“We’re living in a time where we’re making the worst movies in history. They’re geared toward the video-game generation.” -Billy Bob Thornton
It’s taking just about every ounce of my willpower, plus three quarters extra, not to virtually pulverize Mr. Thornton right now. I thought we had enough well respected members of the media industry trying to shut down the gaming community with Mr. Ebert’s half-assed attempt to prove why video games will never be art, despite the fact that they have been for a good two decades now.
Anyway, what pains me most about hearing comments like this is that they feel so narrow-minded when I turn to a film like Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (of which I believe we have praised just about enough for one lifetime here at Toy-TMA) and the way it applied game aesthetics made it feel like the most original and refreshing movie in a long, long time. However, thanks to a lot of shovelware like Gamer from 2009, it’s no wonder video games still cease to be taken seriously. In fact, to this day, some of the biggest “movies about games” are cult classics that came out in the 80’s and early 90’s when the industry was still in its heydays: movies like The Wizard, The Last Starfighter, and of course TRON. Speaking of which, it is now due for a 28-year-later-sequel (TRON that is. Not The Wizard. That would just be silly.) Yeah that’s right, for all you youngsters out there like a version of myself not too long ago, TRON Legacy is Dinsey’s new gamble at creating a new franchise to be the followup of a 1982 Sci-fi film that has survived strictly on a small niche of dedicated nostalgic nerds-of-the-time that solemly swear the movie was more than just being a bomb in the box office. So, my friends and I gave the movie the shot it diserved, and here is what I have to say.
Lets start by giving TRON Legacy two thumbs up for accomplishing exactly what it set out to do: take a cult classic and completely revitalize it out of the realm of obscurity. Right away, I can tell that this is exactly the kind of movie the makers of the original TRON had probably wanted to make in the first place. The things that people go to see a movie like this for- the special effects, light cycle chases, fast paced fight scenes, a vast and immersive digital world, and Jeff Bridges being a Jeff Bridges brand of awesome- are all here.
Even the beginning portion of the movie that takes place in the real world does a good job at keeping up the pace. The whole opening is about introducing us to Kevin Flynn’s son, Sam (played by Garrett Hedlund), and prepping him as the new protagonist. They accomplish this by giving him a handful of extreme stunts and hacking jobs to pull off. Once he actually enters the world of the Grid (the digital utopia his father discovered) they have already painted him as enough of a wildcard that it’s completely believable for him to ask just a few simple questions and immediately jump into the swing of things. (And by “things” I of course mean Discus Battles and Light-Cycle chases to the death.]
As bad of a rep as 3D has been receiving recently (mostly do to crappy post-conversions like Clash of the Titans just to make a few extra dollars), I’ll give credit to TRON Legacy for easily being the very best use of 3D since James Cameron’s Avatar. The 3D in this movie ceased to be a simple gimmick and actually did serve a legitimate purpose. You see, all the beginning scenes in the real world were filmed in 2D format and are displayed as such. When Sam enters the Grid, that’s when the film is played out in 3D. Now, not only does the 3D let the audience get to see all those neon light discs zipping at them, it creates a unique atmosphere for the digital world that drastically differs from the real world, even further than its already stark visual contrast.
Now if only the story was as great as the aesthetics. Yeah, back in 1982, the premise alone, a game programmer hacks himself into a digital frontier where users and programs compete in games to the death, was WAY ahead of its time. But now, you’d have to come up with some additional subplots or thicken the lore of the universe to create something spectacular, which unfortunately TRON Legacy doesn’t provide (At least not yet. There are plans for sequels). In fact, word through the grapevine is that the plot, more or less, goes through the exact same motions and action sequences that the first one does, just with a fresh and extremely well-polished coat of “video game generation” paint. Even the current production poster looks exactly like its predecessor, as if saying a remake was really all they were aiming for.
The writing isn’t terrible by any means, just uninspired. Half the exposition is a complete mess. Every time we cut to Kevin Flynn trying to explain to Sam how the rules of the Grid work, good luck trying to understand any of it. Honestly it just comes out sounding like… “Science-babble, science-babble, babble-babble-science.” Needless to say, the movie’s stronger points are when it chooses to show us rather than tell us via flashbacks.
Likewise goes for the acting: not bad, just uninspired. Sure Jeff Bridges works double time, reprising both his roles as the now aging programmer Kevin Flynn and his evil counterpart Clu, and he does fine, but everyone else just seems like they are going through the motions as if it’s second nature. Garrett Hedlund’s Sam is a likable enough hero. Olivia Wilde is the hot good girl, Quorra. Beau Garrett is the hot bad girl, Gem. James Frain plays Clu’s square Number 2, Jarvis, who is nowhere near as interesting as the Jarvis from Iron Man. (Notice how they all have typical techno names yet?) Michael Sheen’s performance was quite a sporadic welcome as Sci-fi David Bow—uh I mean “Zeus,” even though Thor is about Norse gods and doesn’t come out till May (P.S. that looks awesome). Oh yeah, and Tron is in it too. Very very briefly, but I swear he’s there.
At the end of all this, what have we come to? Well, the first TRON movie, while being a complete bomb during its release, was still acknowledged by a small group that thought it was all right and had a great premise. Now, 28 years later, the sequel is here and while it has already become far more successful than its predecessor, it’s still just an all right movie with a neat premise, but now with awesome effects that almost make up for all of its shortcomings. Almost. At the very least, I am curious what they are going to do for the sequels. So with that, I give it a go. Level your expectations appropriately, and enjoy the ride.
Happy New Year!
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