Tron: Legacy

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.

12 thoughts on “Tron: Legacy”

  1. Oz. don’t forget Oz. They use 3-d like Oz used colour. There’s the whole structure of the film, as well as design elements that reminded me of Oz’s throne room.

    1. Another “Oz” echo: Sam’s makeover, though “Armory” is more ominous than “Merry Old Land of Oz.”

  2. Tron is inextricably linked to Babylon 5 in my head not just because of the big ship (which, even in the first one, reminded me of my favorite space station), but because in the first film we have B5 alums Bruce Boxleitner, Peter Jurasik, and David Warner.

    1. You really don’t need to see the first one, and I think it might be hard to see it for the first time from 2010 and understand what it felt like when it was first released. But this one, in its incoherent way, does tell you everything you need to know about the first one. But the first one is still pretty cool as nostalgia if nothing else.

  3. Inception- not only for clothing issues by you, but for:

    -The time differential between interior, artist created/accessed world and the mundane world.
    -Cillian Murphy: such a similar character in terms of conception to his plot status in Inception as the son of a muckety muck, I began wondering if it was an intentional shout out to Chris Nolan.
    …hmm; now I want to see Inception again, and draw up a longer list.

    The dinner scene could not have been more visually/tonally similar (until Quorra starts laughing at Sam’s remark re. dropping out of college- one imagines her imagining him dropping out the way he did from Encom- ie, with a parasail)- err, except for the roast pig.

    Random: Wow, I’m surprised that Steve Lisberger (director of the original Tron, his first feature) didn’t do more between that and his role as a producer on this one: IMDB turns up Slipstream, a movie with Mark Hamill that I only vaguely remember, and something called Hot Pursuit with John Cusack. It’s a pity: Tron had its moments of narrative awkwardness, but at moments, it actually approaches the level of artistic ambition that Fritz Lang brought to Metropolis.

    1. Argh, I meat to mention the time differential despite how inconsistently it’s executed in Tron: Legacy (and yay, surprise Cillian Murphy, although I didn’t track on how similar the roles are — you’re right of course).

  4. Leave it to me to respond to the comment you made about Inception as opposed to Tron, which is what this post is actually about. But I’m curious as to whether you ever discussed more in detail the differences between what Arthur wears in “reality” versus what he wears in the dream?

  5. Here via Gwydion

    I found Zuse kind of annoying; it was like an inconsistant impersonation of Dana Carvey impersonating David Bowie.

  6. “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.”

    Damn. I had so cheerfully crossed this movie off my list. I *think* I’m thanking you right now. It’s the inverse of the way I was angry at the world when I discovered that people should have told me YEARS earlier that Flash Gordon and Barbarella were relevant to my interests.

  7. “Alice in Wonderland”: Sam goes down the rabbit hole (twice, actually — first getting digitized, and then that shot of him plummeting into the armory.

    “The Odyssey”: Kevin Flynn as Odysseus, Sam Flynn as Telemachus, CLU as Calypso, the Encom board as the suitors, and I guess Alan Bradley as Penelope? Plus, Sirens.

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