Monday, December 20, 2010

A Tale of Two Trons

So I saw Tron Legacy the other day and I'm not sure what to think. The short version is I liked it enough, but it had plenty of faults. The long version, well, that's why you're reading, right?

To be honest, I'd never watched the original Tron. I remember being in one of my friends' houses growing up, seeing it on TV, and being immediately turned off by it; It looked weird, it was kinda boring, and the effects were funky. Needless to say, I had a very low opinion of this 'classic'.

Even with this Anti-Tron bias, I was really struck by the trailers for the new movie. The combination of the designs, the soundtrack, and the awe-inspiring visuals really did a number to my head. I was (strangely) totally stoked to see this new extravaganza, and more I was ready to watch the original too.

A quick aside: Did you know that the Tron DVD is no longer in print? You'd think a company as well versed in making a profit like Disney would make sure that there was at least a bare bones version of the original floating around somewhere so eager new fans could pick it up. Apparently, that's why I'm not in marketing. Luckily we were able to secure a copy via friends of friends. Anyway...

As it turns out, my five year old self was right, the first Tron is horrible. Don't get me wrong, I went into it with a crazy open mind, ready to be blown away. It's just... boring, weird looking, and confusing. Not confusing in a plot sense, but more in a 'world' sense.

The original Tron straight up baffled me. The main villain was kidnapping programs and making them play games, so they would.... what? Lose? Forget all his machinations? Get reprogrammed? Give him something to watch on lonely Sundays? And what would happen if a user wanted to use a program that was already hijacked? Would it be available? Would it have to be reinstalled?

The only thing I felt good about when the credits rolled on Tron was that the new one would only be a step up from it. But with the 'classic' in my mental rolodex, I was ready for the new one.

I'm really torn on Tron Legacy. It's certainly head and shoulders above it's predecessor, but it was still lacking something that would have made it the true classic it wants to be.

First, the good: Visually, the movie is stunning. Everything from the design to the action scenes are iconic, identifiable, and memorable. It's amazing to just look at and let it wash over you. The best part is they don't ruin it with a bunch of shitty hand-held camera nonsense; it's a very, serene, zen-like visual style.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the absolutely stellar soundtrack from Daft Punk. It's engrossing, driving, and emotional, probably one of the best soundtracks I've heard since... well, for a very LONG time. In fact, I've been jamming out to it all day, it's so good. I fully endorse this soundtrack and strongly suggest you all go out and make it your own. I promise you won't be disappointed.

Lastly, the characters were pretty great. Sure, they didn't do a whole lot, but they were likable and otherwise unintrusive on the greater plot. For the record, I think Garret Hedlund is everything Sam Worthington wishes he could be: Actiony, emotional, and charismatic. I wouldn't mind Hedlund getting a few more choice action roles from Mr. No-Personality, and I don't think I'm alone in that.

And now for the bad: the legacy of Tron. Or rather, the legacy of shaky storytelling.

While I wasn't as baffled by Tron Legacy, I still wasn't able to draw a strong emotional bead on the material. The major plot about saving some new lifeforms was kinda lost on me because it was so buried in technical jargon that I just accepted it and moved on before really processing. Which lead to a conceptual block on my part when it came to the emotional plot of fathers leaving their sons.

The weird part is, all the pieces are there. I could break down some of those scenes, rearrange them, and really make them resonate (I think). In the end it's so close to really hitting the mark, but it just sails right past it.

What I wanted was the same reaction I had when I walked out of KickAss. I wanted to be exhausted and exhilarated, I wanted to be pumped up and drained at the same time. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case.

As we walked out, discussing the movie, we were all disappointed that we didn't have that reaction. But even in that disappointment, we were hesitant to call it a bad movie. I can talk until I'm blue in the face about what's wrong about that movie, but there's something about it that's wonderful that won't allow me to go so far as to say it's bad.

The FutureWife (You gotta check that twitter feed, I'm telling you things happen over there) thinks it's because of the motorcycles, sweet action, and Olivia Wilde in black leather. I won't go as far to say that's not true, but there's something else in there that makes me want to like it.

So, kudos to Tron Legacy, the finest, and hopefully the last, movie in the Tron series.

Sweet Tron posters from Eric Tan, check out his blog for more awesome stuff!


  1. "The main villain was kidnapping programs and making them play games..."

    No. The MCP was hijacking programs, absorbing their functions, and then making them play games until they "died" or renounced their faith.

    That's a pretty clear and major aspect of the plot. Not sure how you missed it. Not saying the world concept didn't still have it's faults, but that was absolutely not one of them, and was actually key to the plot.

    It's like somehow missing the bit in Star Wars where Luke finds out about his father, and then claiming it wasn't covered in the film.

  2. Well, I mean, I got that in the real world that the MCP was taking over computers all over the world in an attempt to do some bad shit. You're absolutely correct that that is a major, key point of the plot that is pretty hard to miss. My problem, my conceptual block, is how that plays out in the virtual world.

    For instance: MCP takes over Excel at the Pentagon. Does it immediately take over? Or does the take over not happen until the program "dies" or renounces it's user? And in the meantime, what happens to that program in the real world. Would that Pentagon Official be locked out of of the program in the real world until things were sorted out in the virtual one?

    Further, why make the programs play games when they can just be tossed into a wall and absorbed ala Flynn's original program at the beginning of the movie? If it just needs them to die, why not just kill the programs at the outset instead of forcing them to throw discs at one another?

    Help me answer these questions, anon, you're my only hope.

  3. I was under the assumption that the entirety of the time spent in the virtual world in the first film amounted to seconds, at most. So as people attempting to access their programs while they are held prisoner by the MCP, theoretically not a problem.

    Trying to recall details, and it's been awhile, so I might be mistaken...

    Ram explains to Flynn when he first arrives in the detention block that the MCP takes over your functions if he thinks they're useful, otherwise he sends you to the grid to play games. I always assumed (and you're right that this is unclear in the film) that this meant that the MCP still took over the functions of the programs, but that it didn't need to absorb non-useful programs to do this.

    As for absorbing: I assumed that the MCP wouldn't want to waste memory absorbing unnecessary programs (Clu was absorbed so the MCP could try to determine the User of Clu) and are so they are sent to the games to die. As for why not just derezz non-useful programs... the games needed to be stocked by programs. The MCP shows no ability to write new programs or even manipulate the base code of the digital reality in the manner that Flynn can, and the games served as a way to determine loyalty and ability in drones that the MCP could entrust with certain tasks, such as his second in command.

    Admittedly, these issues are either hinted at in the film, or a matter of extrapolation. The film does not necessarily provide the answers.

  4. I didn't think about the time aspect. From what I remember, they didn't make a big deal of it at all in the first movie. It wasn't until this new one that they mention "seconds felt like hours" or whatever. It's a good thing to note though, and really does help with my conceptual block.

    The rest of what you mention is a pretty great inference of how the world of the first Tron works. Thanks for helping me make sense of it.

    For me, I stumbled out of the gate when the programs were gabbing with each other about their functions and livelihoods. I felt like the creators of the movie wanted them to be more like robots than they wanted them to be computer programs, and I got all hung up on it. Pile the rest of the plot on that shaky foundation and suddenly nothing makes sense (to me).

    A similar thing happened with the new one. While Kevin was expositioning about the new grid, Clu, and the ISOs, I started getting lost in the jargon and was unable to make the connection to the story I needed to.

    Cheers, Anon. Thanks for the info!

  5. I think you have touched on what Tron's biggest hurdle has always been. There's some kind of (potential) disconnect for us as an audience, and when they try to humanize the programs, it just seems awkward and forced. And really kind of reminds us what a silly concept Tron is.

    I love the first movie (haven't seen the new one). But mainly in a big picture kind of way. When it was released, it was groundbreaking. Not just visually, but conceptually. Digital worlds might be a dime a dozen now, but back then, sci-fi usually meant a spaceship going to the ice planet or the swamp planet.

    Tron changed this, and that achievement deserves appreciation. That said, the small details of the film... like dialog, pacing, and the "how" of the universe... these things are unpolished at best.

    One last bit, about how I figured the computer world worked.. there is no computer world. Flynn brought with him his perception of reality and this realm of information was shaped by his preconceptions. He begins understanding how to manipulate the code (because he is a programmer), and subsequently reprograms his reality around him.

  6. Oh, totally. Tron deserves to be in that 'classics' strata strictly for how groundbreaking it was, regardless of how accessible the plot was.

    Also, there's a flaw with how your idea of how Flynn shaped the grid to his preconceptions: We saw it before Flynn set foot in it. Remember we see it at the beginning of the movie when Flynn sends Clu into the muck.

    It was a good effort though. In fact, that's the rationalization of the grid in the new one (which you should absolutely go see).

  7. To be fair, it's also the rationalization for the grid from this Tron comic.

    But yeah, the bit at the beginning of the first film always threw off that aspect.