Dave Finally Watches: TRON: Legacy

I unapologetically adore the original TRON, goofy as it is. It’s got some problems, but I can overlook them, given the original nature of the storyline and the innovative approached to creating it. It’s a movie where the fact that it hasn’t aged well is actually in its favor, as it cements itself to a particular zeitgeist that it totally captures.

When I first heard about TRON: Legacy, I was skeptical, and it turned out I was right to be. I didn’t hear much of anything good about it, and it scored a frankly generous 50% on Rotten Tomatoes. Nevertheless, on my recent trip to Louisiana I loaded it onto the iPad for airplane watching, because I just had to know. And yeah, it’s not good.

I know I’ll be accused of “nitpicking” or “overanalyzing” because it’s true, I am, but there are some questions that, for me, needed to be answered right out of the gate, which never were. All these various questions, though, can be combined into one large one: Where are they?

This isn’t a trivial question. The whole concept of TRON is that it takes place inside of a computer. In the original movie, this computer was the Encom mainframe, which was filled with programs for accounting, video games, and so forth because Encom had a wide variety of divisions. In 1982, a single monolithic computer for a company makes sense.

Legacy, though, is set in 2010, and now all the computing power of the Encom mainframe can fit in one’s telephone, which is linked to a massive network of millions of computers across the globe. In theory, the threat of the MCP or an MCP-like entity has been multiplied a billion-fold, but the machine this movie takes place in, wherever it is, hasn’t been touched since 1987. It’s a 386 (probably with a math-coprocessor, based on the amount of complex modeling it’s doing) sitting under Flynn’s desk or something. Possibly it’s connected to the Internet, but this is never mentioned. For all intents and purposes, it is simply some computer from 1987. Yet the environment it strictly 2010 in terms of the aesthetics and terminology (Daft Punk appear in the movie as “MP3s” DJing in a club). So is it an isolated bit of 1987 or not? If it is, shouldn’t it look like 1987? If it isn’t, shouldn’t this be a major point? For me, this hummed in the background louder than the airplane’s jet engines. What are the stakes here? The movie just wants us to shrug and move on, but this is, like, establishing the entire premise. (The answer, of course, is that it’s a computer stuck in 1987 but if we made it look like that nobody would come see it, so instead we make it look modern, which begs the question then of why it’s a computer in 1987 in the first place, which leads me to believe that ultimately the answer to the question is mashing together a bunch of different scripts.)

The failure to answer this question leads directly, I believe, to the failure of the movie. It was intended to introduce the concept of TRON to a new audience, yet it totally fails to take into account the actual world they inhabit. The Grid as depicted in TRON: Legacy is actually less interesting than the one most people currently reside in. We have Second Life, World of Warcraft, Fallout 3, and such. We create virtual worlds on a shoestring these days. What kid, after killing bad guys with his friends (or killing his friends) in “Call of Guns 16: Guns Within Guns: The Reckoning: Epic Edition” is going to be impressed by wireframe boxes that glow around the edges? The only potential audience for this sort of thing, as is so often the case, is 40-something nerds like me who already have a love for the original movie, and ask DC comics how much buying power that group has. The decision to ignore current videogames, to ignore pocket-sized computers, to ignore social networking and wifi and the Internet in general makes absolutely no sense whatsoever and pretty much dooms the entire venture before it even starts. Maybe it’s easier to ignore this point when you’re watching in a theater instead of on your personal digital tablet at 30,000 feet.

So yeah, this thing has major problems at its very foundations, and that’s well before you get to the idea that an army of computer programs is going to somehow march out of this computer, somehow become flesh and blood, and take over the world.

Kudos, though, to having a CGIed-up young Jeff Bridges in a starring role. It’s a shame that we don’t yet have the technology to simulate young Bruce Boxleitner.

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