I have just seen Tron: Legacy, and it’s like someone made a terrible, terrible movie just for me. Actually, let me amend that, it’s like someone made a terrible, terrible porntastic militaria movie just for me. And, despite those two sentences, there are multiple elements of the film which are not only exceptionally well-done, but actually merit significant analysis, which I probably won’t quite manage to get to here.
But before I can talk about the new Tron, I have to talk about the old Tron, or, at least, the fact that I saw it on the big screen when it was released. I was born in 1972, after all. I grew up playing pinball when it was five balls for a quarter, and one of the first places I was allowed to go on my myself was the arcade seven blocks from our apartment where I played Pac-Man and Galaga and Centipede and, yes, Tron, although that stopped after someone got beaten to death with a baseball bat there and the arcade closed down a few months later. In short, I am a child of the 80s who grew up dreaming of nightclubs in warehouses, apocalyptic futures, and world where every boy (and me!) dressed like Adam Ant.
Which, if you’ve already seen Tron: Legacy is really all the explanation you need as to why I loved it so much in spite of its truly awful and unnecessary dialogue and largely incomprehensible collage of a script. Honestly, if the entire film had been made without a word uttered once they were in the Grid, it would be equally, if not more effective, that what we received. The visuals and score do all the narrative lifting (the score is one of the best film scores you will ever encounter); without dialogue Tron: Legacy would go from exceptionally executed frippery around a crap core to deeply weird art. It’s not a transition that would work for everyone, but I’m pretty near sure it would work.
What’s perhaps the most remarkable about Tron: Legacy is the degree to which it is a love letter, not to video games, digital media, or the Internet (a concept wisely excluded from the history of the film’s world), but to the stories in which we might wish to dwell (this is not, on some level, dissimilar to Inception which tells us the most about what it’s really about in the difference between how Arthur dresses in the dream and outside of the dream). Flynn, at all costs, at every cost finds a way to take himself into the machine — the world he most adores. And in that world we are treated to the visual DNA of dozens of stories we have loved, or feared.
I’m not sure how intentional it all is — after all us SF/F fans and creators know our stuff — and it’s nearly obligation that we reference our passions consciously or unconsciously. But off the top of my head, here’s what I found lurking in this film:
- Torchwood and Angel – broody man pain on the roof.
- Doctor Who – the eye-stalk here doesn’t just disintegrate, but reintegrates onto the grid; the girls that strip Sam Flynn and redress him (think Jack on the Game Station).
- Blade Runner – the opening cityscape, Gem in her clear raincoat and parasol, and a chunk of dialogue that put me in mind of the “I’ve seen things you can’t even imagine” speech.
- Star Trek – need I say Borg?
- Star Wars – the robes, the meditation, the dual-bladed red light weapon, the gun-turret in the dogfight, and of course Star Wars‘s own tendency to visit Triumph of the Will.
- The Last Starfighter – the video games, and again with the gun turret.
- Cabaret – every single moment with Zuse.
- The Giorgio Moroder cut of Metropolis – biplanes in the future! multi-level highways! Yoshiwara’s House of Sin! The electronica. It’s all hiding in here.
- Apple’s 1984 commercial – which, again, owes an uncomfortable aesthetic debt to Riefenstahl
- The Matrix – pretty much the whole movie, but The Matrix, if not smarter, is at least more philosophically interesting by being gnostic (especially the second one); Tron: Legacy is pretty much the opposite of that.
- Babylon 5 – the ship that carries them to the army factory, some of the mythology.
- Max Headroom – that boardroom was entirely “20 minutes into the future.”
- Neuromancer – that chick was Molly Millions not just before she became a razor girl, but before she became a whore.
- The Fifth Element – innocent perfect chick who can save the world; campy performer who winds up in the middle of the mess; weird partial face masks.
And I bet a bunch of you tracked on a whole ton of stuff I missed either because I don’t know the source, or because I was spending so much time being utterly turned on by this film that I feel as torn about praising as I do about trashing. If you did see stuff like the above, I hope you’ll share in comments.
But yow, this film was hot. Scorching, scorching hot. Which perhaps says more than any of us want to know about the impact my video game childhood had on my sexuality. But I loved the regimented quality of the film, the uniforms, the growling of the corrupted Tron, and a movement design (which was gorgeous — as a dancer, I knew the physical sensation of being each and every character because we saw the command to move before each move then executed through style and purpose) that seemed to say this is your flesh and it will be ferocious. Also, if you’ve got a thing for power-differentials, fetish-wear or mind control porn, this film will find your buttons and then sit on them for two hours, all without giving us so much as a kiss. Let’s say it again, all together now: Yow.
Finally, some of the most intriguing stuff in this film was the least explored, and ultimately was why it’s both compelling and irritating, even outside of the mostly awful dialogue. The re-writing of Tron (the program), will, no doubt, be a subject of fanfiction for months to come. Clu’s henchman who turns out to support Users — another great unexplored story. Zuse was amazing, and my vote for the man to be cosplaying at Dragon*Con 2011. And what was up with Alan? Because was it just me or were he and Sam’s dad totally doing it way back before Flynn, Sr. disappeared?
Anyway, it’s late. That was scorching hot and weird. And I only got four hours of sleep last night. So me? I’ll be in my bunk.
P.S. – I still hate 3D, but I am totally going to see that Carmen (yes, the opera!) in 3D thing. Because that? That is my life coming hilariously full circle.