Saturday, January 1, 2011

Tron Legacy review

Happy new year! To mark the occasion I'm finally getting around to writing a quick Tron review. I plan to make this a short review for two reasons: first, because my last review was far too long without saying very much. Second, because I liked Tron Legacy so I have very little to complain about, and I'm not so long winded when I compliment something.

So to start off, I have not seen the original Tron, therefore by definition my review has no credibility. You see, I firmly believe that any movie, game or other production based on an existing... creation, if you will, should be targeted to the people who love and support that creation first an foremost. The masses who are not familiar with it can come later. Why? Because if you are going to use existing characters and worlds you are trying to get the existing fans to walk through the door, tap in to an established user base, so you have the obligation not to abuse those characters and worlds. If you don't like the source material and have different ideas or tastes, go ahead and make a movie using those ideas and tastes, just don't try to paint over it with a familiar coat just for the guaranteed sales. It's exploiting the fans, and we should not stand for it. Take for example the Transformer movies: I've heard it told that the director, Micheal Bay, thought the transformers were silly. I don't know if it's true or not, but it would explain why Optimus Prime gets whipped by Megatron (it hurts me just to think that, much less write it), who is then killed by a human.

On the other hand, a well-meaning attempt to update an old property without betraying it's core nature is a different matter. After all, the fans themselves progress and typically want the creations they love to progress and improve. Sometimes it will work, like Lord of the Rings, sometimes it won't, like Ang Lee's Hulk. It's certainly not easy, my point again is only that the production should primarily be made to cater to the original fans. Since I am not an existing fan, I cannot say how faithful Tron Legacy is to the original.

Speaking as a newcomer, the movie did seem to be solidly based on a previous set of characters and events. The explanation of what the Grid is or how it exists was very briefly covered in the first couple of minutes, which I think is a good thing. Existing fans don't need to watch half a movie of explanation. Personally, I was quite satisfied with "It's in a computer, nuff said". Perhaps had I seen the original, or had more explanation been given, certain parts of the movie would have made more sense. Or perhaps not, again I cannot judge that. I believe the trade-off was worth it, especially when you have the two DVDs sitting together on your shelf and you decide to watch them back-to-back.

The special effects were great. It was perhaps not as other-worldly as the all-encompassing bloom and otherwise lack of colour made the original, but I believe it was easier on the eyes and certainly more modern-looking. The action was usually quite good, initially the abstract environments, darkness and similar outfits may cause some trouble differentiating between characters, which can make it a little confusing, but apart from the the fight scene in the night club (I could not see a thing in that one), it's still quite entertaining. The 3D was competent, it didn't give me a headache or eyestrain the way Clash of the Titans did, though it was perhaps less pronounced than in some movies. I suspect the dark and simple visuals played a part in that. The movie was a little dark with the glasses on, this was probably just a failing of the cinema and not the movie though.

The world itself was quite cool at times. In fact, I would say that was my favorite aspect of the movie; the way it successfully takes you to a whole new world. Not many movies manage to do that anymore, and none in recent memory that manage to inspire a sense of wonder the way Tron Legacy does. For that reason alone I would say it's well worth watching.

I should probably mention that the acting was fitting and the characters decent, but to be honest that's not something I'm very good at judging. I rarely notice any acting to be particularly good or bad, just out of place or not.

My only real complaint about Tron Legacy was that, well, it didn't make any sense. At all. Not to me at least. Basically the "mechanics" of the world didn't seem to follow any kind of logic. Perhaps the first movie explained things better somehow? A machine makes people into digital data? What happens to the body? Why the hell does the portal "consume massive amounts of energy" when it isn't actually doing anything? Couldn't Kevin have designed a slightly more foolproof exit mechanism? Ctrl-alt-del maybe? Besides, technically he's inside the computer, so surely he should be able to activate it, or send an activation message or something - that's what the inside of a computer is for, doing things, right? Clu managed to get a message out, why couldn't Kevin contact someone on the outside and ask them to come over and type in a few commands? The Grid is populated by programs. What sort of programs? Anti-virus programs? What do these programs actually do? And why do they talk and walk around, very skillfully I should say, in this incredibly large and intensive physics-simulation environment? Why the hell does the Grid even simulate physics anyway? Those kinds of calculations are expensive you know. Why do "users" bleed in this digital environment when programs shatter into glass chunks of code? OK, so this is all in a computer, right? So Kevin entered the Grid in order to build a perfect new world, right? So that means he can program from within the Grid, in essence it's a development environment, right? So how does that work? Does he just think things and they happen? No, he seems to read from holographic displays and type into holographic keyboards. OK, fine, seems a bit pointless but still, he should be able to create anything he can program right? That is where programs come from, right? I don't know, we see him sitting in a house full of stuff but somehow I think if he was really in a war with Clu he would have built a little more than a luxury house and a single all terrain vehicle in the last 20 years. So his "disk" (what the hell is with these disks anyway?) holds the key to allow programs to leave the Grid. Wait, so they just appear in the real world? With flesh and blood and DNA and a fully functioning brain (an amazingly complex device who's functioning is still unknown to us) and all the stuff they don't actually have in the Gird? Just appears out of thin air? He was planning to take an entire army into the real world - how would that work? Would they just materialize inside that tiny room in the crowded arcade? Where would all the energy come from? Where was the energy coming from to power the computer anyway? Or was it in the Encom computers, I didn't really understand that part. And this key, apparently there was no analysis needed, just grab the disk and you can enter the real world? But lets get back to programming. Clu cannot create new programs, he can only re-purpose them. Wait, isn't copying programs actually very easy to do on a computer? I'm still not clear on where these programs came from to begin with. Kevin created Clu by walking through a mirror, kinda like the original Prince of Persia. Can he create a whole army? It seems not. And he can end Clu's existence at any time, but only by destroying himself as well. What? Is Clu made of antimatter? One would think so, the way they explode at the end. And I'm not even going to bother to talk about the new life forms that just spontaneously appeared in the empty desert. Instead let's talk weapons. Your disk is important or something. I guess. They store everything about you, but you don't really seem to need them, so I don't really know why they're there. Except to serve as a weapon. Other weapons include glowing sticks. No guns... except on fighter jets? So the technology exists then?

Normally I would have an issue with so much of the movie making absolutely no sense at all, but in this case I don't. Because the whole point of the movie is about being in a different world, trying to explain it lessens the wonder and detracts from the story. In Tron Legacy, the fundamental premise is already utterly absurd, so why fight it? They wisely decided to not bother trying to explain a single thing. They created their own set of rules, abstract as they may be, and stuck with them. And I'm fine with that. Admittedly it took a conscious and significant effort to sustain disbelief, but that's the trade-off for enjoying the new world this kind of movie creates. I think whether you enjoy the movie or not depends on whether you can suspend that sense of disbelief.

As a quick note, for a movie named Tron, the actual character Tron does very little. It really seems he should have had a more significant part.

Overall I give it a 9 out of 10 - an excellent movie that stands out from the pack and does what it does very well.