Hackers’ Night Out: Tron Legacy

None of us are wearing EL-wire costumes. You can not imagine my relief.

Charel, Ann, Steve, Philippe, Mich, Pascal, David, Romain, David, Georges, Mike, Yves, Jeff, Kenn, Pascal

Friday night, a hacker horde descended upon Cinebelval to watch Tron Legacy in 3D. Disappointingly, but not at all rarely, the opening nights in Luxembourg tend to be weeks, if not months, behind the rest of the world. Having bravely withstood the pressure and not cheated by watching the movie first in a neighboring country, 15-some of us lined up to watch the return of the hacker classic, Tron. We had a great time, and after the film retreated to Urban Belval, a refreshingly smoke-free bar with reasonable prices and decent atmosphere.

A quick slideshow, and then on to the analysis:

As the hack-event was about watching a movie, the point of this post is provide an analysis of what we saw. I’m just going to go full bore into this. There’s no point in not trying to spoil the movie: if you want a movie review you shouldn’t be reading a blog on a hackerspace. This is a short analysis, and so we need to be on the same page. I will discuss full movie facts, including plot twists and characters.

There’s been a lot of talk on the intertubes about who can appreciate this film. After having seen it, I understand and agree: if you haven’t seen the original film, a long time ago and multiple times since then, then it’s very hard to get into the movie. There are no inside jokes, but there are lots of inside references. Moreover, the basic storyline is built on a cultural phenomena that was very powerful in those who watched it. As of yet, I don’t know anyone who didn’t grow up with Tron and did like Tron Legacy.

I went into the movie knowing only two things: 1) Jeff Bridges somehow went bad, and 2) the light cycles no longer followed the grid.

I forgive the light-cycles. In classic Khan’ian fashion, I forgot about the third dimension, and so thought that the cycles would be boring, having lost their gut-wrenching turning ability. Fortunately, the screen-writers didn’t forget, and they used the ramps and multiple levels to phenomenal advantage. The light cycles are beauty incarnate, and the entire scene is thrilling and engaging, except the end, when suddenly Disney felt they needed to save the main character from mortal peril with a Deus Ex Machina plot device. In spite of this pathetic end to the scene, this is a scene I could watch ten times over and not be bored.

Likewise, the storywriters found a good reason for why Jeff Bridges turns evil, and why such an innerly-corrupted entity would be in charge of the Grid in the first place. Jeff Bridges wanted perfection and so he got it– be careful what you wish for. Of course, the real Jeff Bridges realizes his error in classic hokey fashion, thus purging his soul and winning salvation in the last seconds.

So this basically describes the movie: phenomenal beauty with tantalizingly good story lines– story lines which utterly fail to fulfill their promise. Let’s talk about the first:

The movie visuals are stunning. In the world, there is “eye candy”, and there is “art”. Tron Legacy is clearly the latter. No matter the cultural value of the film’s storyline, the artistic value will be felt for years to come. We’re not talking fan art, such as el-wire costumes or light-cycle body kits, we’re talking about the H.R. Giger effect, where the costumes and set design instantly burn themselves into your subconscious, spreading throughout your aesthetic sense, ever so subtly changing everything.

But the plot lets you down. This movie is not a classic. There’s too much glamour, too much energy, too much style, too much too much. Tron achieved something Tron Legacy never will, because it didn’t get caught up in trying to sell Tron based on what market demographics said to do. It had a great story, and didn’t get distracted. Much of what happened was unpredictable, and original.

Sadly, Tron Legacy did not follow in its footsteps, importing tired movie classics such as a rescue by a beautiful ninja woman; a betrayal by the decadent night club owner, who himself is betrayed as reward for his betrayal; a sniveling, sycophantic flunky; a redemption at a critical moment; a “badguy-returned-from-the-dead” climax; and finally a cliche epilogue. Tron Legacy is predictable from beginning to end, although there were so many points in the movie when it could have been different.

A stark difference between the two movies was the soundtrack. Rather, the omnipresence of the soundtrack. Tron had little in the way of music, whereas Tron Legacy is filled by an original and captivating score made by Daft Punk. Which is both an advantage and a disadvantage. The advantage comes from the brilliant job Daft Punk did capturing the feel of a computer universe. Daft Punk’s soundtrack is at times reminiscent of Philip Glass’s Koyaanisquatsi, of Fight Club, or even of Tron.

The disadvantage, unfortunately, comes from the presence itself of the soundtrack. That’s not to say that it’s out of place: it’s not, it’s perfectly suited to the movie. It’s just its mere presence. The soundtrack distracts. It literally becomes part of the movie for a 5 minute sequence in a night club. Where Tron was inspired enough to stand on its own two feet, Tron Legacy needs the soundtrack to get it through to the end.

In the end, Tron Legacy is not the film Tron was. It will never achieve classic status, except perhaps amongst those for whom Tron itself was already a classic. And why should it have? Few films manage this, and Tron Legacy had no compelling reason to be otherwise. But that’s no reason not to like it, not to savor its beauty and design. We should rejoice that modern technology has made a sequel even possible, and that the sequel was smartly made. A classic, no, but a worthy successor, yes.

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