Wednesday, December 22, 2010

tron: legacy

If Tron: Legacy has taught me anything, it’s that we are now entirely spoiled when it comes to special effects. For all of Avatar’s faults, it showed just what CGI can do—and that’s pretty much everything, and with an extra dimension just to show off. So when you sit down to watch T:L, armed with your popcorn and the stupid happy smile you have on when you know you’re going to see a splashy neon actioner scored by Daft Punk, it is pretty much impossible to not be disappointed. Not by the action—the special effects in those were plenty amazing—but from the first moment Jeff Bridges rocks up, in a sappy prologue set a few years after the original Tron, you lay eyes on his youthfully digitised face and it’s all you can do to not storm off in disgust, throwing your popcorn at the projectionist and harrumphing right out of the cinema to lecture whoever was unfortunate enough to be working the candy bar at the same time.

Sam Flynn is a twentysomething brat, heir to his father’s huge tech corporation and a habitual prankster, driven to destroy the very company that pays for his bizarre car-garage home next to the river and forks out for his bail whenever he gets up to mischief. One day, a strange page (as in, those technological whatsits that no one uses now that there’s mobile phones) sends Sam to his father’s old arcade, where he stumbles upon ancient, eighties-era technology that does what it did to his father nearly thirty years ago and sucks him into a digital world. (Frankly, looking at dot matrix printers and clunky hardware and thinking that it created anything more elaborate than Tetris is a bit of a stretch, but that’s because I’m naive.) Captured almost immediately by the digital police squad, he is thrown unexpectedly into the fight of his life—and his father’s life, too.

Tron: Legacy has some stunning action scenes and despite my indifference to dance music in general, Daft Punk’s soundtrack is incredible and I am suffering some serious internal struggle over whether to download a couple of the songs or quit whining and just buy the whole album. The lightcycle fight, reminiscent of the original 8-bit Tron game, was great fun. Garrett Hedlund, as Sam, looks a little like Christian Bale but actually did a pretty good job despite being barely on my radar before right now. Olivia Wilde, as the older Flynn’s mysterious sidekick Quorra, has great makeup and sufficiently otherworldly eyes. And everything else about this movie is terrible.

Maybe I would have been able to overlook the slab of ham otherwise known as Michael Sheen’s ridiculously overdone club owner Zuse, the improbable fight victories, the heavily foreshadowed helmeted-foe twist and the forced, biblical plotline (Man creates world! Oh look, everything’s gone to shit. Better not do anything about it then, unless of course my son’s involved). Maybe I could have forgiven all of that if it wasn’t for one thing: Young Jeff Bridges. His digitally altered face is one of the worst things I have seen in cinematic history. As both the flashback Kevin Flynn, relating the story of the original Tron to his young son using figurines of himself and his cohorts, and as CLU, Kevin’s digital counterpart who—as doppelgangers always seem to do—has turned evil, he is a uninsured trip into the Uncanny Valley, his face devoid of texture and life, all the pixels of which seem to have been sent straight to his constantly moving hair. If he was in a video game, you’d consider him a great likeness, but this is a real movie, populated otherwise by real people, and as soon as he is next to them he looks completely fucking ridiculous. Maybe if they’d budgeted for an extra million dollars and made him spot-on realistic in the opening scene, you could buy the idea that he looks weird in the digital world for some digital reason, though no one else suffers from this ailment but him. The filmmakers could have made up some technological term to explain it away and I would have totally bought it. But I couldn’t. And basically, that poor effects work—especially when coupled with the rest of the film’s seamless CGI—ruined the entire movie, hands down.

The whole story is a bit ridiculous, and the action and plot so far-fetched, that sometimes I felt like Garrett Hedlund looked like he had fallen out of another, more serious movie, in which he played the straight man, and into this barrage of Bizzaro-Disney neon. He does his best, but is ultimately let down by poor scripting and awkward conversations with CLU, who appears to have suffered the ill-effects of a Botox jab. The movie probably would have been much better had they marketed it as a lengthy video clip for Daft Punk’s new album, and that way I would have completely excused any shoddy effects.

In summary: Below Expectations, in that I expect that a movie made in this day and age will look great, especially when that guy made Monsters in his bedroom and it looked a zillion times better.

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