The Way of the Word

14. December 2010

Review: Tron Legacy

USA 2010. Directed by Joseph Kosinski. Starring Garrett Hedlund, Jeff Bridges, Olivia Wilde, Bruce Boxleitner.  Runtime 127 minutes

Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), CEO of Encom, vanished in 1989, leaving behind his little son Sam. Fast forward to the present: Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner), Kevin’s friend and Sam’s one-time guardian, brings Sam news of a page from Kevin. When Sam goes to investigate those news, he is transported to the Grid, a world within the computers, where progams live and work. It is a world terrorized by the Clu (Jeff Bridges), whose mission was once to make a perfect world. Which he did, by setting himself up as dictator. Forced to fight in the Games until he dies, Sam is rescued by Quorra (Olivia Wilde), who reunites him with his father. Kevin explains to Sam that he was stuck on the Grid after the portal closed. Now Sam reopened it. For Sam, the matter is clear: make a dash to the portal, get back to the real world, and take care of Clu by simply deleting it. The problem is that this is exactly what Clu wants: he has figured out how to travel from the Grid to the User World. Now that the portal is open, Clu can bring his army through and make the world of the users perfect. It is a goal that Sam’s brash actions put Clu on the verge of accomplishing. Now Kevin Flynn is forced out of hiding in order to deal with it. Which, again, is exactly what Clu wants.

Let me get this out of the way: the original Tron was a milestone in filmmaking. I talked about it previously. Does this sequel, Tron Legacy, compare?

Not entirely. The original basically invented modern filmmaking. This sequel takes what is currently available and pushes the envelope a bit farther out. Its major innovation is the digital deaging of Jeff Bridges, who can now convincingly play his current age and his 25 years younger self. It’s stunning, but it doesn’t push the envelope as much as the original did.

That doesn’t mean that Tron Legacy is not absolutely worth your while. The movie is made of win and awesome. Because its 3D sequences (the scenes on the Grid) show even better than Avatar did exactly what 3D can do. The Grid is designed as a completely alien landscape. It is weird, it is bizarre, it is totally unique. Anyone with the least bit of design sense will probably want to watch this movie several times just for this. The movie makes perfect use of 3D without having it be in-your-face. Even less so than Avatar, which did have its “look! 3D!” moments. Here, the 3D flows naturally into the landscape and the storytelling. It actually improves some of the action scenes.

Tron Legacy takes the worlds and the characters established by the original and evolves them. It plays with them. Almost all the characters are back (yes, including Tron himself, played by a de-aged Bruce Boxleitner). Most of the effects from the original are seen in a new and improved form. The new generation of Lightcycles is breathtaking, and the new generation of Recognizers stuns the viewer with the sense of actual mass and substance it now projects. There are constant nods to the original, little things like the son of Ed Dillinger (the villain from the first movie) sitting on Encom’s board of directors. A little item that is reminiscent of the Bit that accompanied Flynn on his first trip. If you know the original, you’ll recognize them. If you don’t it doesn’t matter, all those little homages don’t impede the flow of the story. It’s a clever balancing act, successfully accomplished, that out the creators of this movie as fans of the original.

The cast is convincing. The dangers to the characters seem real, and somewhere along the way it even appears that Clu’s insane plan will actually succeed. Garrett Hedlund is probably the discovery of the year. Oh, he’s been around for a bit, but not in any way that I noticed. This is definitely his breakout part. Olivia Wilde is wonderful and charming as Quorra. Watch her eyes. Jeff Bridges manages to keep his two very different characters distinct.

Does that mean the movie is perfect? Oh now. Nothing is. If you know the original, Jeff Bridges’s Flynn is a bit out of character. If you don’t know, it doesn’t matter. What is grating, though, is that throughout he talks like a hippie who left the world in 1969 instead of a geek who left in 1989. While Clu’s younger Bridges-look is totally convincing, it is at first irritating that he still talks with an old man’s voice. You get used to it, but that’s the next thing the digital wizards need to fix. And I didn’t like the ending. The last 2 minutes or so of the movie are too kitchy. End the movie before that, and it’d be perfect. You’ll know what I mean when I see it. Maybe if they had tacked that ending on as an after-credits easter egg…

But those minor quibbles didn’t noticeably impact my enjoyment of the movie. It’s the best movie I’ve seen all year.

Oh, and: you’ll want to buy the OST CD. Trust me on this.

Verdict: extremely recommended. Go out and see it, right now.

10. March 2010

Tron’s Legacy

The second trailer for Tron: Legacy is out, and it has the internet split in two.

Those over 30 experience geekgasms. Those under 30 don’t understand what the big deal is.

Let me help you out with that. First, watch the trailer. If you don’t know the original movie, you won’t get a lot of what makes us old fogeys go “Whoa.” But that’s okay.

Done? Had fun? Now, indulge an old man and watch the trailer of the original Tron, from 1982. I promise that if you do, some of the stuff from the new trailer will make sense.

Done? Great. How did you like the second one? I know, not nearly as cool as the first one. The CGI look horrible and insanely dated, don’t they? The way Jeff Bridges stumbles on some pretty basic (almost primitive) computer-speak dialog is funny. The story is also a major case of “been there, done that,” right? I mean, some guy getting pulled into VR, what’s so hot about that?

What you need to remember is that the original Tron is from 1982. Nobody even knew what cyberspace was. Sure, the term was coined in 1982, but it didn’t enter the public awareness until William Gibson’s novel Neuromancer in 1984. CGI as we know it today didn’t exist. Sure, there had been some computer graphic effects in movies since 1971, but those had always been about someone looking at a computer screen. CGI, as we know it today, can really only be traced back as far as 1982. ILM used some CGI effects in Star Trek 2. Tron was the first movie to use extensive 3D CGI-sequences, and very simple facial animation. Extensive for the time means that 15 minutes of the movie were completely computer-generated.

That dumb shot of the huge virtual face? At the time, unique. First time ever. The first photorealistic CGI-character didn’t appear on the screen until 1985, and he only had 10 seconds of screen time.

Terminator 2? Jurassic Park? Babylon 5? Toy Story? Matrix? Avatar?

None of them would have been possible without Tron.

Regarding Tron’s story, you could say that it’s an old hat. Sure, there were some elements that were not really new. Basically, it’s a story about a god coming into a world of mortals to help fight a great evil. God being called a “user” and the mortals being “programs.” You could also say that it’s a superhero story. That works just as fine.

So what if the world is VR/cyberspace? Again, you’re looking at the wrong context. Remember what I said above, about how the word cyberspace did not even exist when Tron was made? Nobody had any concept of cyberspace. That there could be a world within the computers… at the time, it was a daring concept that boggled the mind. Matrix took it a step farther… 20 years after Tron, when it really was an old hat.

Maybe all of this will give you a certain sense of perspective. Maybe now you understand why Tron is such a big deal for those of us who are over 30.

Tron was in 1982 what Avatar is in 2010: it was the movie that redefined what movies could do. It was the big game changer. It created new possibilities and set a new standard, that everyone who followed had to try and outdo.

In 30 years, your children will ask you why Avatar, this dated movie with that dumb story, is such a big deal to you.  (Actually, considering how much more quickly technology progresses these days, it will probably be much sooner than 30 years.) Then you will explain to them, as I do here, just how different movies were before and after Avatar.

And that is why Tron is such a big deal for us who saw it when it was new. Are the effects dated? Of course. Is the story original? By now, no longer. Is the acting cheesy? Actually, I don’t think so. At least most of the time it’s pretty solid.

Do we, the over-30s, expect Tron: Legacy to be a game-changer, the way its daddy was? I can’t speak for anyone else, but I don’t think so. It will, however, be a good showcase for the advance of CGI since 1982. It will also, I expect, be a great deal of fun, and it is the only movie coming out this year that I will actually make an effort to see in the 3D-version.

I really, really look forward to this one.

10. January 2010

2010 Must-See

For me, 2009 was a very lukewarm year in movies. There wasn’t much that interested me, and what little I did see mostly disappointed me. On the other hand, there were several movies that weren’t on my radar at all, which I found out too late I might have liked. I guess I’ll catch them on DVD.

With that in mind, I’m fairly excited about what’s coming up in movies in 2010. Today, I would like to talk about which movies of 2010 interest me, and why, and which hyped movies I expect will disappoint, and my ideas of what the year’s sleeper hits might be. I expect to be totally wrong regarding that last thing. 🙂 If I do this again next year, you’ll have a much better idea of how much weight to give my opinion; by then you’ll know just how much my own tastes match yours.

Shall we begin? I’ll proceed in chronological order. Please keep in mind that this is nowhere near anything resembling a complete list.

So far, the buzz on Legion is mixed. Personally, I’m not too sure about this movie. It seems to borrow too much from other movies. It has a good cast, though, and that might make this a Sleeper.

Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief might be the next Harry Potter. It has ties to Clash of the Titans, which will be big later in 2010, it has a terrific cast, and it seems to share a lot of Harry Potter’s sensibilities. There’s no buzz yet, but I have a good feeling about this one.

The year’s comedy highlight of 2010 will be The Bounty Hunter with Gerry Butler and Jennifer Aniston. Gerry Butler plays a bounty hunter who gets the pleasure of taking his ex-wife to prison. The trailer is laugh-out-loud funny, and if that isn’t all the funny scenes in the movie, I’m gonna love this one.

Did I just mention Clash of the Titans a bit earlier? That one has a huge cast too. I like Sam Worthington, he’s a good leading man. And the trailer looks big. I can’t help thinking, however, that the original 1981 movie didn’t need remaking. That one had only one problem, and that was the lack of chemistry between Harry Hamlin and Judy Bowker. The remake seems to like its special effects too much. Frankly, I’m not sure about this one. I want to like it, but… I have a bad feeling about this. I’m afraid it will try too hard to be epic, and fail because of trying too hard.

I am, however, fully enthusiastic about How to Train Your Dragon. Sure, it has your typical outcast teen geek rising to the occasion of winning the respect of everyone else. The dragon design reminds me very much of kittens. I like kittens. What sells me on this one is the somewhat sarcastic tone of Hiccup’s narrative in the trailer. If that’s also in the movie, this just might be fun. Like Shrek.

This is where I break continuity, because there are three movies coming out this year that on the surface share certain similarities. Let’s start with the original, shall we? The A-Team.

Looking at this, I get the feeling that Rampage Jackson as BA will be the movie’s pleasant surprise. Other than that, Liam Neeson is no George Peppard, and it looks as if this movie is not going to ramp up the action but rather the camp factor. I’m a huge A-Team fan, but I think I’ll cuddle up with my DVDs of the original show instead of watching this. (Unless someone pays me to watch this.)

Anyway, another movie with a similar premise is The Losers. The Losers is based on a DV/Vertigo comic book series. A group of former CIA operatives is out to give the CIA a hard time.  There isn’t even a trailer up yet that I could show you. That worries me a bit. The story should be okay, it’s supposedly based on the comic’s first story arc, which I have read and liked. But with several other similar movies coming out this year, it might get lost in the shuffle.

The third one in the same vein is the one that I look forward to the most in 2010.  If I can see only one movie this year, this will be the one: The Expandables. Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Willis, Rourke, Statham, Lundgren, Li … This movie has almost every iconic action hero of the last three decades in it. It has me very excited simply by virtue of its cast. This promises to be huge fun.

And do I even need to mention Iron Man 2? I loved Iron Man,  and I definitely will not miss this one. It might become the biggest movie of 2010, even if not, it will be among the top 5. (But if I were forced to choose between IM2 and Expendables, I’ll still go with Expendables.)

(What, you ask, no love for Kick-Ass and Nightmare on Elm Street? Nope. I’ll admit that the Kick-Ass trailer looks like fun, but the story’s by Mark Millar, and I don’t like Millar’s work. He’s too much of a “shock for the sake of being shocking” kind of writer. Regarding Nightmare, I consider it a case of “remakes the world doesn’t need.” Regardless, I’d be willing to bet money that Kick-Ass will be big in 2010, and Nightmare will at the very least not be a bomb. Still, I won’t see either of them. I am also not interested in Gladiator 2 — err, I mean, Robin Hood. Which I also don’t expect to fail at the box office.)

Inception seems interesting. Even though there’s not much information available yet. Christopher Nolan usually provides intelligent fun, of which there isn’t nearly enough coming from Hollywood these days, so I’m very interested in what this movie has to offer. Even though on the surface of it it sounds like a mix between Matrix and Dreamscape.

Here’s another potential sleeper: Knight and Day. There’s something in this movie that might scare people off: Tom Cruise. But the trailer has a lot of energy, doesn’t reveal very much of the plot, and is a lot of fun. I might be willing to tolerate Tom Cruise if the movie is a lot of fun.

(What, the chorus sounds again, no love for Predators, Twilight Eclipse, Shrek 4 or Prince of Persia? Right. I have no interest in Predator 3, I’m not a teenage girl and therefore not interested in the Twilight saga, I haven’t even seen the first three Shrek movies yet, and Prince of Persia seems to be the kind of pretty but braindead thing that I am increasingly inclined to avoid. There’s too much good stuff out there to bother with the fluff. Anyone willing to take bets that they’ll all make a lot of money?)

After Legion, Paul Bettany will play a vampire-killing priest in the movie Priest, which is an adaptation of a manga. Finally, a man who remembers what we are supposed to do with vampires: kill them! No trailer yet, but I’m still cautiously optimistic.

And do you know what sounds like fun towards year’s end: Your Highness, a movie about a prince whose laziness forces his brother to go on a quest to save the kingdom. At first glance, and I admit I don’t know very much about this movie yet, this sounds as if it takes fairy tale and fantasy tropes and turns them on their head. This one could go either way — it will either be a sleeper, or die quietly.

Tron: Legacy will end the year for me. The original was groundbreaking for its time (there would be no Avatar if there had been no Tron), but it is of course horribly dated. The trailer to Legacy rocks, and I for one am very curious (just like, I suppose, everyone else of my generation) what they have in store for this one.

For your entertainment: the following is the trailer to the original Tron. Just pay attention that even in the trailer, Jeff Bridges stumbles over even simple computer terminology. 🙂

Here you have it: my 2010 at the movies. What do you think of my picks for the year? What are your picks of the year?

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