stated they already have in development along with an animated TV show but as a film Tron Legacy can stand on its own without them but should there be would require the participation of Jeff Bridges and Bruce Boxleitner to make them work if they have any chance at all of succeeding. Without them, it wouldn't be a Tron film at all. Tron lives. He fights for the Users.



Anonymous said...

this is irony at its best.

HypaTRONic said...

I found the film extremely enjoyable, but extremely flawed. Visually, it's a fantastic film and like the original it had a great concept.

Sadly, like the original, the script was considered secondary. Sitting there as the end credits rolled, I couldn't help but wonder what the film would have been like had they let Lasseter and his crew take a look at it during the writing process instead of when it was almost finished. Perhaps the result could have been more fully developed and realized.

Instead it's an visually fun experience that lacks the soul it needed.

Much like the first film.

Tinman said...

The people who wrote the screenplay wrote for Lost. That explains everything.

So the movie DCP burned a hole in their pockets to fund is legions below that little animated flick marketing barely touched. Irony at its best indeed, especially considering Tangled was the second most expensive film production OF ALL TIME.

Tron_Sucks said...

Why are you comparing the movie to Avatar? I have not seen any scenes from the TRON preview trailers that suggested an immersive environment comparable to Avatar's Pandora.

As for Jeff Bridges' CGI animated look, I'm sorry to hear that it was done so poorly. It was probably more successfully done for Bruce Willis' Surrogates and for Brad Pitt's Benjamin Button. In the Benjamim Button movie, Brad Pitt's face was digitally aged and pasted on an another actor's body.

The movie isn't doing so well critically. 47% Rotten on Rotten Tomatoes.

Anonymous said... was not that bad nor did exceed my imagination. I relaxed and took it as another chapter in the story. I liked the fact that Dillinger's son is thre so we can see the possible villain lurking in the shadows. Perhaps revenge for his daddy would make a great cyber follow on. Once again Tron and Flynn could battle a new and more savy Dillinger....wait a minute that would have made a better film than the one I just saw....Disney are you listening...

I still had a good time though...


Thadius J. Plumstreak said...

You guys are way over analyzing this. It's TRON. I saw it. Loved it. It's not meant to be Shakespeare.

Justin said...

I agree with most of the comments. It was a visually fantastic film and the first half of the movie was exciting and energetic. I felt the second half of the movie, which relied a lot more on script than action, fell incredibly flat. I found myself uninterested at the end of the movie. I actually think if there had been less dialogue and more action in the second half I would have enjoyed it more.

The CG work on Jeff Bridges didn't really bother me because, as you mentioned, it felt more like a digital copy of a man than an actual real person. I thought it worked in the context of the movie.

Overall I enjoyed the movie but felt it could have been better.

Anonymous said...

Thadius, nobody was expecting it to be Shakespeare but we were at least expecting it to address certain narrative plot holes that were overlooked or disregarded. As for the visual effects they excelled in most areas and dropped the ball in others. As a first-time director I can cut Kosinski some slack but it is still no excuse. If the technology wasn't quite up to the standards required by the story then they probably should have abandoned that idea and came up with something else instead. There were missed opportunities to be sure.

Darrell said...

This movie was actually pretty good. The special effects and other were great. The story was pretty interesting. It's not one of my 2010 favorites, but it's certainly worth watching.

Anonymous said...

I don't know what film you guys saw. I went to see TRON LEGACY and it was amazing. That world is totally cool and I hope it does well enough to make Disney create a sequel.

Anonymous said...

I don't know what film you guys saw. I went to see YOGI BEAR and it was amazing. That world is totally cool and I hope it does well enough to make Warner Bros create a sequel.

Anonymous said...

Ok, who let the Tards in?

No talking about Yogi Bear please.

That film is wrong on so many levels.

Anonymous said...

I loved the movie! Lets hope Disney makes another Tron!

EndOfFranchise said...

The only way I can express my reaction to this film is mildly amused bitter disappointment.

This is a film that Disney should have handed to Pixar. The moment that transaction didn't happen, I knew this property was in trouble. The "Let's have Pixar try to polish a turd" event reported earlier this year was all the warning I needed that lightning won't strike twice for this franchise.

Was the first film a classic? Heck, no. Cliches abounded. Plot holes aplenty. Yet the original TRON is Shakespeare compared to what I witnessed yesterday.

Honestly... It was as though Disney read my mind on what the sequel should have been and then decided "Let's do the opposite of that."

If this is what passes for "good" with the teenage crowd nowadays, then fit me for bi-focals, let me overly protect my lawn from the youngsters and give me a subscription to Reader's Digest because I didn't "get it." I now understand what Sean Connery meant when he didn't "get" the plot of The Matrix or why everyone was so avid about it. If T:L really is good, then life's standards really does pass you by.

What "good" can I write about this film? I don't know. It has the TRON intellectual property. It has a few of the principals from the first film. It has... Lightcycles? I'm reaching at this point.

I've read online that this is Disney's "Highlander 2: The Quickening" and I'm sorry to write that they are not far off the mark at all. I'm seeing visions of "Atlantis"-styled backpedaling of future products.

I do have to apologize, though, to Disney for one statement I made years ago. Years ago, I complained about the rather pedestrian plot of Disney's 2003 video game TRON 2.0. However, never would I have imagined that a video game plot would so thoroughly trump it's big-budgeted movie rival. TRON 2.0, the game, has a better plot then TRON: LEGACY, the movie. Hats off to the TRON 2.0 team for making, for now, the better sequel.

Darrell said...

What.... the..... heck?!?

Now what bought Yogi Bear on into this discussion? (I haven't seen it.)

Woodrow Pace said...

Stunning. There was so much to take in that I'm glad the story didn't expect much of me. I gladly leave the twists and turns to the more appropriate Stranger Tides. The 'other worldliness' of the grid and off grid environments of TRON was completely immersive. I find the Pandora comparison to be spot on. TRON takes a quantum leap forward in the realm of the imagination. And talk about risky! Some frames are pieces of crisp art: Quorra on the couch, the starkly naked zen water pool, the hubble like portal, and so on. This new Disney age feels like a renaissance of the Ron MIller green light given with enthusiasm to experiments. What we get is exhilarating. What Disney gets is nervous.

J said...

Hate to break it to you. But were still in the Dick Cook age of Disney filmage. The standard practice of throwing ad much money at the wall and seein how much sticks or falls.

I have no doubt that Tron will do relatively well. But the amount of money thrown into this films marketing is going to at least double the films needed earnings. I want it to do well, I truly do. But it wouldn't hurt to change things in the big eared studios a bit. Their method of making films doesn't work. (eg. G-Force, Prince of Persia, Sorcerers Apprentice) sure we see some wins and signs of success (eg Pirates, Alice in Winderland) but I'm just so tired of seeing film after film come put with so much style and no substance.

Brother Bill said...

You're being way too hard on the "young Flynn" special effect. I don't know at what point in special effects cinema history it was decided that the bar for a successful effect was absolute photo-realism... if that is our standard, we can go back through every revolutionary effects film ever made and call it a failure.

The aging make-up jobs on the McFly's and Biff Tannen in Back To The Future? Fail.

CGI Yoda, in the prequel trilogy? Fail.

Puppet Yoda in the original trilogy? Fail.

Most of the miniature work in the Indiana Jones trilogy? Fail.

The water pseudopod from The Abyss? Fail.

Tranformation of the alien in John Carpenter's The Thing? Fail.

The Terminator, looking at his damaged face in the mirror? Fail.

Every dinosaur Ray Harryhausen every animated? Fail.

All seven faces of Dr. Lao... fail.

See what I'm saying? You're right... we aren't at the point where we can perfectly recreate a human being. That's an awfully high bar to set. However, we may soon be there, thanks to pioneering work like we see in Tron: Legacy.

I would invite you to go back and rewatch some of the great effects films from the past 40 years or so and notice how "fake" everything looks when you're not allowing the filmmakers an ounce of leeway.

Unknown said...

I watched the original TRON a couple nights ago and TRON: Legacy today...

I enjoyed both films, neither are high art (or even Blade Runner)...but both are fun, visually stunning films (for their respective times) and a nice way to spend a couple hours.

sure there were plot holes, but it's SciFi; there are ALWAYS plot holes. Especially when it comes to things don't, and probably won't exist, like sucking people into the digital world and visa-versa…sometimes you have to go with the flow

I liked TRON: Legacy and I’ll probably see it again. Sure it could have been better, but it just as easily could have had midichlorians…

Anonymous said...

You mean ISO's aren't like midiclorians? Doesn't that explain how they are able to exist in our world?

Anonymous said...

I love Tron Legacy!!!

Kevin S. Willis said...

I really liked Tron: Legacy. The uncanny valley stuff really bugged me, too, but still: I loved the film. Of course, I absolutely loved the original Tron, and think it's a brilliant (if under appreciated) movie.

Can't wait for the Blu-Ray.

Tinman said...

@Brother Bill

Good point(s), but I think there is a difference between these scenarios and Tron. In Tron, we are able to see and realize today how unrealistic and, quite frankly, bad the photo realism was, whereas with the majority of the other films, they were greater technological breakthroughs for their respective times. Sure we may look back on them now and see them as glorified, space operatic satire, but at his time even Harryhausen was a pioneer. Do we see Young-Flynn in a such light today? The general consensus seems to

You're the first person I've ever seen complain about Yoda 2.0.

Brother Bill said...

Hello Tinman,

I'm not really complaining about Yoda 2.0 (or 1.0... I still think the puppet from ESB looks amazing)... just pointing out that neither versions look "photo realistic", as in, its very obvious we are looking at an effect. Yoda is just less "uncanny" because we don't have a real Yoda to compare him to.

There has always been an unspoken agreement between the audience and the filmmaker... do the best you can with your effects, and we'll let the magic work on us, whether its the painted flat backgrounds of Wizard of Oz, or the nearly but not quite there recreation of a widely recognized young actor.

The moment in Tron Legacy that pulled me out of it wasn't the young Flynn effect, but the self-referential use of the line "Now that is a big door." Come on!

Get A Clu said...

Brother Bill, the line "That is a big door" was a direct reference to the same line used in the first film by Sam's father. If that is what pulled you out of the movie I am sorry for you. I don't know how you can enjoy going to the movies.

The theory of the "Uncanny Valley" in cybernetics is that the closer we get to making artificial constructs look human, the more that humans become repulsed by them i.e. the digital Jeff Bridges because humans can recognize the fact that there is something not quite human about them. With all of the thousands of subtle human facial gestures that we emote, we can recognize when something is somewhat odd about them. In the case of Clu 2, we can see it in the eyes, mouth and brows when he is emoting that there is something unnaturally human about him that gives away the illusion and pulls us out. In the case of Yoda it is an alien creature therefore we can accept anything that would look inhuman, in fact, the more inhuman it looks, the more we accept that it is real in the case of aliens or robots. With all of the money that was spent into the special effects for Tron, there was an opportunity here to push the limits of the technology and to improve it and break new ground but it seems they just thought they could get away with what they did without it being a big deal. Unfortunately the theory of the Uncanny Valley seems to have only proven itself to be the case and the film serves as an example to reinforce this theory.

Brother Bill said...

Get A Clu,

Thanks for your sympathy, but you can keep it. Of course I'm aware the line was from the original Tron... that's why I called it "self-referential", and that's why it pulled me (temporarily) out of the film... is Sam REALLY going to say the exact same joke his Dad said back in '82? Or is it just a "shout out" from the director to the audience to remind us we're watching a sequel to TRON?

You did a good job of explaining why its so much harder to create a believable human vs. a believable alien, and that's exactly why I'm not so quick to dismiss "young Flynn" as a movie-killing failure. In fact, under the dim lighting (like in the opening scene in the bedroom) I thought it looked quite convincing.

I can't think of any film that's aged (forward or backward) a known actor with photo-realistic results... maybe Benjamin Button. Even the aging effects in the recent Inception looked like make-up jobs to me (and of course, that was making people look much older, not younger). Can anyone name some films that have pulled this off?

For the record, I thought Tron Legacy was just as enjoyable as the original (and yes, I'm old enough to have seen it in the theater and have subsequent frisbee-battles with my friends in the street).