A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 407 – Tron: Legacy

Tron: Legacy – April 11th, 2011

We saw this movie for my birthday this past year. I always take the day off, since it’s a lousy time for a birthday anyhow and I like to eliminate the possibility of having the day soured by something work-related. So we went into Boston and went to a movie in 3D. Now, normally this would not have been my favorite way to spend my birthday since I have to be careful with big screens and 3D for fear of headaches. But for this? I was willing to take on a headache on my birthday. And it was worth it. That should tell you something right there.

I went into this with expectations of a visually stunning but otherwise shallow movie. And the movie definitely delivered on the visuals. The original has such a distinctive style, there was no way this movie could move too far away from it without incurring the wrath of the fans. But what it managed to do was take that distinctive style and use current technology to make it clearer and sharper and more expansive. Much as I enjoyed the original and appreciate its visuals, there were times when I just wanted more out of the world. It was so rich in the story itself, with so much potential, but there were limits to what the visuals could really accomplish. Those limits are much expanded here, with wide open landscapes and lovely details like the rock formations and ocean present on the outer edges of the grid. And oh, oh I will get to the costumes in a moment.

First I’d like to address the story. It’s not perfect, I know. I’m sure if I sat down and tried to take it super seriously I’d be able to poke holes you could drive trucks through. But I’m not taking it super seriously. It’s got some themes I quite enjoy in my movies, but the specifics aren’t the point to me. The whole father and son quest deal, with Sam Flynn looking for his long-missing father who disappeared into the grid when he was still a child? Yeah, that’s great and all as an impetus for the story, but what I care more about is the conflict between Flynn and CLU and the formation of a utopia and the Isos. Because the themes there, while a wee bit on the heavy handed side, are things I find interesting. They certainly touch on the utopia-as-dystopia concept I love so much, and the Isos touch on something I loved in the first ever computer science class I took.

One of the last projects I had to do for said class was to write a version of Life in C++. And no, I don’t mean the board game. It’s a fairly simple concept in terms of how it works, but what makes it fascinating is how when you set it up and let it run, what might seem to be a simple pattern can evolve into a complex one that becomes self-sustaining, or it can sprout new patterns that then take on lives of their own. It’s an example of emergence and I have no doubt in my mind that the sort of concept that drives Life is the concept that inspired the Isos. And I wish that they were more involved in the overall story, but at the same time I’m glad they weren’t built up as messianic figures. Because they could have been, but I like them more as simply a new type of program. Something unexpected and different but still a part of the whole.

It’s for that and the dystopia stuff that I really enjoy the story of the movie. But what brings it together is the trappings around that story. The music is fantastic and I have to say that seeing it in the theater was the way to go. Hearing it in the theater was the way to go. It is the perfect music for every moment. I already mentioned the visuals but I said I’d come back to the costumes and oh my god, the costumes. They’re lovely. I want every coat in this movie and if I had the legs I’d be hard pressed not to cosplay as Quorra. There’s a smoothness that works for the world the movie is set in and I love knowing that the lights were achieved in camera. And that’s just the up close details. There are so many other things that make the entirety of this movie just work, from the fantastic CGI Jeff Bridges to the nods back to the original movie, like the Bits on Flynn’s in-grid fireplace mantle. This movie wants us to know it’s firmly in the world of the first.

Aside from an unfired Chekhov’s Gun (which I won’t spoil for those who want to spot it themselves), there’s nothing I don’t like about this movie. I even thoroughly enjoyed Michael Sheen’s performance, which I believe was intentionally over the top. It fits the fight scene in the club, so I can run with it and besides, I like him. It’s got some great action, decent to good acting, gorgeous visuals on all fronts, fantastic sound, plot elements I greatly enjoy and respect for its roots. And it didn’t give me a headache on my birthday (which I credit to some very well done 3D work). What more could I ask for?

April 11, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Tron Legacy

April 11, 2011

Tron Legacy

I feel like I have a lot to say about this movie. It resonates so strongly with me. It takes a movie and a world that I enjoyed in my childhood and treats it with respect and reverence. I talked in my review of the first Tron movie (more than a year ago, back in the infancy of our project) about how I liked the world-building. I talked about how it managed to maintain an ageless simplicity. The first Tron movie was a fun introduction to an alternate world inside of the computers. We got to see a struggle between good and evil in a sort of quaint and almost classic feeling movie. This movie takes that as its basis and builds from it a grand epic.

The first brilliant thing this movie does is to celebrate its predecessor. We are re-inserted in the world of tron in the late Eighties. Kevin Flynn is now CEO of Encom – the company with the Infocom logo that he wrested from the nefarious Ed Dillinger when Tron defeated the MCP in the first movie. He has become something of an eccentric digital visionary and is obsessed with the virtual world he has visited to such a degree that he doesn’t seem to have much time for his young son Sam. (Sam has action figures and posters based on the computer world – clearly Kevin has built quite a franchise from his experiences on the Grid.) But one fateful day Kevin disappears, leaving his son alone to be raised an orphan.

Jump forward twenty years to the present day. Encom is a soulless mega-corporation that makes billions with its OS. Sam is a spoiled playboy who doesn’t have any particular goal in life besides riding his motorbike really fast and playing pranks on the company he owns a majority share in. Until one day Kevin’s old friend Alan (who wrote Tron way back in the day) gets a page from Kevin’s old arcade. From a number that’s been out of service for twenty years. Sam goes to investigate and discovers an old computer still running in a hidden room behind a Tron machine. When he starts to play with the computer he accidentally digitizes himself and is brought into the Grid, into the computer, into the game.

Here, of course, things start to take on their true epic tone. This is a movie steeped in its own mythology. Inside the Grid Sam finds that the users are not idolised any longer by the programs – they are vilified. Kevin’s old program Clu has exiled his creator to the wastelands and is building a “perfect” society as he was programmed to do. An entire race of sentient programs, the Isos, which spontaneously evolved in the Grid when it reached a certain complexity, have been hunted to near extinction by Clu and his minions. Tron, the champion of the users and Kevin’s steadfast defender, hasn’t been heard from since the day that Clu overthrew Kevin.

It’s a classic, mythic, tale of fathers and sons. Of betrayal by progeny. Of a totalitarian regime against a few rebels who want something other than a homogeneous “perfect” society. It’s a giant, sweeping, epic film and the ultimate stakes are the very freedom of our own world here outside the computers. In short it is the best kind of classic sci-fi space opera, just set in a slick looking digital world.

What a coup for this movie that that unknown handsom actor Jeff Bridges who portrayed Kevin Flynn in the first Tron movie has aged so gracefully into the Oscar winning Jeff Bridges of today. His powerful performances, both as the wise father figure and creator who is simultaneously reviled and secretly feared and idolised by the programs in the Grid and as the hurt and wounded Clu whose abandonment issues have resulted in everything that is wrong with the system are a marvelous thing to behold. He gives the movie its soul, and it could not exist without him. Garrett Hedlund takes the role of the rebel and mischief maker that Kevin used to be as his son Sam, through whose eyes we see most of the movie. He’s a fun hero, and keeps the audience invested in the movie by grounding it somewhat – showing us how a “regular guy” copes with being thrown into the Grid. (Albeit a regular guy with a knack for motorcycle riding, extreme sports, programming and who happens to be the son of a god inside of teh computer world.) Olivia Wilde is Quorra, the mysterious young woman that Kevin has taken under his wing in exile to be his apprentice. She’s alive with humor and wonder, and she’s the real action hero of the film, pulling Sam’s bacon out of the fire more than once.

In support of this great cast we also have some astonishing effects. Let me state right here that this is the first 3D Blu-Ray that I bought. I don’t have a TV capable of showing it, but I have the disc. (This would be because I bought the 5-disc special edition that includes the 3D Blu-Ray, the regular Blu-Ray, the DVD, the digital version for my iPod, and as DVD of the original Tron just for good measure.) If you’ve been reading this blog you probably know that I am in love with 3-D movies in the cinema. Ever since I saw Coraline in 3-D in the movie theater I knew that it was something special that would add to an already exciting experience. (And, by the way, I wrote an entry predicting the 3DS in my Livejournal on that day in February 2009.) This movie, with a few other such as Up, Toy Story 3, and Avatar, shows that 3-D can enhance the theater experience without overpowering the movie.

That’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the fantastic digital creations on the screen here. Of course there are all the slick, shiny, new interpretations of the digital world of the 1982 Tron world. Back are the discs, the recognisers, the light-cycles, but now they all have an awesome look in keeping with the capabilities of the effects houses of the new millennium. Most mind blowing of all, though, is the presence of a young Jeff Bridges who looks as though he hasn’t aged since the eighties. Clu and the Kevin Flynn of the flashbacks are accomplished by capturing Jeff’s performance and superimposing it on a digital doppleganger. It’s not perfect, but it’s DAMNED close. It’s not just astonishing that the wizards behind the special effects were able to make this digital person look so realistic – they (and Jeff) were able to get a fantastic emotional performance out of it. Clu is not a simple villain. He has a deep emotional core as the abandoned son himself (a mirror for Sam – the son who didn’t lose the father, but had to deal with losing his approval instead.) It’s great to see the edge of what is possible being so boldly pushed.

Then there’s the score. I love the old Wendy Carlos Tron score. I have fond memories of hanging out with my friend Jeff and listening to that score (and using it in our amateur Hitchhiker’s Guide production.) This movie is brought to life by its pounding, ominous, intense and electrifying music. It’s fantastic that the film makers gave Daft Punk a cameo in the film (even if it is on the silliest and most campy portion of the film) because they simply belong in this world. We already own this score twice, since Amanda and I each bought it independently from the iTunes store. This music is powerful, grand and epic – which is entirely appropriate for this powerful, grand and epic movie.

This movie is probably my favorite movie from 2010 (it’s a tight race between this and Toy Story 3) and it’s a contender for best movie of the millennium so far.

April 11, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment