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Thursday, December 14, 2017

Fishing in the Discount Bin - Tron: Legacy

Here we go again on Fishing in the Discount Bin, where I nerd out about one of the movies I own.  This one is kind of unique, as almost 7 years ago, this movie was about the only thing I could talk about.  It's Tron: Legacy.  This is in my notes at May 15, 2017.

Tron Legacy Poster

When I first started looking online for movie news, one of the very first things I looked for was news on a Tron sequel.  The first rumour I read was that a fully computer-animated remake was going to be Pixar’s second film after Toy Story.  The 20th anniversary special edition DVD released in 2002 opened with a teaser for something called Tron: Killer App, and the bonus features feature the original director Steven Lisberger sharing concept art for Tron 2.0.  That all wound up being the video game Tron 2.0 which came out in 2003.  And it looked like that’s all we were going to get for a Tron sequel.

Until the San Diego ComicCon in 2008.  After the Disney panel, and before the next one, the fabled Hall H went dark, and a teaser was shown.

(Some differences between that, and what was originally shown at ComiCon.  Firstly, there was no Disney logo at the beginning.  It didn’t give a release date.  And it gave the title as “TR2N”.)

The crowd went wild.  We were then told that it was test footage, put together by director Joseph Kosinski to show off his vision, and what he’d like to do for a Tron sequel.  Based on how that footage went viral, Disney gave the greenlight to the long-awaited Tron sequel, with the title Tron: Legacy. 

Man, I was nuts for Tron Legacy when it started coming along in 2010.  It was one of the first times I was caught up in the viral marketing.  I’ve still got my ENCOM lanyard with ENCOM security badge that you can use to get to a viral website.  I got promotional postcards from ENCOM, advertising their upcoming video games.  I’ve still got an exclusive Tron Legacy poster rolled up and in the back of my closet, which I hope to get professionally framed one day. 

But perhaps my greatest achievement shows that you never know what’ll happen unless you ask.  Inspired by some co-workers who used their position to get press credentials to go to sporting events, I decided to use my position to get press credentials to go to the advance screening.  I sent an e-mail to Disney’s Canadian press office in Toronto, pleaded my case, and a few months later, got my invite to the advance screening of Tron Legacy

The film opens in 1989.  Kevin Flynn has turned ENCOM into one of the foremost computer companies of the 1980s.  The insights given to him while inside the computer have made him a visionary along the lines of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.  And then, one night, he mysteriously disappeared, making an orphan of his young son Sam.  (Yeah, Flynn’s wife is dead, because Disney.)

We flash forward to the present day.  ENCOM is about to launch the latest version of its OS, and the CEO praises the design lead and the rising star of the programming department...Dillinger Jr, played by Cillian Murphy in a gratuitous cameo.  (No doubt setting up the sequel that never happened.)  Board member Alan Bradley is sickened at the greed on display.  But then...a young hacker breaks into the company, swipes the source code to the new OS, and posts it for free online.  The hacker is revealed to be Sam Flynn, majority shareholder and therefore the true owner of ENCOM.  While he’s not ready to take an active role in the company, Sam feels that occasional acts of defiance like this are the best way to keep his father’s legacy alive. 

Once he’s bailed out of jail and returns home, Sam gets a visit from Alan, once again encouraging him to give up this hacktivist life and take control of the company.  But Sam chooses not to, as he’s still got some daddy issues.  And then Alan pulls a very old pager out of his pocket.  Said that Flynn once told him to sleep with it, and he still does for old times sake.  It went off for the first time in 20 years, with the number coming from Flynn’s old arcade.  Alan encourages Sam to go check it out, feeling that it’s a mission more appropriate to Sam.

Sam swings by Flynn’s, and I gotta admit, the filmmakers did a damn fine job recreating the set from the original film.  Sam turns on the power, and we hear a few dozen classic arcade games come to life.  Bit of a deep cut Easter egg in this scene.  The song that the old jukebox starts blaring is Separate Ways by Journey.  The B-side to Separate Ways was Only Solutions...Journey’s theme song for Tron

While poking around, Sam soon finds a hidden door, leading to a hidden lab in the basement.  There, we see some familiar compute equipment from the original film...and a familiar looking laser.  Sa notices the computer has been running for 20 years.  He starts figuring out what’s running, and before you know it, the laser fires up, and Sam finds himself transported into another world.

Sam recognizes it as the Grid, the home of Tron.  It was always dismissed as the backstory that Flynn wrote for his video games, but Sam quickly comes to the realization that it was all real.    Sam is immediately picked up by the shock troops, taken over to processing, where four ladies strip him naked and give him his glowy-stripes outfit, given his identity disc, and sent out to play in the games. 

Right away, we get to our deadly discs tournament, and things are all extreme for the new millennium.  Now, the arenas randomly change gravity and flip around, just as the our combatants do similar parkour moves jumping off the walls to hurl their discs.  I will admit, seeing this in 3D, this was definitely worth the price of admission.  Sam advances through the rankings, and he is soon face to face with Rinzler, the most lethal of the digital warriors.  Rinzler gets the upper hand, he goes in for the killing blow, and notices something.  Sam doesn’t shatter into a million pixels when he’s injured...he’s bleeding.  Rinzler outs Sam as a user.  Our villain, who’s been watching everything from his private box, demands Sam be brought to him.

Sam is brought before our villain.  Our villain unmasks to reveal himself to be...Flynn, still looking very much like he did in the 1980s (i.e. in our prologue).  Sam is elated to see his father again, but soon figures out that this is not his father...this is Clu, the computer-generated duplicate of his father that his father created.  Sam begins demanding to know where Flynn is, but Clu sends Sam back to the games. 

Light cycle time!  And oh man, have the lightcycles improved with modern technology.  No more moving in straight lines and making 90 degree turns.  They now look and move like real motorcycles.  Everything has a much more shimmery, translucent plastic look to it.  It just looks great.  Clu himself joins the games this time, and easily dispatches everyone until it’s just Clu and Sam.  When it looks like Sam is about to bite it, a Jeep enters the field and rescues Sam.  They head for the hills, and the Sam’s rescuer reveals herself to be Quorra.
Let’s just take a moment to talk about how freaking amazing Olivia Wilde is as Quorra.  Yeah, she’s the badass warrior woman, but for a different spin, Wilde brings this childlike innocence to her, and Quorra exhibits this wonder at the feats she’s able to do.  It makes for such a wonderful blend, and Wilde pulls it off spectacularly.  I just love this character. 

Quorra takes Sam to her hideaway off the Grid, and there we meet Flynn...the real Flynn, played by Jeff Bridges as he looks in the present day.  After a tearful reunion, they sit down to dinner.  Flynn expresses some mild disappointment that Sam hasn’t yet fulfilled his potential, and Flynn finally gets around to giving us the backstory.   Turns out Flynn made frequent returns to the digital world, and that’s what led to the creation of the Grid.  Flynn decided to build the perfect computer system from the inside out.  To help him out, he imported Tron, and created Clu.  And for a time, things were good.  But then, a miracle.  New life appeared.  A completely digital life-form...isomorphic algorithms, or Isos for short.  They asked if they could make the Grid their home.  Flynn said yes. 

This angered Clu.  Clu was created to build the perfect computer system, and he felt that the Isos were an anomaly that must be rectified.  Eventually, Clu led a revolt against Flynn, and a war broke out.  Tron gave his life defending Flynn in the first assault.  Because of Clu’s opinion of the Isos, the war quickly became genocidal, and all but one Iso – Quorra – remained.  With the war going on, the portal to the real world closed up, trapping Flynn inside.  With Clu in control and Flynn defeated, Flynn went into exile, and has been hiding out, protecting Quorra, ever since. 

Why didn’t Flynn just delete Clu, asks Sam.  Turns out that, because Flynn created Clu inside the Grid, that old line about “a piece of every programmer resides in their programs” is quite literal, and if Flynn deleted Clu, it might kill Flynn.  So now that Sam’s in the Grid, that means the portal is re-open, so Sam proposes they make a run for it and get out while the gettin’s good, but Flynn refuses.  Flynn deduces that it was Clu who sent that initial page, and all of this has been a ploy to flush out Flynn.  Clu is up to something, and Flynn wants to no part of it.  Flynn quotes another classic film about computers from the 1980s, “The only way to win is not to play.” 

With Flynn wanting to continue his plan of inaction, a frustrated Sam and Quorra plot.  Back during the war, there was a man, Zeus, who would smuggle the Isos to safety.  Maybe Zeus can be found, and help them once again to smuggle them all to the portal.  Sam heads back to the Grid to track down Zeus.  Dismayed, Flynn decides to get off his butt and go after Sam. 

Back in the Grid, Sam runs into Gem, one of the women who stripped him naked, gave him his glowy suit and his identity disc, and sent him into the games.  Gem knows of a man who knows Zeus, and takes Sam to the End of Line Club to meet its proprietor, Castor.  I just feel like pointing out Gem because she’s the only other woman in the film.  Well, there are the other three who help Gem strip Sam naked, but Gem is the only one with lines.  Seriously.  Quorra and Gem, the only two ladies in this film. 

We enter the End of Line Club, and it’s a cameo-pa-looza.  The film’s composers, Daft Punk, make a cameo as the deejays.  The bartender is original Tron director Steven Lisberger.  I read that, somewhere in the Disney vault, there’s a deleted scene where Castor points out Lisberger.

(Castor gives the bartender a respectful nod.  The bartender returns said nod.)

Sam:  Who’s that?

Castor:  Why, he’s the reason why we’re all here. 

And Castor is portrayed by Michael Sheen.  While everyone else is being rather stoic, Sheen just takes a big ol’ bite of the scenery and begins chewing.  Castor is a very flamboyant guy.  It quite stands out.  But anyway, Castor reveals that he’s Zeus, and at his very core, he’s a profiteer, and there’s more money in helping out Clu.  So, he’s ratted them out to Clu, and Clu’s shock troops soon barge in and bust up the place.  Flynn and Quorra show up to save Sam, but not before Castor manages to swipe Flynn’s identity disc.

Once they make their escape from the End of Line Club, Flynn finally decides to do things Sam’s way, and they begin their mad dash for the portal.  They do so on a solar sailer, mimicking the first film.  Since they have nothing to do now but the ride of beam light, they sit and chat.  Sam and Flynn finally have a proper reconciliation and come to an understanding.  Sam and Quorra start falling in love as Sam shares stories of the real world.  I kinda like it.  Things become so action-oriented, I like it when things slow down and we get a chance to get to know our characters. 

They arrive at some stop about two-thirds of the way to the portal, and they finally discover Clu’s plan.  As Flynn is a user, his identity disc contains the key to traversing between the two worlds.  And as Clu was made with a piece of Flynn, Clu might be able to enter the real world as well.  So, Clu has been re-purposing the programs of the Grid into an army, and is getting ready to invade the real world and bring his vision of a perfect system to the masses.  Action scene action scene action scene.  Flynn gets his identity disc back and discovers that Rinzler is, in fact, a re-purposed Tron.  Our heroes swipe a jet and continue their mad dash to the portal, with Clu and Rinzler in hot pursuit.  Encountering his old friend Flynn is enough for Rinzler/Tron to remember his original programming, and take out Clu’s jet, buying our heroes more time.

And I’ve got to say, that was my biggest disappointment with Tron Legacy:  how they handled the character of Tron.  It would have been nice if he had an actual character arc and been an actual character, instead of being a surprise henchman and remembering his true self just long enough to deliver his catchphrase.  I mean, for a movie called Tron, it didn’t have a lot of Tron.
Our heroes make it to the portal, but surprise!  Clu beat them and is waiting for them.  We have one last throwdown with Clu.  Sam and Quorra make it to the portal.  Flynn gave Quorra his identity disc, so she can escape with Sam into the real world.  Flynn deletes Clu, sacrificing himself so Sam and Quorra can escape. 

Back in the real world, as a commentary on how far computers have come, Sam downloads the Grid onto a flash drive and puts it around his neck.  Sam runs into Alan in the arcade.  Thanks to his experiences and his reconciliation with his father, Sam tells Alan that he’s now ready to take an active role in ENCOM and more properly honour his father’s legacy.  Outside, Sam and Quorra hop onto Sam’s motorcycle, roar across the Lions Gate Bridge, and watch the sun rise over Vancouver.

Seriously.  I geek out a little bit when they make zero effort to hide the fact it’s Vancouver. 

And that’s Tron Legacy.  I love it.  And I have the same problems with it that I had with the original film.  They introduce some great sci-fi concepts (the Isos) but then do very little to explore those concepts.  That being said, I love that they finally explore some of the concepts introduced in the original (the identity discs, users having godlike powers).  I heard one critic describe the Tron universe as a being a great concept in search of a great story, and I can really get behind that.

Sometimes they do strain a little too hard to make callbacks to the original.  I mean, I get things like lightcycles and the solar sailer, as that's been established as part of this universe.  But I'm talking about things like this.  In the original, when Flynn racks up the high score on Space Paranoids, he turns to the adoring crowd and says, "Remember...it's all in the wrists!"  In Tron Legacy, when they hijack the mini-jet to finish their spring to the portal.  Quorra gets behind the pilot's stick.  Flynn puts a reassuring hand on her shoulder and says, "Remember...it's all in the wrists."  Seems a little forced. 

The performances are mostly great.  As I said, Michael Sheen’s Castor goes a little off the rails, and sometimes, Flynn becomes a little too much like the Dude for my tastes, but other than that, it’s good.  Special effects are good.  Digitally de-aging Bridges so he can play Clu is amazing.  Some have said that Clu looks a little too CGI, but since he’s supposed to be a computer program, it kind of works.  This is where Disney kind of first started their digital de-aging that has now become a signature opening to every Marvel film. 

And the music.  The score is just amazing.  I know at first it seemed gimmicky to have Daft Punk do the music.  No doubt they were just thinking, “This is a movie that takes place inside a computer.  Who does computerized music these days?”  But Daft Punk knocked it out of the park.  Why Hollywood isn’t asking these guys to do more movies is a mystery.

I hope Disney does get around to doing a third one.  It was briefly greenlit a few years ago, only to be cancelled a few months later.  I like the tweet Olivia Wilde sent out after its cancellation.  It was along the lines of, “I hate to disappoint the fans, but I’m grateful I don’t have to eat nothing but kale dust for six months to fit into that costume again.”  I read an interview with the director Joseph Kosinski not too long ago about the cancellation of the third.  As he pointed out, it was about halfway through production when Disney bought Marvel.  And then they bought Star Wars.  So since Tron Legacy was not as big a hit as those have been, Disney’s just made it a low priority. 

I mean, hey.  It took 28 years to get the first sequel, so maybe all it takes is patience. 

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