18 June 2011

Movies: TRON: Legacy (plus the original TRON)

TRON (1982) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0084827/
TRON: Legacy (2010) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1104001/

Before I watched TRON: Legacy (T:L) I figured it would be a good time to re-watch the original TRON film.

TRON is basically a story about a 80's era hacker (Flynn) that wants to break into his old employer's computer and get proof that his old boss stole game programs from him. Flynn is aided by a couple of friends (Lora and Alan) that still work for the company. While trying to break in to the mainframe the computer's Master Control Program, which is somewhat an AI system that gets 'smarter' as it assimilates other programs, detects Flynn's breakin attempts and uses Lora's laser-digitizing project to digitize Flynn and draw him into the mainframe to stop him. Flynn then battles MCP to escape the mainframe and return to the real world.

I remember watching TRON in the theater when it was first released, and re-watching the film recalls those early memories.
I can't even imagine how this film looks to the folks who were born not knowing a world without home computers and internets and such things. I grew up during the time when the first video games and video game arcades came about, when the first home gaming systems that predated the Atari 2600 came out.  Been watching that cutting edge cutting for decades, so appreciating the context of the era that film was released is easy for me.

So TRON, back in 1982, was somewhat of a topical and innovative-looking film to a youngun like I was at the time. Computers and video games were still comparatively new, mysterious and wonderful, as were real lasers and things. Sure we knew we were watching a fantasy film, but we didn't care.  Even though the film didn't do so well, Disney did a masterful job of marketing the film by backing an arcade video game that hit all the high points from the film. I still remember the film's music - kinda cheesy and electronic-ey and repeated often during the game play.
Watching it through my eyes of today, especially after having spent a career writing and debugging software, this film is a riot when it comes to dialog and overall thin plot. Mostly because I understand what that language meant in the context of the era when it was written.

One thing I'd never noticed until this most recent viewing -- that the actress Cindy Morgan was in the film. She played "Lacey Underall" in Caddyshack and I never made that connection until now. Then again I haven't seen either film in quite a while.

Even today the look of the original film is rather unique compared to films from the same decade. How they filmed it is still an interesting story considering how labor-intensive it was at the time. Its techniques are considered primitive by today's standards, but really give the film a unique look. Despite its occasionally cheesy dialog, it is still an entertaining film for me, having grown up during the period it was made. I just have no idea how the folks born after this film was made would interpret it.

But I didn't really want to sit down and rate the original TRON. I just wanted to see the original TRON again so I could see how TRON: Legacy does as a film and as a sequel.

TRON: Legacy (2010)

We get a bit of Flynn a few years after the first film's end.  He married, had a child (Sam), his wife died, then Flynn mysteriously disappears when Sam is about 7 years old. Sam inherits his father's shares of the company, but doesn't want to run it. Alan from the first film is still part of the company, but is relegated to "ignored member of the board" status after Flynn's disappearance.  Son of original TRON's bad-guy Dillinger is on the board, but inconsequential to the story. Maybe if they do another sequel they'll actually use him?

20 years after Flynn's disappearance Alan receives a page (yes, a page, not a text message) from Flynn's disconnected phone from Flynn's old office at Flynn's old shut-down arcade.  Alan tells Sam to go investigate it. Sam discovers his father's hidden room under the arcade, tries to log in to the computer down there, and BOOM ends up in the digital world Flynn designed. Just like his father in TRON, Sam has to overcome obstacles to overcome the oppressive 'big bad' and return to the real world.

Stripped down T:L's plot is pretty much the same as TRON, there are some twists to differentiate the film a little. That is to say just like the first TRON there really isn't much to explain why this digital world works the way it does, why programs are anthropomorphized the way they are, why they even have anything resembling motivations beyond their original programming, etc.

The key to watching TRON:Legacy? Just like with TRON:  don't ask questions, don't think deeply about it. Just let it happen.

Visually the new digital world looks much better and more organic than the original TRON world - which is to be expected considering technological advances. Not entirely sure about the need for clouds and jet exhausts and things.  A few callbacks to vehicles from the original film show up.
But is looking more organic actually better? Or will you pine for the sterile landscapes of the original TRON?

The CGI de-aged Flynn face is rather off-putting. Deep inside uncanny valley. Despite their best efforts it just doesn't move like a real person's face, especially when talking. It's really disappointing, especially after seeing Weta Digital do their magic in Lord of the Rings and Avatar.  On a side note it was amusing that elder Flynn (role reprised by Jeff Bridges) talks more like he did in "The Big Lebowski", however he didn't smoke pot or drink white russians. Nobody peed on his rug, either.

I got a kick out of seeing the Daft Punk cameo -- they show up as the DJs in the End of Line club. Daft Punk did the soundtrack for the film. Worked for me. I like 'em.

For me, the film's appeal was in its entertainment value for nostalgia's sake. And that's a nostalgia that was born from memories dating back in 1982.

So is TRON:Legacy a good sequel for TRON? In some ways, sure. When watched with the right mindset.
Neither film is great, but this is a case when I don't mind. The both occupy a special place reserved just for them. I was entertained enough. It had flashing lights. ooh! 
I can imagine this film and its predecessor TRON probably look great to children.  Little ones aren't going to notice thinish plots - they're going to be loving the light cycles, wondering what it's like to live in a computer, and even the geekier ones will be saying "Greetings, program!" to everyone for an intolerable amount of time.


Just don't expect a mind-blowing like the first Matrix film delivered and you should be okay.

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