Friday, January 14, 2011

Tron: Legacy Review

The Evil That Computers Do

In the original Tron, the villain in the virtual world is MCP - Master Control Program - created by a money-hungry business-man, Ed Dillinger. Originally written as a chess playing AI, it transpires that the program develops further intelligence on and of it's own by kidnapping other programs and absorbing their functions. The program, in essence, develops megalomania - taking control of American and Russian government systems at a time during the Cold War - and there's very little doubt as to whether or not this 'intelligent' program is evil.

But in the case of CLU, the villain of Tron: Legacy, this seems not to be the case. He's not so much explicitly evil, but rather he's doing what he was programmed to do - to help Flynn create a perfect world. It just so happens that his idea of a perfect world, contrary to Flynn's, involves genocide.

Okay, so CLU' plans and motives seem like a fairly obvious allegory for Hitler and the Nazis, especially in his desire to rid his world of all 'ISO's, which he considers to be imperfections.

Further to this, he plans to enter the real world with an army, figuring that if a user can be inside the Grid, a program can exist in the real world. And his plan then, is to correct all the imperfections of the world, presumably by exterminating all humans in a move that would make the daleks proud.

In a flashback, we see CLU start to diverge from Flynn in ideology, but more importantly, we see the point where CLU expresses a feeling of betray towards Flynn. Asking "am I to create the perfect world", when Flynn affirms this instruction, CLU then goes ahead and tries to remove Flynn, seeing him as an imperfection and an obstacle to his instruction and his vision. And it's Flynn's resistance and opposition that is, in CLU' eyes, what makes Flynn the bad guy.

Towards the end, this idea is reiterated in CLU' lines "You promised we would change the world together. You broke your promise. I brought the system to its maximum potential - I created the perfect system."

Flynn tries to explain that he didn't fully understand what he wanted (philosophically) when he created CLU and the plan for a perfect world. But ultimately, CLU is just a piece of programming. And unlike the ISOs, he can't operate outside of the instructions programmed into him, unless he's manually reprogrammed. Or else deleted. Which is partly why Flynn and his son need to escape back to the real-world.

Besides this, you have the theme of self-sacrifice - the idea of "removing yourself from the equation". And in fact, Jeff Bridges apparently brought in Zen Buddhist, Bernie Glassman, to help with writing the spiritual subtext of the film.

You also have the ISOs - Isomorphic Algorithms, which are programs that emerged spontaneously from the architecture of the Grid, and that theoretically have a sentience of their own. That is, since they weren't (explicitly) programmed, they aren't bound by predefined instructions, so can act of their own 'free will'. This supposedly gives them the potential to "unlock mysteries in science, religion, and medicine".

This is contrary to the other programs (basics) on the Grid, though this distinction isn't made outwardly obvious, or really explored, in the film.

Script Shortcomings?

A lot, if not most, of the reviews I've seen compliment the films visuals and it's soundtrack, but single out the script as the films weakest part. But if anything, it's fault was that it had several promising ideas that got pushed into the background, which might have made for a richer story had they been expanded on.

And perhaps the other problem is that all of the 28 years that go between the two films (and bearing in mind that time effectively moves slower on the Grid), everything that happens in that time has to be summarised.

The full story of the intervening years is actually expanded in other medias:

Tron: Betrayal, a graphic novel, covers the first half of the story - Flynn returning to the Grid, setting out to create his perfect world. It goes through the creation of CLU2, through "The Miracle" and the appearance of the ISOs, and ends on the eve of "The Purge". (As well as the concurrent real world events).

The video game, Tron: Evolution, then covers "The Purge" - the genocide of the ISOs - how Flynn came to be trapped on the Grid,  and everything else leading up to the events of Tron: Legacy.

I'm inclined to believe that the deeper detail that's 'missing' from the film, will in fact be found in these other medias. It's just unfortunate that most people who see Legacy won't come across them, so may be left feeling like big chunks of the story, and the back-story in particular, are just missing or too vague.

And bear in mind that, if we're honest, the script of the original Tron was hardly a masterpiece. But it's not the plot that people remember about it - it's the visuals, the fact that it was ahead of its time, and the fact that it became so influential as a whole.

Holy hell, this movie's slick!

It really is quite a stunning film to look at.

At least one review described it as part sequel, part remake/re-imagining. And that is basically it. If you rewatch Tron having seen Legacy (or vice versa), you see all the little nods to the original, some scenes taken almost verbatim ("big door"). But this is not a bad thing. Given how dramatic the change in the graphic appearance of everything, you'd feel almost let down if you didn't get to see, say, an updated light-cycle.

And the dramatic upgrade in the appearances and visual effects really is a good reflection of how much technology has advanced since 1982.

You also have Jeff Bridges made young again by CGI, for the role of CLU. Now while I was watching I kept thinking how it looked so obviously CGI. But one commenter I saw suggested that this may in fact have been intentional - that since CLU is supposed to be a computer simulation of Flynn, it makes sense for his appearance to reflect that. And in retrospect, I'm inclined to agree.

If you're familiar with Daft Punk's singles, the soundtrack is really not like any of that. In a word, the soundtrack is gorgeous. Reminiscent in places of the likes of Hans Zimmer's Inception and Batman soundtracks in it's rich, powerful architecture, it takes these amazing orchestral pieces and mixes in strong, modernized-retro-syth sounds. And all combined, it just sounds spectacular, and fits the film perfectly.

Honestly, I've been listening to it on repeat almost non-stop. Somehow, they've managed to do for the soundtrack what was done for the visuals - that is take what was in the original film, and update it to make it richer, cleaner, more modern; and yet still maintain the essence and the feel of the original.

A Note on 3D

3D, when done right, can be spectacular. And I certainly appreciate it's "Wizard of Oz"-style implementation in Legacy. But it still has it's drawbacks. The glasses for one, that sit uncomfortably when worn over regular glasses. And besides that, two sets of frames obstruct the view in a slightly irritating way.

But also, the film's faster action scenes were made somehow harder to follow. You have characters in almost identical outfits throwing disks at each other and performing all manner of acrobatics, and it's hard to tell who's in peril or who's winning until they land and pause to catch their own bearings.

And for the love of God, please stop doing the thing where things suddenly fly out of the screen and straight at your head. It freaks me out, and I don't like it.


Tron: Legacy is still running at cinemas, and should be released on DVD around April. The game and GN are available now. The original Tron is suspiciously hard to come by. Which seems to me like a poor move, and the sort of move that encourages piracy. But no doubt it'll be released along with Legacy (probably as a boxset), if not before then.

And as far as sequels, one is currently being written, and while it's still waiting to be greenlit, it seems inevitable.

There's certainly plenty to lead on from; what happened to Jeff Bridges and the Grid, how is Quorra going to cope with being a program in the real world, and how is Ed Dillinger Jr., son of the original film's (real world) villain, going to react to Sam taking over control of Encom..

Overall, I'd give it Legacy maybe 4/5 - as has been said over and over again, it's a pleasure to the senses, but there's certainly room for improvements in the script, which might have been able to elevate it to near perfection.


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