Wednesday, February 2, 2011

McBone Mini-Reviews; Boxleitner Edition

Back in the early 1980s I had a set of comforters for my twin beds that glowed blue in the dark.  McBone Poet Laureate M. Patrick Foliglio (when he wasn't working feverishly on his seminal Diz-aster Book of Poems) and I would hang the blankets on the walls of our TV room, flip off the lights and pop a certain early work from the Jeff Bridges oeuvre into the VCR.  Before you could say 'now that's a big door,' we found ourselves on the Grid, just another couple of conscripted programs spinning our identity discs and trying to avoid being derezzed by the MCP.

What the holy fuck am I talking about?  Why, Tron, of course!

Very few movies imprinted themselves into the folds of my gray matter like the original Tron movie.  Light cycles were a close second to light sabers in my estimation, so when I learned that one of my all-time faves was going to be rebooted for the digital age, my reaction was twofold:

1) Awesome!  Creator, director, screenwriter Steven Lisberger's influential work (The Matrix, Avatar, and every hit movie that ever used CGI--yes, even you, Star Wars--owes him a debt of gratitude for their billions) deserves a 2.0 now that the technology has caught up with him.  The cyber reality he envisioned looks great in trailers, and how interesting that a former architecture student, Joseph Kosinski, has been chosen to reconstruct the Grid instead of a Hollywood insider.  Doesn't hurt that Jeff Bridges will be reprising his twin roles as user Kevin Flynn and program Clu.  I'm so excited I'll even overlook the cheesy : Legacy bit appending the title. 

2) Oh shit!  Just look at that lame : Legacy bit appending the title.  Disney's cashing in, hoping Tron and its legions of followers will finally redeem the 1982 box office flop by flocking to theaters.  And why the heck did they hire a bloody architect to direct it?  This turkey is going to be all visuals and no story.

And the verdict is?  Not so fast! Let's go back to 1982 first.  A ruthless Master Control Program threatens to seize dominion of two worlds, the one inhabited by humans and another cyber-world in which programs, in humanoid form, are already enslaved.  Sound evil?  MCP has evil to spare, and he's got the British accent to prove it.  The only ones who can stop him are ace programmers Flynn and Alan (Bruce Boxleitner), whose programs, Clu and Tron, navigate the computer world in humanoid form seeking to destroy the MCP.  Having none of this meddling, the MCP derezzes Clu (that's Tronspeak for 'kills dead') and draws Flynn via a super high tech laser onto the Grid where he will be forced to compete in games with other programs until he is killed dead (that's human speak for 'derezzed')  Ultimately, Flynn joins forces with Tron because only together can they succeed. Their union is poignant as hell.  In a more just world, one without MCPs and their imperious accents, humans and programs can work side by side in peace.  Yes, Tron is loaded to the gills with relevant social commentary.

Oh, and along the way Cindy Morgan pops up.  I'm not sure what her point is, other to provide some sexual tension between Flynn and Tron and to prove that some people look better in a Tron suit than others:

Cindy Morgan

Not Cindy Morgan

Look, Tron had some interesting things to say about the eventual overlapping of our real and cyber realities.  In 2010, almost all of us interact on two planes of existence.  Here I sit blogging while I simultaneously chat with 15 friends on Facebook, pick my nose, guide my Second Life avatar to a strip club and eat a pickle.  But I think what really captured our imaginations back then was this visual revelation.  There had simply never been a film that looked like Tron, a blending of live action, animation and early CGI.  Even today there is something beautifully imaginative about the black and white characters decorated with beams of light and traversing a colorful world of geometric magic.  Critics knock the thin storyline and gaping sequences during which nothing much seems to happen.  Fair enough.  Lisberger's limitations do show in places, particularly as a screenwriter.  Then again, judging Tron on the same level you might judge a Bergman flick is rather missing the point and ignoring the ground the Lisberger was breaking.

So what about 2010, when all the technology is there for the director to do more or less anything he wants?  I so wanted this movie to be good, and I did have a fine time watching it.  Tron: Legacy is a visual feast.  That's a given.  Kosinski and company do right by Lisberger in that department.  That it's not nominated for an Oscar for visual effects is beyond stupid.

But 28 years later I suppose I'm less forgiving of storytelling flaws, and so I went into the modern incarnation of Lisberger's vision hoping for something a bit more roundly cinematic.  Here we have Flynn's son, Sam, who finds himself, like the old man, sucked via laser onto the Grid.  The movie should be a simple tale of a boy trying to rescue his father, who has been trapped on the Grid for most of Sam's life.  But somewhere it gets all mucked up by too much backstory and too many plot lines.  One ostensibly cool character after the next is introduced, only to languish as they explain just who they are and just where they've come from.  Nothing wrong with the casting, and Olivia Wilde adds a much needed female spark, but her character is as underused now as Morgan's was then.  If she's an ass kicker, let her kick some ass!  Oh, and it may have been cool to see Clu and Tron again if I wasn't so busy trying to figure out how they turned evil and why and...oh screw it.  It's all so bloated with expository dialogue and homages to the original picture that you'll find yourself wishing they had hired a goddam real director to direct it and architects be damned.  Visuals are great, but this is a movie.  A bad story is still a bad story.

I still kind of liked it though.

End of line.

Tron: 3.5 McBones

Tron: Legacy: 2.0 McBones



Darin said...

I just watched this film yesterday. It was lame, but still kind of cool. But mostly lame.

I was most surprised that story was so bad considering it was written by the writing team that wrote some of my favorite Lost episodes - like "Dave," "The Variable," "Everybody Hates Hugo." They just did a very poor job with this film.

McBone said...

Yeah, surprisingly dumb story. They wrote a story that no one could possibly care about.


Anonymous said...

My wife thinks we are real big dorks.


McBone said...

She's jealous.