Fidgeting and Sighing Chapter 5: Tron: Legacy is Messin’ with my Zen, Man!

Posted: March 20, 2015 in Fidgeting and Sighing
Tags: ,

With the not-awaited-at-all news that there will soon be a third installment in the Tron saga, I figured I would revisit my blog post from 2010 after seeing Tron: Legacy. I updated it a little, so it wouldn’t seem like just a retread, which is what I was kind of hoping for from the movie itself. Anyway, here goes:

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Things were different back then. It was 1982.  Atari 2600 was the rage.  There was trouble in the Middle East.  Coke vs. Pepsi was a big debate, as was coke vs. heroin.  I was six years-old, and I was mesmerized by Disney’s Tron. Well, admittedly, I was mesmerized by the blue and red light bulbs that people seemed to be wearing and the really cool light-cycles.  The rest of it went way over my head. But I still loved the movie.

My, my, how things have changed. Or not. Sure, Atari is not the rage anymore, but I pretty much use current technology exclusively just to play those old games.  There’s still trouble in the Middle East.  And Tron: Legacy was cool for the light-cycles and the rest pretty much baffled me.  For example, this question continues to plague me: was Jeff Bridges trying to recreate The Dude from The Big Lebowski or is that just the way he acts nowadays in every role?*

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I have been trying to be less critical of movies as I get older, and I think overall I’ve done well (and I think actually seeing fewer movies helps), so when I first heard that they were doing a sequel to Tron, my first instinct was, “Another silly re-tread? Forget it.”  Then I saw some trailers, and I thought it looked pretty cool and figured it was worth my time.

Remember, kids; always trust your instincts.

“But, Durs, didn’t it look cool?” you may be thinking.  And, sure, the light-cycles, the Matrix-esque fighting with glowing frisbees, and the return of the big horse-shoe ships were all very fun.  But we have video games for that kind of thing.  Come on, including the 3-D glasses, do you want to spend $13 on a couple of minor aspects of a movie?  The rest of it was just a lot of talking about things that actually don’t exist (also similar to The Matrix, only without the crappy philosophy and Keanu Reeves looking dumb and constantly asking, “What?”), and I’m not sure why we should care what happens in the “Tron World” for that very reason: it doesn’t actually exist.  What are the stakes except that The Dude may not survive long enough to drink another White Russian?  And, sure, there are movies with less at stake.  Weekend at Bernie’s, for one.  But the job of the screenwriter is to make the audience care about these things.  If you can convince the audience that saving the “Tron World” is important, then you have accomplished something as a screenwriter. For example, I have never personally traveled through time, but I understand why Marty and Doc had to succeed in Back to the Future. It’s all about stakes. Tron: Legacy front-loaded all the cool stuff in the first 45 minutes or so, then spent a loooooong time explaining why it all happened. And over a very visually-exciting dinner, no less. However, I never got an explanation on why it mattered. Apparently, the bad guys were going to invade the real world somehow, but whatever…

In Tron: Legacy, Sam Flynn (Son of Dude) gets a strange “page” from his father’s arcade, and assumes it is from his old man who disappeared twenty years ago. Sam investigates and is pulled him into the same Tron World where Kevin “Dude” Flynn has been hanging out for the last two decades, apparently getting really high. When father and son reunite, they (along with the oddly-named Quorra) embark on a quest to stop this big bad guy of Tron world, who was apparently created by Kevin somehow. Why he created bad guys I can’t recall, but I’m sure the movie explained it. And I’m sure the explanation was convoluted and took forever. There was something about a CLU and and a program that looked like Kevin  (Two Dudes!), but honestly I just wanted to see the life-cycles. The plot was not really important, and this is one of the few times where I can honestly say that. I actually don’t even remember how it ended, so… NO SPOILERS HERE!

I think I know the thinking behind this sequel. Much like the Wall Street sequel coming on the heels of some economic turmoil, the folks at Disney probably thought that since we are in this digital age, the time was ripe for a Tron sequel.  They maybe thought the whole Grid thing and all of us essentially being Programs or Users these days would lend itself to the story of Tron, even 30 years later.  Sadly, that is not the case.  Despite my Atari reference earlier, it’s a much different world now.  The games we play on our phones are better than the original Tron special effects, which were done mostly with paint and canvas, by the way.  For all that talk about Tron being the first movie to use CGI, only about 15 minutes of the film are computer animated, because the technology didn’t exist yet to combine digital animation with real-life characters.  Not to mention that that the computers they used actually had only 2 MB of memory. So, basically calculators.  I think there’s more than that in a pen these days. There have even been huge advances since Tron: Legacy was released in 2010. We can now track our pizza order online through its entire creation, down to the placement of every pepperoni. That may actually have light-cycles beat.

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Point is, our standards for what is cool and what technology can and should do have changed.  I’m not sure lighty frisbees cut it anymore.  To paraphrase Ian Malcolm, and a franchise that hopefully gets its re-launch right; it seems to me that these people were so concerned about whether or not they could make a better Tron movie, that they didn’t stop to think if they should (or, y’know, write a decent script.) We have conquered the digital frontier already, Dude. I don’t think we need to hear about it again (and apparently, again, Tron 3).  If I’m interested in a history lesson, I’ll just watch the original Tron.

* – This is one element that is a little dated since 2010, because it has been proven that, in fact, that is how Jeff Bridges acts nowadays.

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