caraig: (science fiction)
[personal profile] caraig
Long, long ago, I remember seeing Tron in theaters. It was a straght-up fantasy: Enter a strange world inside these "computers" that were starting to pop up everywhere, help to save it, and return. Classic Hero's Journey stuff, and for a kid very very powerful stuff. I remember trying to write a 'Tron Security Program' on my old Atari 800. In BASIC. Maybe if I'd learned Assembler it would have been a bit better, but of course back then I didn't know what assembly language was.

So now the juggernaut of Hollywood has scooped up my childhood fantasy movie and remoulded it. How does it fare? Well, let's find out....

TRON Legacy is a direct sequel to the original rather cheesy Disney film, but at that it can stand on its own. The storyline is relatively independant of the original, which is both good and bad. Good in that it is a relatively standalone story -- all you really need to know is that it's possible to be zapped by a laser into the world inside computers (which the movie sort of makes clear) and that Tron was a program from that world, which is explained in about half of a sentence. Bad in that anyone expecting TRON Legacy to have something to do with Tron, will probably be partly disappointed.

But this does free up the writers to take the TRON world in a slightly different direction. The original TRON already had some religious overtones. TRON Legacy takes those overtones and makes them both slightly more subtle and shoves them into your face. While watching the movie it struck me that it was very Matrix- like, and then I revised that to think that it is like an Anti-Matrix.

(As a side note, I think we have vastly underestimated the impact that The Matrix has had on cinema, for good or for ill. Cinematographically the use of "bullet time" in so many pictures -- to the point where it's hardly even commented upon anymore -- is only one aspect.)

Consider that The Matrix was about a prison, created by a "higher form of life" (insofar as this higher form had humanity in its power and control) for the purpose of control of humanity. Over time, this "created world" and the "real world" came to be intertwined such that one could not survive without the other. Salvation for both came from within the "created world." Very gnostic, but a particular flavor of gnosticism, specifically Manichaeism. Both worlds of light and dark come to have elements of both within the other, and the redemption of the worlds comes from within.

TRON Legacy is a slightly different flavor of gnostic fantasy, and is more classically gnostic. A creator-entity (Flynn) goes to a place (inside the machine, the informatic world) and creates the Grid, what he hopes to make into a perfect world. To accomplish this, he creates helpers, legacy code (I See What You Did There) from the previous world/System. One of these helpers rebels and decides that he can do a better job than the creator. He goes on to take over and creates an imperfect world. Salvation in this case comes from without, from a second creator-like entity who enters the world. There are very strong elements of the "mingling" of the two worlds in a slightly more explicit metaphor of the creator-entity's "code.'

There are a number of differences which make TRON Legacy more of a Hero's Journey style of gnosticism than The Matrix. There is a distinct physical elixer of sorts, though it is more of a MacGuffin than truly central to the story. In this case, too, the savior has a distinct "divine" heritage, that is, he is from the same place as the original creator-entity.

However,it is a very noticeable philosophical difference. Matrix postulates that salvation and redemption comes from within the "created world" and is to be accorded to both the "supernal" and the "created" worlds. TRON Legacy on the other hand does not depict the "created world" as false so much as different, imperfect but not necessarily false. Salvation/redemption is seen as potential for both the supernal and created worlds, but it is of more immediate priority for the created world in the defeat of the Grif's demiurge-figure; salvation/redemption for each is seen as separate processes, though salvation for the supernal world has to follow that of the created world.

Stylistically, the two movies are also very similar but in these similarities lie their distinctions. Contrariwise, TRON Legacy is so different from TRON that the two are visually completely different. Part of this is improvements in computer graphics rendering, but this has to have been a conscious decision on the part of the makers. The created world is sleek and clean, portrayed stylish in its own way. The heroes in the Matrix films were "stylish" in a way that was different from the audience's world. The yards of latex, spandex, vinyl, and other synthetic materials, in high-contrast colors and in very distinctive (and in Neo's case, almost religious) cuts underlined that the world the heroes walked in was very different from that of the "normal" people. In contrast but in comparison, TRON Legacy goes out of its way to depict much of that same style -- synthetic materials, high-contrast hues, distinctive cuts -- but for all denizens of the created world. If anything, the hero takes on the garb of the created world fairly soon after entering it; in contrast, Neo dresses distinctively from the denizens of the created world not long after starting his path to apotheosis.

There are other similarities between the two. The "Obi Wan" is blatantly present, being a near-divine figure (Flynn in TL, Morpheus in Matrix.) The intermediary sitting on the fringe between the forces of order and those of chaos being a flamboyant character who runs a bar (Zeus and the Merovingian.) The rather bizarre martial arts displayed in both stories' "created worlds."

All this does make for fascinating speculation, if a bit disjointed, but this is not to say that TRON Legacy -- or Matrix -- are particularly great stories. Matrix has been panned before, and will be panned again, for it's sins, so I will focus on TRON Legacy here.

It is a fairly solid story, with few actual holes, but there are many, many sub-plots that could have been explored but weren't. Just off the top of my head, I can think of:
  • What was up with Encom OS 12?
  • What was the deal with Dillinger's son?
  • What happened to Tron?
  • What was up with the Resistance?
  • Why were there Games?
  • What happened to Cora
  • What happened to the Flynn/Clu codebase after "reintegration?"
And so on. I'm sure there are more.

The music by Daft Punk (and their cameo) was awesome, definitely one of the strengths of the movie.

The costuming was excellent, I found, though visually different in a jarring way from the original.

I found it hard to really get into the characters, for some reason. None of them grabbed me terribly much. And for a movie called Tron there sure wasn't much of him in it. I realize that they could probably only devote so many resources to making a younger Flynn and couldn't do the same for Alan, but come on. Even though it was pretty obvious who Tron was by one third of the way into the movie, the movie didn't go into Tron at all and barely mentioned him.

I'm running out of steam here, so I'll close up. A good film. I saw it in IMAX 3D which was probably a little much -- I don't know about you but I don't like 3D movies. Sure, it's impressive, but it gives me a slight headache, and they tend to have too many gratuitous "plate of pancakes!" moments for my tastes. I don't mind that the movie isn't leaping off the screen at me to bop me on the head; I've lived with flat-screen movies for too long, I suppose. 3D just seems egregious. Still, it was pretty impressive.

So, I would recommend seeing it matinee. It's visually tasty eye-candy, Seeing it IMAX -- or what passes for IMAX in most movie theaters -- is not recommended since it can detract from the movie and it's damn expensive anyway.
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