December 16, 2010

300 Words About: TRON: Legacy

Hypothetically speaking, how would you describe the sun to someone who's never seen it before and has asked you "what it's like"? Think about the sun for a moment - what it means for humans, animals, plants, energy, life, time, etc.

Would you simply answer, "It's warm...radiant. Beautiful."?

If you can think of something better than that, send off a script ASAP to the top brass at Disney as they busily prepare a multi-platform franchise to rival their fading Pirates of the Caribbean goldmine. Not that the dialogue in the Pirates movies is much better, but if the TRON series can't depend on the charm and star power of the likes of Depp, Knightley, Bloom, and Rush, it's going to have a long way to go to win over science fiction-allergic critics, despite its impressive visual effects.

And the effects are, in a word, astonishing. Right from the opening zoom shot through the skyscrapers of Center City, I had a feeling TRON: Legacy would make my eyes pop more than any movie since Avatar. I suppose that's not saying much since it's only been a year, but you have to consider just how much of a treat it is to still be impressed by visual effects in 2010. Today it's possible to produce realistic representations of anything the imagination can devise (maybe with the exception of CG faces, as evidenced by the cringe-worthy representation of Jeff Bridges circa 1982), and spectacular visual effects go unnoticed by all of us on a daily basis, in everything from television commercials to internet flash animations. I think 3D significantly detracts from all of this more than it enhances it (and the 3D is thankfully at a bare minimum in this movie), but my point is, we've come a long way, baby, and I don't want to take that for granted.

Unfortunately, script development hasn't evolved nearly as quickly as filmmaking technology. Blockbusters with juicy story potential like TRON: Legacy and, to be fair, Avatar, continue to be bogged down by moronic dialogue, and often sub-par acting to boot (see also: Speed Racer). I won't lay any of the blame on first-time director Joseph Kosinski, and I hope to see more from his architecturally-refined mind, but with presumably more ownership of the next sequel, he has to give more consideration to who is writing the screenplay. Otherwise, descriptions of this franchise will counter Sam Flynn's bland description of the sun: "Dull...shallow. Forgettable."


  1. Let's not forget that the original TRON was hardly the pinnacle of snappy, intelligent dialogue either and survived largely on the charm and charisma of Jeff Bridges as our audience surrogate and the stunning visuals. I don't if the guy who plays his son in this new film has any of that going for him but if not then TRON LEGACY only has the impressive looking visuals to fall back on. But then, I think that's why most of us are going to see it anyways - for a visually and aurally immersive experience. So long as the film delivers on that level, I will probably dig it.

  2. Great point about the original, Bridges, and Garrett Hedlund, who plays Sam and who, unfortunately, does not have "any of that going for him". Bridges has a few campy, Lebowski-ish lines, though. Those are kind of fun.

    "Immersive" is a great descriptor for this, too - not the story, unfortunately, but definitely the atmosphere, at least for me.

  3. I agree that the visuals were dazzling. I was transfixed and, I agree, I did not need 3D. In fact, I was happy to take off my glasses during the opening scenes in Center City, also the closing scene, when the movie 2D. Yes, the rendering of young Jeff Bridges is shoddy, but the digital world around him is amazing - the sound, too.

    It's great that CGI can still dazzle, as you say. It's interesting how CGI has come to dominate cinema and dictate what viewers expect. When I teach film history to my 8th graders, I ask them if movies had special effects before the invention of the computer, and they say, "No." I quickly set them straight. But that's how viewers have come to perceive movies. All special effects are CGI.

    That said, I really enjoyed the visuals here. There was a lot of depth to the world of this film. And I loved how it used the machines and games of the first film and enhanced them greatly. I was looking forward to seeing the tanks, so I was kind of disappointed they weren't included. The aerial chase/dogfight was cool though.

    I enjoyed the scene in which they sit down to eat at the table in the white room. Sure seemed like an allusion to 2001: A Space Odyssey to me.

  4. Isn't it interesting, Hokahey, that your students have seen pre-Tron movies like Star Wars and just assumed they utilized CGI?

    I think you and I have both been involved in discussion lamenting the use of CGI in modern films, particularly those set in the real world, but there's not much better use of it than in a technomatronic film like TRON: Legacy. It really enhanced the environment of the story for me, and I thought the color and light were crystal clear, too (as in the dogfight that you mention). All in all I'm pretty impressed by this Kosinksi guy. His next film is about black holes - should be pretty trippy.

  5. I found Avatar's special effects to be rather underwhelming aside from a few scenes as most of it was in service of recreating a stand-in for the Brazilian rain forest or creating a live action version of Fern Gully (I had that film on laserdisc as a kid, so it was a long time reference point). The film that was astonishing from a visual effects standpoint this year was Enter the Void, and I pray that this film comes somewhere in the vicinity. I do love a neon color scheme, so I'm intrigued.

  6. Thanks for stopping by, Leaves. I heard that about Enter the Void and it was here for a couple of weeks but I missed it. Think I was kind of scared away by some graphic descriptions...anyway, you want to see neon, then Tron: Legacy should definitely deliver.

  7. "fading Pirates of the Caribbean goldmine"

    You're right about fading.

    That city is called Center City?

    "Today it's possible to produce realistic representations of anything the imagination can devise (maybe with the exception of CG faces, as evidenced by the cringe-worthy representation of Jeff Bridges circa 1982)"

    I thought Clayface was rather humorous. They should have shown CLU 2.0's face far less than they did. Back of the head shots and reflections off of surfaces would have been far more creative and intriguing to see.

    Damn, you saw Speed Racer. I told somebody I would sit down to watch it and never did.

    If I were Sam describing the Sun I would have said something like: "Its made up of mostly hydrogen. Its 10,000 degrees on the surface, 27 million degrees at the core." This is a direct rip from a Nicolas Cage movie but its more intelligent than what he said.

    You had to like the very end of the film though when she is on the back of his bike and sees the sun for the first time. The expression on her face. Good acting on her part.

    Check out my 950 word review of TRON: Legacy when you get a chance.

    "Lebowski-ish lines"

    Actually the use of "Man" and so forth is more 80's early 90's lingo. Remember Bart Simpson using it all the time? I caught the usage and thought of Duder as well though.


    "I enjoyed the scene in which they sit down to eat at the table in the white room. Sure seemed like an allusion to 2001: A Space Odyssey to me."

    Nice. I knew that room seemed somehow familiar. Good catch. I missed that one.

    Enter the Void and A Serbian Film have some hard scenes to sit through Daniel, especially the latter. Be warned. End of Line.

  8. You will enjoy:

  9. Ha, yeah that's a clever mashup. Might have done one for True Grit, too.

    I think it was called Center City, but I can't say for sure. Maybe I'm confusing it with other generically named futuristic cities.

    Replacing any Nicolas Cage line with the dialogue in this movie would have been, almost, an improvement, especially if Cage were actually delivering the line.

    Back of the head shots and reflections - yes! That would have been much better than the close-ups. When it was in that early scene I cringed, not realizing it would happen so many more times throughout. I heard this was the same technology used in Benjamin Button, but I don't remember Brad Pitt's face looking this bad.

  10. Brad's face was wisely in shadow and in off light settings. Not out in the open like CLU's. Benjamin Button is on Criterion Blu-ray now. I really want it. I should have asked for it. I asked for books instead.

    I might have to add the reflection part and a 2001 reference to my review.

  11. Ah, good point - I remember that Fincher used a lot of dark filters and shadows, as usual.


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