Place/time: 7:15 showing at Kaleidoscope, Dec. 30 with Nick
Why so late-ious? There’s a very good reason that I’m a week late on this post. I wanted to try a little something different with this review, so it took longer than it usually might – but more on that at the end ;).
For me, this movie was very similar to Avatar. It entertained, I heard more about how the movie looked than how the story was, I didn’t think it was very good, and I wasn’t really interested in seeing it… but AFTER I saw it, I’d wished it was better because of the possibilities.
First of all: the original Star Wars trilogy, The Dark Knight, and The Matrix trilogy. Seen those movies? If so, good… because you’ll probably recognize traces of them in Tron: Legacy. I sure did. There is even a shot of a man standing on a high-rise building that made me think they were suddenly using extra footage from The Dark Knight (the music didn’t help the comparison, either, but I definitely won’t be complaining about THAT). I won’t go too far into detail about the story similarities, as to avoid spoiling it all, and I’m actually pretty okay when movies aren’t completely original – as long as what they are doing hasn’t already been done better.
I didn’t grow up loving the original Tron, and I only recently saw it. After it ended, I was surprised to see that it didn’t actually call for a sequel. Everything ends just fine, so I was curious to see why (if not just for money) the sequel even needed to exist. Tron: Legacy is, in large part, for the fans… even to the point of hampering the movie. There are a number of shots, lines of dialogue, and moments that should have probably been cut – if not for their connection to the first movie. A great deal of it is wink-wink nudge-nudge type of stuff. Since I wasn’t seeing this as a fan, though, my only choice was to see how much I enjoyed it on its own.
That, sadly, didn’t go over too well.
Before going on, I have to talk about 4 things that I DID like, because they infiltrate and almost alleviate what I did NOT like.
1. Olivia Wilde. Sure, she’s hot, and her costume was the thing that 12 year-old boys’ dreams are made of, but that’s not why she’s on the list… and not at all why she’s the first thing I’m mentioning. I have her here because I loved her in this movie. Her character was one of the few (only?) that had some well-roundedness to it, and Ms. Wilde made her gal very lovable with how she played it all. I’d actually recommend seeing the movie at some point, for her alone – even if you’re just in the ogling mood. If you won’t see it for her, though, than perhaps for…
2. Daft Punk. Digitized-BWAAAAAAAAAAAH! Nick said that when he first saw the movie, their soundtrack almost fooled him into thinking parts of the movie were really great. Sure, it’s really “cool” that they did music for this movie, but they’re great musicians, and I loved what they created for Tron: Legacy. I’m listening to the score right now :). They borrow heavily from Hans Zimmer (with whom they met on this), but it’s very fitting, since ol’ Hans is rather known for his driving orchestral beats and rhythm.
3. Yeah.. it looked pretty.
4. Michael Sheen. Tee-hee. I like watching him in anything, so this one is the most personal, but in Tron: Legacy he’s an actor without a leash… and he completely chews up the scenery and over-acts every moment that he’s on screen. I, myself, have done that – as have most of my favorite actors. It was a great bit of fun to see, though, even if it wasn’t great for the movie, and the fact that he was having such a good time up there on the screen made me do an LOL a few times. A Charlie Chaplin walk? Yep :).
Ah, so that’s the good. The bad? Everything else. The story does “make sense”, in that I understood the plot-points, what was said, and where characters were going, but why I don’t like it is because the story just doesn’t add up under any scrutiny. I’m trying (and failing) to keep this brief, but here’s an example:
Character A is told about this great old gadget. It’s supposed to be the best of its kind, and there aren’t any others like it. So, Character A later uses that gadget to escape somewhere, and then just pawns it off like it’s nothing. This gadget was set up as something great, so I thought, “Oh, cool, so we’ll see that later on at some exciting point.” Nope. That’s what I was trying to say above. It’s not necessarily that the movie is filled with story choices that don’t make any sense, they’re just really, really STUPID choices that SHOULDN’T make any sense.
They also continued the theme of religion and faith from the original Tron, layering it on thicker than before, but if there was a structured symbolism, I couldn’t tell you what it was. The many religious elements were there, and I could KINDA see where some characters might be seen as one thing or the other, but to say that this character definitely meant this or that would be counter to the story because it just wasn’t cohesive enough to make any strong symbolic undertone stick. Was it all due to lazy writers? An inexperienced director? A rushed production company? Who knows, but the point is – the movie wasn’t what it could’ve been.
Just like when I left the theater after seeing Avatar, I thought that there were some really interested ideas that just never got explored. No, that’s not the place for another sequel – it’s just disappointing storytelling. With Olivia Wilde’s character, a digital duplicate gone mad on a quest for perfection, great music, and a genuinely good start (the opening lines and scenes really set me up for something maybe-good, too), this movie should’ve been pretty darn great – they had a shot. To my dismay, they missed the mark.
So, story aside (because who cares about that), at least there are the great visuals, right? It’s even #3 in the “good” list above! It’s also #2 in the “bad” list right here. BAM, didn’t expect THAT, did ya?
In the beginning of the movie, we see a young Jeff Bridges talking to his son. At first we are barely getting glimpses of his face, and I thought that they’d simply done some age-reversal effects like at the beginning of the third X-Men movie, and also wisely chosen to hide him in shadow. I liked that :). Then, however, I saw that they’d actually just been using the fully digitally created Bridges that we see later in the movie as the villain. That just didn’t make any gosh-darn sense to me. If we’re seeing a (sometimes) odd-looking digital Jeff Bridges in the computer world, that’s okay – but then to say that the effects are so realistic that they should be brought to the real world, too, seemed silly. Also, while this is also a story choice, why did the world look the way it did? If Jeff Bridges’ character created a new world, why would he make it so stylized, with programs that dressed really strangely? And, if it was to be completely stylized and unlike Earth, why was there rain? The Matrix made sense to me – AND they bothered to explain it. Tron: Legacy didn’t make sense – and they didn’t bother to explain it at all. Why did Jeff Bridges go from wearing an interesting leather jacket when he first created the world, to some bizarre zen-robe? Who knows.
And that’s what made me disappointed. I wanted to know. I would’ve liked to have seen this movie and thought it was great, recommending it to all of you – but I can’t. It had its moments, and I wasn’t bored witless, but it was pure popcorn-theater at it’s worst. It tried, and I honestly believe that those involved were striving for great things… it just didn’t make it.
Now, here is normally where you would click the “Keep Reading…” link to continue on to the spoilers section of my review (and there ARE still plenty of spoilers down there), but as I said at the top, I wanted to do something a little different. I’m actually foregoing my spoiler-ific part of the review, which is why the above was so lengthy (though I’d still have plenty more to say in detail). 2011 is starting boldly, as I have actually asked someone OTHER than Mark Mushakian of MarkMushakian.com to write in this blog. What you will find below is a review of Tron: Legacy from a very big fan of the movie (sorry to ruin the surprise of whether or not he liked it). This person asked me not to list his name, as he MAY or MAY NOT work for a company related to the movie’s production, but for those of you who know him – he’s a conservative Republican, a massive Disney fan, and you may have seen him at Game Night on occasion. No guessing in the comments necessary THIS time, folks ;).
He’s seen the movie at least 4 times (as of this writing), and knowing just how big a fan he is, I thought it would be really interesting to juxtapose my negative review with what I assumed would be a passionately enthusiastic one (I was right). If you folks think it’s a fun comparison, I may invite others to do the same later on… to have, in one place, two well-written opinions of why one person could dislike something that someone else loves. I did this for no other reason than that – it’s an idea that fascinates me, so I wanted to find out why someone loved this movie.
So now that you’ve read what I think, let’s see what HE has to say…
Warning: There be spoilers below…
Tron: Legacy Review
by A Big Fan.
(Completely unedited, this is as it was provided to me. – Mark)
Let me start of by saying that I love TRON. Loved it ever since I can remember. I was born the year the first film came out, 1982. It was one of the first films I saw on VHS. It was just great. As a kid, I loved the colors and stylization. And as a teenager, I was enthralled with the story of how Steven Lisberger and his crew made this landmark film (which was an adventure in and of itself).
But I think the thing I love the most about TRON is the world, and all it entails. The whole adventure took place inside a computer! To place this fantastical world inside a thing I used all the time altered the way I thought about how computers worked, and made computer programming somewhat understandable to me. It gave the computer – something that is cold, calculating, and unknown to most (especially in 1982) – humanity, a spiritual side, a soul. I could imagine all those little blips of data as humanoid programs, traveling by solar sailer and light cycle to transport information throughout the system.
As I got older, TRON’s significance opened up even more. My political and philosophical mind was being shaped in my college years, and TRON reflected the conservative philosophy I was ascribing to. Tron, Flynn, and Yori were fighting to make the ENCOM system free like America. And the villainous Master Control Program represented the repressive, tyrannical state that got too big for its britches. Tron and Flynn were two sides of the America psyche: the brave soldier with a solid moral compass and the resourceful smart-ass who makes up plans as he goes along.
The MCP was fixated on ridding the system of the Users, finding them superfluous. Despite the fact that he was created by the Users, he renounced them, saying that no one User created him. Master Control made believing in the Users forbidden, like so many repressive regimes. Government must be god, and the citizens must be fully dependent on the state.
Like the repressive leftist regimes of Eastern Europe at that time, the MCP and his cohorts repressed belief in the Users and attempted to force programs to rely on the MCP for sustenance. The MCP slowly took over a program’s functions, and if a program cannot be used for the sake of the massive MCP, they got “the bits blasted out of [them] on the Game Grid” – a futuristic gulag.
But the film’s deepest meaning came to me as I became a Christian near the end of my college career. I could now identify the soul of TRON to be one of Judeo-Christian origin, with the programs seeking salvation and direction from the Users (humans). I remember a short dialogue between two conscripted programs that summed up the spiritual heart of the film:
RAM: You believe in the Users?
CROM: Of course. If I don’t have a User, then who wrote me?
The Christian author C.S. Lewis said that because God is sovereign over everything, and He is indeed the final arbiter of morality, everything created by man within this “moral storytelling” has a hint of God within it – even if the author of the work did not have God in mind. We all have a “great longing” that manifests itself in the creative works we produce, and makes us accept certain stories and reject others. TRON is no exception.
I was a TRON fan at a time when very few people my age even knew what TRON was. The ones that did (including friends of mine) ridiculed it and wrote it off as hokey and outdated.
Pop culture poked fun at TRON. I remember a joke from The Simpsons in which Homer was sucked into a computer generated world. When asked by his friends to describe where he was, he hesitantly said, “Did anybody see that movie TRON?” To which all replied “No,” without hesitation.
I knew that there was too much potential in TRON for Disney to resist. Little gems started to appear gradually: a video game sequel, comic book, etc. But all of these things failed to ignite the fire necessary to revitalize TRON. As Imagineer Josh Shipley wrote in his fascinating Disney twenty-three article, TRON creator Steven Lisberger was simply waiting for the original TRON kids to grow up and take over Hollywood.
When I first heard that a TRON sequel test reel was shown at Comic-Con 2009, I leapt out of seat with joy. I only regretted I wasn’t there to see it firsthand. A couple weeks went by, and it was released on the internet; I loved it. Light cycles! Dark terrain! Identity discs! JEFF BRIDGES!! TRON was finally going to get the treatment it deserves, with today’s technology behind it. I just hoped the final product was good.
So, how did TRON: Legacy hold up for me? It was absolutely sublime, a treat all around! Just what all the TRON nerds were waiting for. I knew that some people weren’t going to get it, and I was okay with that. I didn’t care. I got what I wanted out of it.
Now I was going to go in depth about what I thought about the special effects, acting, visual look, etc. But Harry Knowles over at Ain’t It Cool News beat me to it (link). I agree with virtually everything he said about the film, and he said it in a more articulate way than I ever could (with sentences like that, you know it’s true). So I junked my initial review thanks to Mr. Knowles to avoid accusations of plagiarism. I want to delve more into the spiritual aspects of the film.
First, the negatives. The film isn’t perfect. There were two things that stuck out in my mind.
Tron (my favorite character) got way too little screen time, and his transformation from Rinzler back to Tron was rushed. I thought the twist of Tron as a baddie was interesting, but I wouldn’t have minded an additional 10-15 minutes weaved into the story in order to make Tron’s rebirth more impactful. Perhaps while Clu and company searched Flynn’s hideaway, Rinzler could have come across some artifact that caused his memory to flash back, but kept it to himself. That would have been an interesting mirror to Clu, who had a physical reaction to his triggered memory. Or Rinzler and Flynn come face to face at some point, and Flynn recognizes him as Tron, making Rinzler doubt his identity even more. Despite all that, I still happily giggled when Tron said, “I fight for the Users,” and rammed Clu. Awesome.
The film relied heavily on the audience knowing about the world beforehand, be it from the first film or from the graphic novel (TRON: Betrayal) and/or the video game (TRON: Evolution). Now for a TRON nerd like me, the plot was super-easy to understand because I had read everything prior. But I’m sure the average moviegoer must have been lost at some point.
Little things like the plight of the ISOs and the Clu’s resentment of Flynn are more fleshed out in the graphic novel and video game, resulting in stronger character empathy. You can’t leave a character’s emotional connection to the audience up to other media. One of the cardinal rules of screenwriting is assume you audience knows almost nothing about the world and slowly reveal what’s going on. The first TRON did this very well with lots of visual storytelling.
And now the great stuff. This film is a real sequel. It built upon the spiritual/philosophical foundations of the first film and took it in a direction I was not anticipating. But here are some aspects that really illustrated the point.
At some point between the first film and the graphic novel, Flynn got the idea to build a perfect system – a digital utopia. He was playing God to the hilt. The only problem is that because we are human beings with flaws and sin, perfection is unknowable. Flynn discovers this truth by the end of the film, when he realizes his mistake and repents (he’s had 20 years to think about it). In his pursuit of perfection, he lost part of his humanity – personified by Clu’s relentless pursuit of order. An argument as to why human being are not (and should not) be gods.
Clu was an interesting character. He is the Satan of the digital world: created to serve a purpose, second-in-command to the Creator, and rebelled against said creator because he thought he had a better way. Satan resented humanity because God showed His favor upon them, much like Flynn showing favor to the ISOs (difference is the creation of man was planned and the creation of the ISO was not – another side-effect of man playing God). And like the difference between angels and humans, the ISO were free-thinking beings whereas programs are guided by their instructions.
Clu’s motivation reflects the will of an imperfect god (Flynn). But in a way, Clu can also be seen as analogous to humans and how God’s word can be misconstrued to do evil. He was made in Flynn’s image, and given an impossible instruction (create the perfect system). Clu took this to an extreme and ended up doing great harm. Flynn does not hate Clu, which is evidenced by his wanting to reason with Clu and the end of the film. He even apologizes to Clu for giving him an unattainable goal, something I could see an imperfect god doing.
It’s intriguing that Clu seeks perfection from something that is imperfect, much like the modern socialist/communist movement seeking forced equality of status, while enslaving the population to a dark, hellish existence in servitude to the leadership class. Dissidents and “strays” are sent to the Game Grid where they are dispatched, or “rectified” and re-educated. Like all the bloodthirsty totalitarian movements of the 20th century, Clu’s regime is atheistic. Clu himself is billed as the “liberator” for confining the creator to exile, and openly mocked Flynn to his army of dependent automatons.
To make the similarity more apparent, Clu exterminated the ISOs because he saw them as inferior, imperfect beings – much like the barbaric extermination of the Jews at the hands of the Nazis. Hitler saw the Jews (among other groups) as an imperfection, in spite of the Jews being named numerous times in Scripture as God’s chosen people.
For all intents and purposes, Flynn has given up on ever defeating Clu, despite the fact that Flynn created Clu. Disillusioned, he hides from his creation and does nothing to stop him, rather than risk getting caught. This illustrates the principal that evil triumphs when good men do nothing. It is only through the love of his son that he is compelled to act. Flynn’s love for Sam is stronger than his fear of Clu.
Quorra’s speech to Sam about meeting Flynn immediately conjured up memories of the story of Jesus helping the adulterous woman in John 8:2. It’s almost as if it was written from the perspective of the woman! Quorra describes her encounter with Flynn (whom she calls the Creator) as a “rescue,” which is what Christ does for each of us. But in our case, He saves us from our sin as well as outside forces.
Quorra was also an interesting character. After her rescue, she becomes a disciple of Flynn. In her reading of stories about the real world, she began to wonder about it, longing to see a sunrise (something that never happens in that world). The look she gives Flynn and Sam as they are reunited and embrace is one of quiet intrigue and bewilderment. She is profoundly naïve, and has probably never seen physical affection before. It’s a frame of film I could hang on a wall and ponder what she is thinking.
The coolest spiritual analogy was at the climax. Flynn sacrifices himself to prevent Clu from entering the real world, and to get Sam and Quorra to safety. Jesus said in John 15:13, “greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” In fact, Christ did this Himself. To Sam, this was his father showing his love for him (Clu didn’t understand this). To Quorra, Flynn was the creator and savior, sacrificing himself for her and all programs by absorbing Clu (taking on sin), thereby ridding the system of Clu’s evil. I wouldn’t be surprised if Flynn lives on in the system as some kind of spiritual guiding force, like Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia. That would be cool.
As one of my friends told me, computer data can always be recovered. So I hope we will see more of Flynn and Tron in another film.
Now perhaps I’m reading too much into this, but I don’t think so. Art is subjective, and we all see what we see. TRON: Legacy was all I wanted it to be. Despite some minor flaws, I enjoyed it on many different levels. And it gets better with each viewing. If you’ve written it off, I hope you’ll give this film another try.
The world of TRON is fantastical and mystifying, and holds so much more potential than perhaps its current torchbearers even realize.