I saw TRON: LEGACY last night.
I've been eagerly anticipating this movie for well over a year.
I'm a big fan of the original TRON, warts and all and...
So, anyway, I saw TRON: LEGACY last night.
You know what? I feel reasonably confident that the majority of people in the audience already imagined a far better movie than what they finally saw.
You know how it is cold and flu season? People get mucus build up in their lungs so bad they have to cough it out? That's how big of a cliched, by the numbers, uninspired, predictable, stale, mediocre, hack work TRON: LEGACY is. The movie coughs up a giant oyster of phlegm. This is why.
We hear the opening exposition of Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges: KING KONG , TRON, IRON MAN) talking to his son, the 7-year old Sam (played by Owen Best - who looks considerably older than 7 - which he was). Flynn's tale to his son, catches us up on the idea of an environment - another world in fact - that exists within computers. Then Flynn leaves both us and his son hanging to find out what happens next, as he drives away, leaving Sam with his grandparents.
Then Flynn disappears.*
The next 25 years, young Sam, with a missing father and a dead mother (from before the movie), must grow up wondering what happened. Then his grandparents die when he is 12, leaving him in the care of old friend and ENCOM executive, Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner: TRON, CONTAGION, THE ONLY WITNESS, BRILLIANT, SNAKEHEAD TERROR, THEY ARE AMONG US, LEGION OF THE DEAD, KING OF THE LOST WORLD). In expositional news clips, the mysterious disappearance of Kevin Flynn, CEO of the giant tech firm, ENCOM, rocks the industry. Sam is the biggest shareholder but wants nothing to do with the company.
Now we see a Ducati motorcycle riding, grown up Kevin Flynn. Others have grabbed power at ENCOM, changing its course into a profit-driven, powerful company. Alan, meanwhile, has become a sullen, brooding executive on the board. Lead Programmer, Edward Dillenger Jr. (woeful waste of the talented Cillian Murphy: 28 DAYS LATER, RED EYE, BATMAN BEGINS, THE DARK KNIGHT, INCEPTION), forces as much smarmy snark as he possibly can into his four or five sentences of dialog. The character of Edward Dillenger Jr. has no point or purpose here.
Under its new management, ENCOM isn't losing money like it used to, so it won't go out of business. In fact, it will finally be on the global stock exchange. ENCOM is growing, giving more people jobs and things couldn't possibly look better! And now they are releasing Operating System (OS) 12!
Which rubs Alan raw. He thinks - for absolutely no stated reason - that ENCOM should remain a small company (bye-bye employees!) and give their product away for free. So on the eve of ENCOM's big new OS 12 release, which according to the CEO is different from OS 11 only because now they call it OS 12, Sam surreptitiously hacks into their world broadcast and makes them all look like idiots, causing ENCOM stock to drop and ENCOM to layoff workers. This scene was supposed to be played for laughs, but it wasn't funny. It made Sam look like a spoiled rich punk.
PLOT HOLE 1
Then there is a big, ridiculous chase scene featuring two of the very few non-caucasians in the picture.
One is a wildly upset racially stereotypical East Indian Taxi driver who angrily rattles off a string of horribly accented English toward a free-riding Sam.
Now how in the world could I just look at someone and know they are East Indian? I can't. Fortunately, in the credits there is the role of "East Indian Taxi Driver" (played by Shafin Karim).
Sam gets busted by the cops for hacking into ENCOM and arrested, but he just walks right back out on bail, thanks to his fabulous wealth, brought about by a very successful ENCOM, of which he did zero to create or build but plenty to destroy. So Sam risked absolutely nothing at all to pull his childish prank and he put people's lives and property at risk..
For such Trust-Fund Baby antics, Sam's the hero here.
We're supposed to admire Sam's resourceful daring and capabilities. But we can't because his bravery is a façade: he only gets away with all of this thanks to his owning ENCOM in the first place and being so damn rich. And the only reason Sam is so wealthy is because the people he despises at ENCOM are making him rich by making the company do so well (and the way they make money defies logic).
PLOT HOLE 2
And you know what? The only reason I'm thinking any of this, is because the movie so far is so stale that my mind is wandering. The chase is paint by numbers predictable right up to its resolution: even Michael Bay would laugh derisively. Say what you want about Bay - and I have - but his chases are inventive and thrilling. And we're not even 15 minutes in!
In fact, Quentin Tarantino could have us riveted this far in on nothing more than dialog over breakfast!
Sam and Alan hook up later and Alan tells Sam that he got a call on his beeper from FLYNN'S, Sam's Pop's old game arcade, closed lo these many years.
Alan: "I promised you that if I ever got any information about your Dad, I'd tell you first, right?"
Ick. Okay, so the dialog isn't that great. Neither was the dialog in TRON. I'm still willing to give this movie a chance, but expectations are falling.
Alan gives Sam the keys to the place, Sam goes to investigate, finds a secret door which leads to a secret chamber where he finds Ginny and the Secret Diary!
No, no, sorry. That was a better movie. So Sam finds a secret door which leads to a secret chamber and discovers the location of the Lost Ark... no, that was also another superior movie.
Anyway, Sam finds a secret door which leads to a secret chamber and gets himself zapped into ComputerWorld!
Welcome to ComputerWorld!
In a 2010 TRON: LEGACY, with 28 years of incredible advances in computer technology, both hardware and software, the computer world is no longer made of light, but glass!
It is also darkly lit and very poorly shot in 3D.
Besides the monochrome of black and white, TRON the sequel only comes in two colors: blue and orange. Blue is good, orange is evil. Both are largely neon-style lines. Now I don't care if you compare this alien world to TRON, THE THIRTEENTH FLOOR, THE MATRIX, AVATAR, or INCEPTION, they were all extraordinarily visionary next to the unimaginative memory dump that is TRON: LEGACY. I mean, I know I watched the trailers for the better part of a year prior to the movie, but while I was wowed by the action sequences, I expected more than THIS!
TRON: LEGACY is the antithesis of imagination and vision. Even 1955's THIS ISLAND EARTH showed more imagination in its depiction of an alien world, and that movie was rightly mocked by Mystery Science Theater 3000!
In sequel TRON, programs get into the system and are immediately put into the games without training, explanation, or point.
In TRON, Kevin Flynn had to fight with a glowing, electronic Frisbee. Well, CGI then wasn't what it is today. We've come a very long way in 28 years. Now in 2010, they fight with Aerobies! It's not a Frisbee cuz' it has a hole in the middle! Already, TRON: LEGACY is starting to feel like OS 12.
Sam fights amazingly well for a guy who never had to kill someone with an Aerobie before (when people die in the 2010 computer world, they shatter into bits of glass instead of derezz. w00t.). Then at one point, Sam is hit and bleeds blood.
DIGITIZED BINARY SAM BLEEDS BLOOD?!?
Yes, in TRON: LEGACY, Sam is is on the computer grid but still made of flesh, blood, and bone - not electrons cohesively obeying a written set of code as in the original TRON. In TRON: LEGACY logic, that's because Sam is actually a User and not a Program. Unlike the far-sighted TRON movie, in LEGACY Sam wasn't digitally taken apart and recreated as an avatar of himself, he was merely Shrinky Dinked! With the blood spill, Sam is identified as "User" (as if this happens all the time) and brought before someone who appears to be his father, as his father would look from 25 years ago, but is in fact, the program CLU.
Kevin wrote CLU over a quarter century ago, originally to be a hacker program, then with a new set of instructions: create the perfect system. Like any program written to do a specific thing, CLU did that specific thing: turning Kevin's beloved computer world into a police state that brooks zero tolerance for imperfection.
Sterilize! Must Ste-ri-lize!
Sorry, I was thinking of a more imaginative television episode from over four decades back where even THEY had a better understanding of OUR current computers as they would be in THEIR future.
So CLU went right into doing pretty much what Kevin's MCP, Master Control Program, did in the first TRON. Man, for an aging Socialist loving computer hippie, Kevin Flynn sure keeps making police-state fascist programs! Perhaps this was meant to be a political statement? If so it fell flat.
Unlike his old man, Sam can't save anyone else on the light cycle game grid, including himself, and because he's a jerk, he doesn't bother trying. Instead, He is saved at the last minute by a neon-powered car driven by a being named Quorra (Olivia Wilde: TURISTAS). Unbeknownst to me at the time, they exit the last exciting thing in this movie and we're only around 20 minutes in.
Out of the clear blue, Quorra tells Sam that she knows who and where his father is.
Remember this exchange from the trailer?
Quorra: Your father was the creator.
That was exciting, promising much. Doesn't happen in the movie. In this movie Quorra just drives her neon car right over to Kevin's place: A house on a hill that simply looks like a house on a hill. This is done so easily it's amazing that CLU spent all of this time looking for it.
There Sam meets a much older Kevin, as well as his worn, old books. Not eBooks, but old bound paper page books in a modern computer world. Nothing appears made out of light or ephemeral, otherworldly, nothing. It all looks sedate and bland.
So you know, I'm cool with a computer world that recreates its version of earth. THE MATRIX did that with their computer world. AVATAR on about the same budget as this movie (or less) did something along similar lines, recreating earth as an alien planet. But this entire set doesn't look like a meta-reality. It doesn't even stand up to realistic game interiors like we've seen in everything from HALO to blast from your past MYST.
It just looks lazy.
Like the set designers weren't even trying - or were told not to try. There is a bowl of chrome fruit, which you can buy for five bucks at your local Big Lots, and that's as far reaching futuristic as it gets.
As in the first TRON, Sam needs to return to the place he entered, raise his Aerobie...er... life ring, and get reconstructed in the real world. Sam wants Pop to come with him. Pop wants Quorra to go with Sam instead, because after all of these years, Kevin has too much info in his life ring and he has to keep CLU from getting it, which is why he's been in hiding all of these years. CLU wants Kevin's life ring because that will tell him everything Kevin knows, and if CLU takes that knowledge and gets into the real world first... well, you just won't believe how ridiculous that threat is.
So do Quorra and Sam find some old legacy program (TRON: LEGACY?) that can help them safely reach their destination?
Not in a movie this miraculously stupid. No, Sam has to go to a nightclub, meet the mysterious and flamboyant club owner (Michael Sheen: UNDERWORLD [all], ALICE IN WONDERLAND ), and Ralfi betrays Johnny Mnemonic! No wait, even THAT was a better movie, and that had Keanu Reeves sharing top billing with Dolph freaking Lundgren!
Of course, you may not have seen Johnny Mnemonic, so you wouldn't realize how cheap and derivative this scene is, assuming you had also never seen Blade RUnner, Beverly Hills Cop, 48 Hours, Bad Boys, Sin City, and nearly every damn cop movie and TV show ever made.
TRON wasn't a great movie: Not Star Wars or THE MATRIX great. But watching it, you can see that director Steven Lisberger was trying. TRON has everything the sequel lacks: imagination, vision, solid characters with strong yet otherworldly motivations, and an Endboss that is seemingly unstoppable. In the first TRON, Kevin has to fight against impossible odds and, because he is a real human with real human feelings, he wants to save as many of his fellow "programs" as he can. He wants to leave the computer world a better place than he found it: free of its oppressor. Sam just wants to take his Pop home. As for the rest of the computer world, in the real world he could "Erase CLU with a keystroke!"
Steven Lisberger, who created the first TRON, really was a computer wiz, building hardware and software, and making inventive television commercials that he sold in order to keep his budding computer animation company afloat.
But he didn't know how to direct actors. That, and not time and tech advancements, is the biggest flaw in TRON. For the audience of 1982, the idea of an entire world inside a computer (when only a handful of home users had computers and no one had graphics), was beyond them.
But nearly everyone has a full awareness of computers now: even thick-skulled morons on popular reality shows.
So Disney decided to carefully and specifically make all the exact same mistakes that caused the original TRON to flop, then compound them. They threw a $300 million dollar movie budget at a first time feature film newbie: Director Joseph Kosinski. Like Lisberger before him, Joseph has never directed a feature film in his life. Unlike Lisberger, Kosinski has never so much as directed a short film! Like Lisberger, Joseph has directed lots of commercials that don't involve a story or actors (the closest he has come is a few where models simply walk).
Unlike Lisberger, Joseph Kosinski^ isn't a hardware or software computer wiz. Joe has made his name using off the shelf software to make loads of 30 second consumer driven sales pitches to a television audience. In looking through Joe's online video resume, Joe never demonstrates anything resembling vision or imagination. He simply moves his basic cgi vehicles through his basic cgi world, through the course of a 30 second voice-over pitch, then stops. Which is exactly what the trailer is.
Because Kosinski is merely a software user. Kosinski simply knows how to play with a toy. Lisberger knows what it is and how it works and why. He knows how to construct it, design it, as well as play with it.
Disney, so committed to repeating their mistakes, not only decided to have their massive budget movie directed by the cheapest untested director they could find, they even hired the cheapest untested newbie writers they could find.
Brian Klugman, a man with extensive acting credits (WISHMASTER, THE BOGUS WITCH PROJECT, CLOVERFIELD, VACANCY 2), but not a single writing credit besides this.
Story co-writer Lee Sternthal, who appears to have zero writing credits or anything else that I could find on IMDb or Google.
There was a time when Disney studios mentored and nurtured talent, and it paid off in people like director Tim Burton, which has been very rewarding for Disney. But that was a different group of people running the show. Small wonder, when watching TRON: LEGACY, that the inventively brilliant minds running PIXAR prefer to remain a separate entity, refusing to meld with the muddled mouseheads. If Disney studios had only handed the reigns of TRON: LEGACY over to PIXAR, they would have had something fantastic and stunning - and probably for half the cost!
TRON: LEGACY is awful for all of the reasons I've mentioned, and this is especially heartbreaking because I'm a longtime, diehard TRON fan and I went in wanting to enjoy it so much. TRON was no Star Wars, but TRON: LEGACY is a worse sequel disappointment than The Phantom Menace!
In fact, this is the worst movie I've seen in theaters since THE SPIRIT, and I saw PIRANHA (2010)! The people who made this should be ashamed, but at least no one at Disney will ever have the right to look down their nose at Steven Lisberger again.
Hell, with TRON: LEGACY, they've lost the right to ever look down their noses at Uwe Bolls!
1 Shriek Girl. Kill this movie before it BREEDS!
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