December 24, 2010

Bio Digital Jazz, Man!

I know we're adverse to facing the music, but let's just be honest! The fanboys are running everything! Don't believe me? Fine! Chew on this. Video games are a fast growing form of legitimate entertainment. The most profitable movies are the ones that involve mystical worlds, monsters, magic, and lots of digital spectacle. Oh, and Tron: Legacy got made! Convinced? The first Tron didn't make much of a splash, didn't do all that well at the box office, and, let's face it, does not hold up at all today. But, it amassed a cult following and is now considered a tentpole of the beginning of the CGI movement. Then, something happened. The fanboys that made up the cult following of Tron took over the world, and now, 28 years after the fact, we have a sequel.

Ok, I'll admit, I've seen this twice. I would say I saw it once to get the story, and then again to get the meaning, but such a lie has never been uttered... on this blog. No, the truth is that I fell asleep in the first viewing. I know. That's bad, but I had just arrived back home in SF and had not slept at all the night before. Don't hate on me! Now that the full thing is comfortably swimming around in my system, I finally have an opinion. It's good, not great, with the best use of special effects and 3D since Avatar, but carries all the story and script issues that plagued that eye-gasm. If anything, it's a testament to how far CGI has come! This is a visually stunning, but shallow and pointless, tour de force!

Game On!

Tron: Legacy picks up some years after the first one ended. Kevin Flynn has long since disappeared, leaving his son, Sam, his entire company of Encom and a bit of a rebellious streak. Rather than cultivate the empire that his dad built, Sam is more content to break in and sabotage it. One day, though, Sam receives a message from his father's old office, from a number long since disconnected. Upon investigating, he accidentally triggers the all powerful laser and is transported into The Grid, a digital world created by Kevin where programs run free and gladiatorial games are all the rage. Sam soon discovers that his father has been trapped on The Grid by his own creation, a program named Clu, who has taken control of the digital frontier and seeks to extend his influence into the real world. Aided by a mysterious program by the name of Quorra, Sam and Kevin race to stop Clu's nefarious plan, and escape The Grid before the portal to the human world closes forever. 

As far as stories go, this one could have been a lot worse. The first Tron wasn't exactly a stalwart example of great writing, and this one is vast improvement over it. The plot moves at a good clip, keeping the excitement and severity of the situations up, so that you always feel as if there is some point to what is going on. That being said, the characters are undeveloped as all holy hell, with the exception of Kevin/Clu. Some of the lines are facepalm stupid, and all of the emotional and sweet moments fall as a flat as a board. 

Jeff Bridges return to the role he originated as Kevin. I don't what kind of weed is available in The Grid, but Flynn seems to have taken on some qualities of that other Bridges character. Bridges isn't playing Kevin Flynn. He's playing Kevin Lebowski, uttering things like "You're messing with my zen thing, man" and "Radical". It's pretty funny actually. Bridges does a good job with the character despite this tonal shift, and succeeds in making us care about his predicament. This is made doubly awesome when you see that Bridges plays both hero and villain in this tale. Yes, thanks to the wonders of special effects, Bridges also plays the nefarious Clu, who looks a good 20 years younger than his creator. Clu is a very effective villain, and, though the CGI does look a bit creepy and unrealistic, it's a very good job from Bridges, playing both sides of the spectrum. 

As the other lead, Garrett Hedlund doesn't fare quite as well. Ditto for Olivia Wilde's Quorra. It's not that they are terrible. They just come off as flat, Hedlund more so than Wilde. Wilde's Quorra is spunky and snarky, but able to kick a ton of ass when she needs to. She thrives when she is supposed to be funny or awesome. When she needs to be serious, however, she's up shit creek. Hedlund, on the other hand, doesn't really fare well anywhere. True, some of his line are well delivered, as when he gets progressively annoyed with the people he must fight in the games. But, for the most part, he's hopelessly trying to tread water, delivering most of lines with an awful monotone and giving out the film's cheesiest moments. 

The rest of the cast does pretty well. Bruce Boxleitner returns to his role as Alan Bradley/Tron. He does a good job for the fifteen minutes he's actually on screen. I can't decide if Michael Sheen's Castor was the funniest thing about the movie or the most annoying. The character is basically Ziggy Stardust, and Sheen gives it his all. James Frain turns up as Clu's brown nosing assistant, and Beau Garrett practically melts the film as Gem, a "Siren" who arms Sam for the games and later assists him. 

Also, what was the point of Cillian Murphy's uncredited role? A setup for a sequel? If so, I'm down! I can't get enough of that guy! He's awesome!

For the most part, performances here are just alright. Bridges is easily the best one her, but that's because he has the most to work with. Playing two roles - hero and villain, no less - is no easy task, and Bridges does a very good job with it. If only everyone else was up to his level, but, I guess it's hard to beat an Oscar winner. The Dude abides!

Watch out man!

So, the story and acting aren't really up to snuff, but, hey, we expected that. The thing that's gonna draw the crowds to Tron: Legacy is the visuals, and, DAMN, they are good! This is, put simply, the best use of CGI to create a convincing foreign world since James Cameron flick about blue people. Everything in this movie looks so friggin' cool. And the action! Whooo, it's fantastic. The ideas of combat introduced in the first film were really innovative and interesting. Unfortunately, the lack of technology made it hard to fully realize them. Well, since we can now apparently reverse age people with a computer, a visually awesome light cycle battle is easy to pull off! And pull it off they do! The three main action scenes in this, a heated disc battle with multiple opponents, a tense light cycle battle, and a chaotic dogfight in the finale are among the best action scenes of the year. Indeed, the light cycle battle gives the hamster wheel hallway scene from Inception a run for it's money. 

But action isn't the only area where the effects shine! When shit isn't exploding around you and dudes aren't getting "drezzed" left and right, the smaller stuff comes out, and you can really take in the beauty of the world. The look of "neon on black" is really striking, and, since the entire is more or less that, we get our fill of it. The Grid is a technical marvel, looking like it was actually built. Same goes for all the machines that are put to use, including the iconic transport ships, the awesome looking light cycles, and a new and stylish flyer. The best use of the effects though, in my mind, is an enormous solar sailer that carries Kevin, Sam, and Quorra towards the portal. It's the quietest moment of the film, and it's breathtaking watching the huge transport gliding silently over the world. 

Yes, the technology used on Bridges to make him look younger still needs work, but it fits in with the world. Since everything around him is animated and built by computers, I bought that Clu would look a little fake. I don't know. Maybe I was just jaded by everything else. 

On a story and acting level, Tron: Legacy is no travesty, but it does leave something to be desired. On a technical level, it's one of the best movies of the year. Easily trumping most, if not all, 2010 films in terms of special effects, all story and performance qualms vanish when you watch it because it looks so damn pretty! Expect an influx of technical Oscars. This puppy certainly deserves it!

Also, the score from Daft Punk? Perfect! Just perfect!


  1. I love the Variety ad for Best Supporting Actor for Clu. It's a nice effort, but ultimately futile.

  2. @Fitz: Really? That seems like a bit of a stretch. Good of them to try though.