Gloria Harrison: My summary of Tron: Legacy is this: it was a visually beautiful, highly entertaining Lady Gaga video.
Cynthia Hawkins: I like that summary. I think anyone who thinks Tron: Legacy is either a good or bad movie based on its story is missing the point. It’s more than its story. Let me ask you this. What did the first Tron mean to you?
GH: I’m really glad you asked that because I had to do this spiel the other night whilst standing in line. We were getting tickets for Black Swan, and I said how awesome it was that I got to see both movies in the same weekend – which is funny ‘cause could they be more different?
GH: You know back when Tron came out it targeted my generation. I was very young – 6 or 7 — so it actually targeted those a bit older, but still: the Atari Generation. The folks before us learned to be leery of technology thanks to campy, cheesy sci-fi – and not so campy or cheesy, Isaac Asimov, etc. All cautionary tales. So was Tron, but it was post Star Wars and people had learned what amazing things computers could do, i.e. create worlds on screen.
So it was this fun thing, this weird animal, Tron. It played with the old idea of technology being evil, but it used technology to tell the story in a way that blew everyone’s minds. Unless I’m mistaken, Tron was the first CGI movie ever, and I, being an Atari kid, was gaga about the graphics because, shit, Pong looked nothing like that. And it was more about possibility than it was about story. It was so pretty to look at, and it was a bellwether for things to come – not because of the story so much, but because it showed what was about to happen to cinema. I got that, and older people may not have.
CH: I was an Atari kid too. In fact, I was so steeped in it I’d begged my parents to let my little sister and me move it into our room, and we played all the time. I had to be taken to the doctor for hand cramps. The first thing the doctor asked me was if I’d been using the Atari joystick. He knew exactly what was wrong with my hands because the emergence of video games was so prominent and profound at that time. So of course a movie about being stuck in one both delighted and horrified me. That’s all I focused on – the look of it and the fact of the characters being trapped inside. I couldn’t tell you anything else about the details of the story because they were irrelevant, really. The look of it, the idea of it, that was the thing.
GH: Totally. I get that it was irrelevant. Furthermore, I think the plot of this one is irrelevant too. This one did what it set out to do. It blew us away visually. And let me rant for a second.
CH: Okay. Go.
GH: Why does Avatar (i.e. Dances with Wolves In Space) get an Oscar nom, but Tron: Legacy gets panned? I had just as good a time watching Tron as I did Avatar.
CH: Me too.
GH: Furthermore, having seen Black Swan and Tron back to back, I can tell you, I had a much better time watching Tron than I did Black Swan. Black Swan left me feeling exhausted and horribly uncomfortable, and I left Tron smiling. Which is the superior movie?
CH: I haven’t seen Black Swan yet, but yes these films have different agendas as to the reaction they want from their audiences. I think people who have been panning Tron: Legacy are doing so because for many years people had panned the original. One of the problems with Tron was that things were changing so fast in the videogame/computer arena that it looked outdated in a hurry. But that shouldn’t undercut what it had set out to do in the first place.
GH: Sure it did. I guess my point is – isn’t having a good time in a movie a good enough criteriacriterion for its value?
CH: Yes, yes of course. I think there is, anyway, because I see so many of the films people pan and still enjoy them and value them for what they are nonetheless. I have complaints about Avatar and Tron: Legacy, but, you know, they were both inventive and entertaining in their own ways. So there, critics!
GH: I mean, Tron: Legacy is flawed. Absolutely. For instance WTF was up with that Goblin King/Alex from A Clockwork Orange hybrid guy and Lady Gaga in the middle of the film?
CH: This would be the scene often highlighted in the film trailer in which Michael Sheen (as hybrid guy) hosts some sort of rave for the “programs.” I hated Sheen’s character. He was like the Jar Jar Binks of Tron.
GH: Were you put off at all by the way they made Jeff Bridge’s face younger for his grid character, Clu?
CH: Yes! Creepy. And it might have been okay to do that to him in the Tron world, but they did it for Kevin Flynn in the flashbacks at the beginning of the film as well. Does Jeff Bridges really look that bad now that he can’t “look young” in those flashbacks? I don’t think so.
GH: He looked pretty old in his Flynn role, but, I mean, Jeff Bridges is old.
CH: Well, because he was scruffy. They could have used the soft lens a la Barbara Walters or something
GH: You know, I think every scene he was in (as Flynn) was a great scene. Some, even powerful.
CH: He makes for a good emotional core in whatever he’s in.
GH: He brought just as much panache and pizzazz to this role as he does any other, and this would not have been the same movie without him. I likely would have hated it.
CH: I agree.
GH: Even though the guy who played his grown-up son wasn’t half bad. I think that if you took Flynn and Flynn Jr. and Quorra and put them in a whole different movie together, there would be some great chemistry/performances.
CH: That’s interesting. What do you think is holding them back as a group here?
GH: I’m not sure what Kosinski’s goal was, but it seems like there were a few conflicting ones:
1. Make it visually beautiful enough to warrant a $15 dollar ticket for 3D
2. Make Jeff Bridges say fun stuff
3. Make it entertaining for a generation of kids who were all born with qwerty keyboards attached to their fingers and who knows every URL available on Youtube
4. Tell a story (but who cares how good that is)
CH: 5. Bring back the lightcycle …
GH: … and make it way more rad! Because that was some fun stuff. I just think there wasn’t enough room in the production for the three leads to do much acting. It almost felt like a movie with disparate parts that was cobbled together, and it made a fun end product.
CH: The constant tension of getting them back to the porthole before it closed was great. That reminded me of the old one, that anxiety I’d felt at getting the hell out of the game!
GH: Right, and I liked how they went old school there at the end, when they were on that thing that rides the beam of light. That was a nod to us, the Atari kids.
CH: Also, there was that scene when the kid goes into the Flynn Arcade, when he powers everything up and the jukebox is playing Journey’s “Separate Ways” and the sounds particular to those old games start pinging.
GH: Yeah, that was a nod to us as well. And we got to see the creepy lens thingy that pixelated Flynn in the original and sent him into the grid.
It would have been a better movie (I daresay even a great one) if they’d focused. But what they came up with is this super fun Frankenstein’s monster freak-show lightcycle thrill ride with Jeff Bridges! All any crappy movie needs is Jeff Bridges.
CH: The Dude abides. I’m pulling for Tron: Legacy. I’ll stand by it as an entertaining work. With flaws, sure, but you can get past them.
GH: I’ll stand by it, too. I’ll say, again, that I’ve spent time watching more “cinematically brilliant” movies and walked away feeling far less entertained than I felt at the end of Tron: Legacy.
CH: Maybe if Natalie Portman had a lightcycle and Jeff Bridges …
GH: Maybe if Aronofsky didn’t get paid by the groan.