Tuesday, December 21, 2010

TRON Legacy Review and Thoughts About the Future of the Future

First off, SPOILERS. Let's just get that out of the way. Don't read the rest unless you've seen the film. Seriously, I don't want to spoil anyone's enjoyment.

Okay, ready? Let's begin.

Generally, I really enjoyed Tron: Legacy. It was a great popcorn flick. We saw it in an IMAX 3D, deeming it  worthy of the extra scratch. The action scenes were 199% mind-meltingly cool. This is undeniable and I'm in agreement with Roger Ebert's take on how both this and it's predecessor are state-of-the-art snapshots of each era. 
I'm also a huge Daft Punk fan, and I was impressed with the way they wove the electronic synth into an orchestral treatment for the score. The film's overall design and aesthetics are amazing, and this too, can't be soured upon.

What Didn't Click Into Place
There was one aspect though that really didn't sit well with me--and it is a major point that actually affected the entire film. In fact, I think all the film's shortcomings can be traced to this one aspect. For the most part, Clu (aka Kevin Flynn / Jeff Bridges) seems like a formidable heavy for a good chunk of the film, until we learn what he's really up to. As it turns out, he's doing the same thing that Emperor Palpatine is doing (and Ming the Merciless, and any other cartoony bad-guy) "...he's building an army!"

Let's talk frankly about this well trod trope. It's a waste. We've seen it so many times that actually seeing it/hearing it on screen instigates a volley eyerolls and groans. I recall that MCP in the original was trying to take over the human world by acquiring programs--a novel and believable route to supremacy.

In "Legacy", this cyber world is totally isolated from and had no ability to influence humans—even though the reality is that Clu could have done much more damage to humanity today than ever before.
Imagine if the prominence of the internet, the loss of individual privacy, the banking (economic) meltdown, breakdowns in international security—even slow reactions to environmental disasters—had all been orchestrated by Clu behind the scenes. He’s more than just a nefarious hacker—he IS the Internet!

THAT is the villain Tron needed. Not some, “I’m going to make an army and march into reality”. Maybe as a final step after softening us up. But that would have been in movie 2 or 3. In this one it just wasn’t believable feasible.

The result was that the world of Tron (my wife calls it "Tronlandia!") ends up being very disconnected from the world that created it--and that's something that we all know to be false. The fact is, we're more integrated with technology than at any point in history. If that weren't true, you wouldn't be reading this blog.
Clu was Flynn's architectural partner. It would have made more sense if their collaboration, falling out, and subsequent conflict should have been influencing human history "behind the scenes". Like somehow creating the tech boom of the 90s, and then Clu overtaking Tronlandia would be the burst of the Internet bubble (that's actually 10 years too late according to events in the film, but you get the idea).

But instead they existed in a vacuum where Clu only sought to invade and destroy the human world. Regardless of the physics of it, it's not believable from a story standpoint because he doesn't have an investment in that world like the MCP did. Why would he need to go there? It's never made clear.

This is why I feel like the Clu character was key--without a clear and believable motivation that ties to our "reality" he's lost, and the filmmakers spin their wheels trying to decide what to do with everyone else's plot points. By making Clu little more than cyber-Hitler we get end up getting bad subplots such as the Jedi-like "purge" of the Iso programs (of which Quorra is the lone survivor) and more sci-fi plot filler is unnecessarily added to the mix. 
The result of these bad ideas in a good premise culminate with an climax that should have put kept philosophy major's flapping for weeks. Clu and Flynn (Bridges) inevitably reintegrate and annihilate (like matter and antimatter) destroying everything in Tronlandia. Wouldn't this in effect destroy the Internet? Wouldn't all data be erased? Nope, it's just an isolated incident that has no effect on the human world.

While, I'm not entirely sure if the film overcame these faults, I think it will continue to be remembered much in the same way as the original: cutting edge, perhaps to the point of falling off of it, but "oh, what a ride!".

More Positives
I really liked the Bridges-as-Zen Buddhist theme. It's believable--not because he's "The Dude" either. But because young Flynn (circa '82) was very carefree in an almost enlightened manner. I could see how being trapped would force a more mature Flynn to concentrate inward in order to protect his individuality in a world where identity is stripped away as a matter of doing business. I think Garrett Hedlund's turn as Sam Flynn was also well portrayed and he not only was he well cast (he looks and has mannerisms like Bridges did in his youth) but the scenes he shares with Bridges are essential to making the relationship believable, and they're able to pull them off in a sincere but rightfully understated manner.

Probably the best "idea" though, is the one that will likely get the least amount of credit. The notion of programs having their own DNA-like coding was a brilliant fusion of what's going on in programming today with the fantasy of Tronlandia. THIS is where the real magic of the world should have come from. It was beautifully depicted onscreen and the only issue I had was that I wanted to see more of it. Jeff Bridges pulling out tiny damaged flecks of code out of Quorra's "DNA" like they were pieces of lint was supremely cool and existential all at once.

Finally, I also liked the fact that Tronlandia was "wiped" like a bad hard drive by the Flynn/Clu reintegration. It had an air of Eastern philosophy in that by achieving "oneness" everything was destroyed--like a reversal of the Big Bang. The universe resets at zero in the process--at least everything except Tron himself who was safely underwater during the event (in case you forgot).

What Could Have Been, What Could Still Be

That might be the best chance Tron has for a comeback yet--the world will need to be recreated all over again and it doesn't need to cling to any notions held in the previous films. It can become something completely new. Imagine a Tron film that exists in realspace where Quorra (Olivia Wilde) is a new species of digital human and opens the doors to curing diseases by controlling DNA--even atomic structure itself--digitally. A world where our reality is controlled as efficiently and effortlessly as the digital one in which I'm now writing.

The program becomes the creator. The user and program are one.

That'd be something to see....but I don't see Disney making that movie any time soon.



  1. Extremely well said. I wish I could watch the movie you describe. It sounds spectacular.

  2. Your review has actually made me somewhat more interested in seeing the film--if only to imagine what might have been.

  3. Wow, thanks guys! Rather than hit every point, I tried to cover what stood out the most. We saw it on Saturday and so I've had a few days to process (it's definitely info overload!).

    I'm going again this week so my pea-size cortex can try and absorb a little more.

  4. Disney makes movies for kids. Repeat ad naseum.

  5. Do they? I'm not so sure they're as exclusive as they were way back when. Any media company who hires David "Fight Club" Fincher to re-do 20,000 Leagues or Joseph Kosinski (Legacy's director) to re-do Black Hole must be gunning for parents who grew up Disney, but are still grown ups.

    And I dare you to find any kid, let alone an adult who can explain the last Pirates flick. ;)

  6. Great review! I'm kinda dying to see this despite the flaws in the story.

  7. UPDATE: Def a theater movie. Loved the visuals and sounds. Didn't love the flat, lifeless script.