December 22, 2010
POP CULTURE: I Knew Tron. Tron Was A Friend of Mine. You, Sir, Are No Tron.
A guest post from Leon Wolf, who sent this mostly spoiler-free movie review along after seeing Tron: Legacy last night. And if it's not harsh enough for you, may I recommend this Fark review of Little Fockers.
So at the outset, I should note that as a young boy in Valdez, Alaska, there was not really a whole lot to do to occupy your time. My parents were not well off (although not fairly called poor), but we did have a VCR. However, we did not own movies as in those days it was prohibitively expensive to actually own them. The local library, however, had some that you could check out for a day at a time, and it was within easy walking distance. However, the only things they really had that interested me were the Walter Cronkite World War II collection, and Tron. Day after day after day I would make the trek to the library to renew the Tron I had checked out the previous day. It is no exaggeration to say that I watched that movie over 150 times. In other words, I had a real connection to that movie even though as an adult I have no delusions that it was Citizen Kane or something. SO I was prepared to overlook an awful lot in the sequel for the sake of reconnecting with a movie that was a meaningful part of my childhood. I even paid for the 3D and the EXTRA FEE for the "Big D 3D" - it was $28.50 for my son and I to see the movie (!!!!!!). I wanted the whole Tron experience, baby.
With all that out of the way: this movie sucked.
First, the good: the movie did indeed have some pretty stunning visual effects, and the sound effects were even better. The scoring of the movie was excellent even though I'm afraid the movie will be dated in 10 years (or less). Bridges as always did a good job of playing his character(s) despite their limitations. Also, and this cannot be emphasized enough, this movie features Olivia Wilde in a Tron suit. Also, this was a great movie for kids and I'm certain they will all love it, although the volume in this particular theater was so freaking loud that I was kind of worried that it was going to give my son a headache at a couple of points.
Now the bad. Unfortunately, there was much, much more bad.
First, the effects. Although admittedly very good, they were not the best I have ever seen by a long stretch. I was much more awe inspired the first time I saw A Bug's Life in the theater, as well as Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Also, the entire movie is set against a backdrop of black. I mean, apart from the last 30 seconds, the movie is infused with a darkness that would make Tim Burton blush. It's kind of cool at first, but it's ridiculously monotonous. At one point in the movie one of the programs asks wistfully what a sunrise is like and you're like, "Yeah, I really could go for seeing the sun right now, or really anything that is not black, red, or electric blue." A substantial part of the movie consists entirely of varying shades of gray/black, red and blue. Of course, it might be objected at this point that the creators were likely paying homage to the original (which featured essentially the same color scheme), but with the jazzed-up graphics in Tron: Legacy, the effect was to make the movie look like some absurd gothic Christmas pageant or something.
Also, for some totally unnecessary reasons, they decide to show some young versions of Jeff Bridges in this movie. Apparently makeup couldn't get the job done so they just CGI-ified his face. It looks indescribably weird and discordant. Frankly, they seem to have realized that the entire enterprise of making Jeff Bridges look young was mostly a lost cause and so in most of these scenes, they just kind of obscure his face (by making him wear a mask, turn away from the camera, or other cheap devices) or make it blurry. Which is kind of easy given how dark everything is but it's still kind of cheesy given how sharp everything else in the movie is. Of course, it's only a shockingly ridiculous plot device that requires the presence of a young Jeff Bridges in the first place, so one wonders why they even bothered. I feel compelled to rush out tomorrow to see True Grit just to wipe the taste of Weird Young Jeff Bridges out of my mouth.
That kind of segues into what is by far the movie's biggest problem: the plot. To call it "pasted on" would be an insult to all the crappy toys of my childhood that featured pasted on parts and stickers that inevitably fell apart and rendered the toy pointless after two days of playing with them. Also, you know those giant spaceships in Independence Day that hovered over DC, and were so large they blotted out the entire city? You could drive one of those things, piloted by Michael Moore, through the holes in this plot. I can't really explain any of them without giving away spoilers, and I promised no spoilers, so you'll just have to trust me on this one. I lost count of the number of times I said, "Now wait a minute, didn't they JUST SAY..." or "Now wait a damn minute, if that's true, then how in the hell..." etc. I mean, every movie has some of that, but that's the ENTIRE MOVIE of Tron: Legacy. And that does not even touch the fact that you have no idea what the motivation for most of even the main characters in the movie is, or why they could possibly care about any of the crap they are doing. As if this were not bad enough, apart from Flynn, his son, and Olivia Wilde's character, they are all indescribably weird - like Johnny Depp in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory weird. Fanty and Mango from Serenity weird. The preacher from Poltergeist II weird (and just as creepy in some cases). You get the picture.
Finally, I simply can't finish commenting on this movie without noting the manifold scientific issues and implausibilities. Now, we're talking about a movie where people get sucked into a computer system where they walk around and interact with programs... who look like people. So, I mean, you start from a position where you're suspending a pretty significant amount of disbelief just by buying the ticket and walking in the door. That said, even if you grant this implausible premise, there are some (and by some I mean many) points of the movie where, granting this premise, you still find yourself saying, "Oh, come on!!" For instance, one scene features a battle between some planes that are flying around and shooting at each other. Remember now, the premise is that these are visual representations of the behaviors of computer programs. OK? Right. So the planes are flying around and at one point they fly together straight up in the air - causing the planes engines' to stall. I actually said aloud (under my breath) "Okay, seriously?" at that point. And for those of you who do see the movie, just WAIT until you hear the explanation for Olivia Wilde's character. Anyone with a basic background in biology may have to restrain themselves from swearing aloud at the screen.
In conclusion, my childhood has been raped. I haven't even discussed the gratuitous (and completely extraneous to the "plot") left-wing swipes in the movie. One and a half stars, and it only earns that because my son had a genuinely good time. If it were just me with another adult in the theater, we would have started pointing and laughing halfway through it.