Sunday, 23 January 2011

Review: TRON Legacy

First off, I'm not really one to hate movies. Even the fabled Star Wars prequels never really gets beyond distaste and disappointment. That's why I was a little vexed when I saw TRON Legacy and... hated it.

Sequel time.

First of all, I'm a huge fan of the first movie. TRON was a wonderful look into a theoretical concept of what would happen if a computer's internal complexity, when coupled with AI, gave birth to programs developing personalities. This was extended when Flynn, an ex-ENCOM programmer, is digitized by an experimental device and winds up inside a mainframe system. An adventure ensues, travelling across a digital landscape represented in forms reminiscent of video games. This all took place in the modern day of the movie's release, so the early 80s.

If there's one thing Legacy gets right, it parallels this. Legacy takes place in modern day, so around 2010. Technology has continued as normal, but instead of names like Microsoft and Apple being the leaders in tech, it is again the ENCOM corporation.

The depiction of an alternate modern day is interesting in one regard: Instead of the current operating systems we use, ENCOM OS is in use. It seem to basically combine the success of Windows, the bombastic marketing of MAC OS X, and the safety of UNIX into one fictional system.

I dunno if it's just the PC in me talking, or if this was intentional, but I absolutely hated the board of directors becuase they basically incorporated the worst parts of Microsoft and Apple's methodologies into one group. I hope it was intentional, as it was pretty much the only time I had empathy for our protagonist.

Before I go any further, I'm gonna say that if you haven't seen TheSpoonyOne's review of this movie, you should do so, as I agree with him about basically everything. Go and view it. Now. I'm going to refrain from complaining about a few things, mainly because he does a much better job.

Now, as for what I think is wrong with this movie, well...

Tron Legacy isn't exactly a bad movie. It's just not really good either. I'd say it's in the range of entertainment value of the recent Clash of the Titans movie. If you liked that, you may like this. Even the first TRON wasn't really that amazing. Despite some incredible ideas, it's very difficult to approach for some.

Plus it practically ate your eyes with contrast.

But speaking as a hardcore geek, and fan of the first, this is an absolutely awful movie.

There were some needless elements in here, for starters. They did the classic "Double The Guns" manoeuvre by giving Tron (unbeknownst as him to the viewers at this point) two discs. He jumps into the battlefield, crazy flips and all, and pulls out his disc. Then a second disc. This isn't actually that impressive, however, as the first movie had his disc twisting and turning midair, and here it has dropped to boring straight lines ala pong.


Also later, some of the Red Team has lightsabers. Just... no point to it, really.

They also decided to change some of the game rules. Light-cycles has become casual. Where as in the first one, the creation of walls by the bikes made the game more and more difficult and complex as you played, in Legacy the trails fade over time. This was one of the most important part of light-cycles. Although there are still trails, they don't really have much of an effect aside from creating walls to kill opponents when jousting them with your disc isn't enough. I don't actually mind the 360 degrees, as it is more representative of current technology. But the loss of trails makes the game far less interesting.

And speaking of light cycles... Light planes? Really? Again, the point of the light trails on the cycles is that the arena would become increasingly complex, and difficulty would go up as you play, regardless of what you do, until eventual elimination due to basic game laws. But the scene where they are flying around is over open water. This scene is just ridiculous because there is no point. They could easily just take potshots at eachother and avoid having to collide trails at all. But instead they chase after this plane which makes a pair of trails, and destroy some of their men in the process.


The general appearance of trails here appears to be there more for visual effect than actual purpose. All of these scenes could be re-written with people discing eachother and it would make very little difference. Now i've got nothing against pretty lights but there was an actual design-related purpose to the original trails, and it just smells of cheap Hollywood simplification. And as someone heavily interested in game development, it's bloody obvious they didn't think to ask anyone about this.

By the way, I did like the inclusion of Bit as a sculpture in Flynn's digital home, but I would've liked to actually see him again, as he was one of my favourite characters from the first movie. No, he wasn't good, I just found him adorable.


Now, let's briefly touch on the water. This is something that really pissed me off.

Why? Like... Why is there a bar? Why is there apparently an ocean? In the original Tron water was briefly mentioned as being a "fresh source" of power. Programs re-energized from it, as the cpu needs power to run and there is a metaphorical link between the program and the task. I'm still not entirely clear on what they meant by that, though, so I guess it's a little ambiguous.

But let's say they were saying it represents free ability to process a program. Such as free/idle CPU cycles. Programs would obviously like this, as the CPU would be granting them greater ability to function. Zeus' bar actually makes sense for this, as it would then make Zeus basically a Task Manager.

Two problems with this theory:

a) Why would Clu blow up the task manager?! That's a suicidal action and would only lead to further system imperfection.
b) I would think that Clu making an army wouldn't allow that many free cycles to be lying around.

The water, I guess,  is really not that much of a problem, as again it was ambiguously explained at best.

Also I'm pretty sure David Bowie was intended to play Zeus. I mean, look at the guy. But I guess Daft Punk and David Bowie in the same scene would be way too surreal.

To wildly shift topics, I did like Tron's death over the ocean near the end. It was nice to see him turning blue as he fell into the water, finally dying as he was meant to live; fighting for the users and a free system.

Speaking of Tron, why did he basically have nothing to do with this movie? It's called TRON Legacy, and yet it's really more about Flynn and Clu. A more accurate title would be TRON 2: The Legacy of Flynn

On a side note, why was the gateway over all the water? I'd look into the metaphorical reason for this if I thought the producers actually could use metaphors. But metaphors probably aren't marketable.

Speaking of marketability, let's talk about aesthetics. In summary of the movie:

1. Not bright enough.
2. Should've aimed for surrealistic instead of realistic.

The original aesthetic was almost eye-searingly bright. It wouldn't make you blind from watching it, but if you're sensitive to light the contrast between the neon colours and the grey/black of everything else would sting. I can understand not enjoying the first because of this.

Bright Frisbees are bright

The aesthetic also made a lot more sense. It's a binary world; it doesn't need to look pretty. It's a utilitarian world driven by raw energy. And yet all over the place in this movie I'm seeing clouds, subtle contrast, gradient lighting, and just general ignorance of the point. Hence the surrealism. It's inside a computer. Arguably, the inside of the computer doesn't even look like what Flynn saw. Is it any coincidence that Clu looks like him, TRON looks like Alan, Sark looks like Dillinger, etc? And it really is convenient that the games Flynn plays are the ones he wrote. It's more of an amalgamation of computerized versions of what's on his mind.

This movie however ignores that, and focuses on more of an idea that this is really a future-world, hidden inside our computers, with skyscrapers, Daft Punk, and a few lights.

There's no reason Flynn would actually be inside the computer as his full self; whatever his mind computes would have to be represented in things he's already though of, hence usage of imagery that he understands.

In fact they could've made it really interesting. In the first TRON movie, Flynn was the only one in the computer. But now his son is there too. On one hand, the aesthetic does represent at times a warped midway between Flynn and junior. Flynn was absorbed in his games, and his son only knows a world of future-tech and big cities.

This all looks like some deep psychological games, except there's never any implication of change. It would've been interesting if at some point Flynn talked to his son and mentioned how the world changed immediately upon his entry. As if it was upset by two simultaneous users.

Multi-user-access, in my operating system?

However, this being a UNIX system, it can handle multiple users. So there should be no in-between representation. However, they could do some very interesting elements of Flynn and his son disagreeing on what they see when they are in the computer. The world would be represented very differently, and this could be a valid point of tension between the two as it would be harder to get what's going on. But of course, this would probably be hard to market.

And see that's the thing. Where the first TRON was a legitimate science fiction with some really interesting ideas and good use of metaphors, Legacy really is just a cash-in which tries to impress us with the type of razzle-dazzle seen in Transformers and the like, instead of through actual interesting plot.

In fact, the closest thing we get to a "theme" in this movie is almost a polar opposite to the first movie's. The first movie spoke of how technology was so deeply integrated into our lives, and how despite this we could still master it and work together for a constructive future. Legacy, however, tells how we must fight to stay dominant over technology, and how it will never be as good as reality.

Now it's not that this is an invalid argument. Regardless of my personal opinion, my problem here is that a sequel should further expand on the first movie, not turn around and talk down to it. But, it is an obvious element of the times, which i suppose is an interesting parallel.

While the first TRON was released at a time when computers were more along the lines of a new frontier, Legacy has been released in a time when technology is commonplace, and there is a classic love of the anti-technology "back to basics" theme. (See Avatar, etc.)

The final shot, of driving through the forest and seeing the magnificence of natural reality, is nice, but more of a giant flip-off to fans of the original. When the first ended with a pan of a city, growing darker until it resembled circuitry, this one shows the stark contrast of reality and the virtual world, and tell us that this is what we really deserve. And I wouldn't really care, if this wasn't a sequel. But as a sequel, it bothers me.

Perhaps what bothers me more is that they could've expanded on the original concept, as a reminder to people of the wonders computer technology can hold. Even an ending pan of trees isn't necessarily bad. Trees follow fractal growth patterns. Would it not have been interesting, to see trees, databases, fractals, and all sort of higher-intensity systems inside the computer, only for the final shot to mimic this in reality?

But that's too smart. This movie is a simplistic and ignorant mess. I can't recommend it. It's too disrespectful to the first movie. And on its own it was rather boring. A paper-thin plot and only adequate visuals that science fiction movies have been doing since the mid 00s.


 Daft Punk not being amused.

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