18 December 2010

TRON: Legacy *

What worked about TRON: Legacy: For one, the mythology is strong, interesting, dynamic. It's a pretty good evolution of the world. For another, the themes and philosophy are generally strong, in that there are themes and philosophy and they suit the story and, for the most part, the story takes pains to (very lightly) explore them as it goes. For a third, the aesthetic of the world takes a little getting used to (3D is notoriously dimmer than the glasses-free 2D, and for this story to rely on so much endless black with shimmery glass and white neon challenges that a little) but once you do it's pretty good. The world is built well and feels consistent, lived-in, and larger than just the scenes we're given.

What didn't work about TRON: Legacy: In a word, the script. The script does not work. It's like someone took a lot of work structuring your classic hero's journey and building up the protagonists and antagonists on interesting paths, made sure all the beats made sense, and then handed the script to a tenth grader. The characters do just what is needed to keep the story moving but about half of their actions lack any cohesive motivation (most notably [SPOILER] the surprise reveal of TRON and his reversal from bad guy to good guy). The pacing and plot itself stumbles about as often as not and more than once fails to stick a landing (like the weird Ziggy Stardust-Merovingian sequence and the "light-jet" fight). And the dialogue... oh good lord, what dialogue. I can sum up what's wrong with the script with the following exchange, between Quorra (a program, curious about the real world) and Sam Flynn (a user), as they discuss a sunset:
Quorra: "What's it like?"
Sam: "The sun?"
Quorra nods.
Sam: "I've never had to describe it before." (He thinks. The music is soft, thoughtful. They lean close together -- an intimate moment, as he shares his world with her.) "Warm. Radiant. uh... beautiful."
She is clearly moved by this poetic description.
(end of scene.)
It really smacks of an early draft, with placeholder dialogue that nobody ever went back to spruce up. This kind of flimsy exchange is peppered throughout the story, whenever a good kicker of a line or bit of clever back-and-forth is meant to advance the characters or story. It is painfully obvious that nobody even tried.

So on the plus side, we have mythology, theme, and world; on the minus side, dialogue, plot, and characterization. So in fact, TRON: Legacy is actually a perfect sequel to the original. TRON wasn't exactly a perfect film either, in fact. The original was full of heady, exciting concepts I hadn't seen explored much before, like the user-program/god-man parallels and the idea of an infectious self-awareness spreading from Flynn's interruption of business-as-usual in the computer world. The sequel, too, is full of heady, exciting concepts I haven't seen explored much before, like spontaneously self-aware, functionless programs sprouting up inside the Grid, or the strange dynamic between Clu and Flynn. But neither film even tries to go anywhere with these ideas, preferring instead fight sequences, chases, shoot-outs, and shouty confrontations. It's really surprising how much like my reaction to the first TRON film my reaction to this one is. And in that light, though this film is far from perfect, it's kind of hard to fault it much. And so I'm left with: I'm glad I saw it. But I'm not in love. I'm not even sure if I liked it much or not.

Two closing thoughts: One, there's a weird fake-out where Cillian Murphy shows up at the beginning playing the son of David Warner's Ed Dillinger, the villain from TRON, which is a total waste of both Murphy and the legacy of Dillinger (I'd have absolutely loved to see David Warner show up again, in some capacity) since it went nowhere. He sat in a board meeting, proved himself a genius at computers and spoke with an authority that shut up a panicked room, and then never appeared again. (I suppose in retrospect that he is a plant for a third TRON film, which... whatever... but I'd much rather have seen the return of David Warner.)

And lastly: I miss the Bit. It didn't make any more or less sense than anything else; they should have brought it back. Or brought in a Byte, with 16 different possible opinions and no more.

It's been a weak year, overall, for new films. Plenty of very good ones, plenty of "good enough" ones, not much I've seen this year makes me sit up and say, "Oh my god, this is real cinema," the way I have in years past. I think Winter's Bone is the standout on that list.

Seen at the AMC Century City 15, in 3-D.

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