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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?

CH:  Exactly!

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.

And you?

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 SwanBlack 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.

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Cynthia Hawkins TNB Arts and Culture Editor CYNTHIA HAWKINS teaches creative writing at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Most of what she thinks she knows comes from movies, including how to tango, how to take someone down with a ballpoint pen, how to curse in French, and how to catch a moving train. Her work, on movies and otherwise, has appeared in literary journals and magazines such as ESPN the Magazine, Parent:Wise Magazine, The Good Men Project, New World Writing, Strange Horizons, and numerous alternative weeklies and anthologies. You can find Cynthia on Twitter and at cynthiahawkins.net.

70 Responses to “Legacy, Lightcycles, and Lady Gaga”

  1. Richard Cox says:

    I haven’t read this yet, but since I don’t see any other comments at this point, I have a golden opportunity to call Cynthia a little tart where everyone will have the chance to see it.

    • Shiza!

      That gravatar is a riot! So I’ll forgive you (sort of). Slade found one featuring a squirrel hoisting a rocket launcher, but I’m too much of a little tart to take the time and replace my princess Audrey photo.

  2. Richard Cox says:

    Well, I’m not sure why visually arresting films and those with a good story are necessarily mutually exclusive. If you’re spending this much money on graphics, can’t you hire a good screenwriter(s)?

    I haven’t seen the new Tron yet, so I can’t speak for that film, but it’s the argument itself I find lacking. Special effects for the sake of them seems lazy to me…in most cases. I’ll admit to enjoying the experience of seeing Avatar because the 3D and visual world was SO different that you could watch it almost for the visuals alone. But even though the story was trite and predictable, it did have a certain pull that prevented the film (for me) from being just effects only. I hope I feel the same way when I see Tron.

    And speaking of Atari, when I get the chance to play one, it brings back the old memories and makes me feel like I’m 11 again. Then after about five minutes I’m like, Um, I used to get hand cramps playing THIS? Hahaha.

    You guys have good chemistry together, btw. I look forward to reading more pieces like this one.

    • We did this in Google chat, and I left out all of the typed “hahahas” that followed the hand cramp memory. But really, what an obsessive little nerd I was!

      So, I also had to leave out, for the sake of the word count, the part of our conversation in which Gloria and I debated whether or not someone over the age of twelve and not a fan of the original would enjoy this. The simple story — boy goes into game to get long-lost father out — isn’t bad. Some of that’s actually moving, believe it or not. But it’s the details, the how and the why and so forth, I guess you could say, that don’t always hold together. Without giving anything away, it kind of reminded me of that moment in Phantom Menace when the idea of the midichlorians came up and half the theater groaned with disbelief. Maybe not even that bad. Can’t wait to hear what you think when you see it. BUT, I thought no, an adult who was not a fan would not, though the very wise and lovely Gloria disagreed. I have a feeling the pull IS that sentimentality for the *ideas* of the first one.

  3. J.M. Blaine says:

    My buddy Tyler’s mom
    used to work nights at the GM
    plant and she’d give us a roll of quarters
    so we could walk down to the Piggly Wiggly
    off Jaybird Lane & play Tron.
    She was always smoking Virginia Slims.

    Anyway, one afternoon his papaw
    took us to see the movie & you could tell
    when we walked back out into the sun
    he was like
    “what the hell?”
    So I haven’t seen this new Tron
    but I hope it is still inspiring
    what the hells….

    • See? This is why I’m glad Lisa Rae wrote her lovely homage to your work — even your comments are phenomenal. Oh, there will be what the hells … maybe for different reasons.

    • Gloria says:

      It inspired a few what the hells in me. Like: what the hell were they thinking by CGIing Flynn’s (Bridges’s) face in the flashback scene? Don’t they screen this stuff? Didn’t anyone tell them it’s creepy?

      But that’s not what you meant.

      It’s a super fun movie. Totally worth seeing – especially in 3D.

  4. J.M. Blaine says:

    what is life
    worth living
    without
    the
    what the hells?

  5. Gregory Messina says:

    As someone over 12 who did not see the original, I’ll be sure to see the new one now so I can figure out what you’re talking about. Cause I hate to be on the outside of pop cultural references.

  6. James D. Irwin says:

    I’ve never seen Tron, because it’s pretty obscure, hard to find and I only really started watching films properly a few years ago. And it’s only since I moved into this house I’m in now with my brother that I watch at least one film a day.

    And when Tron Legacy came out I had no desire to see it at all. Even though Jeff Bridges is in and he’s awesome, and Olivia Wilde is in it and calling her beautiful is like saying Pluto is ‘far away.’ But on the last day of term my tutor who’s only a few years older than me and is one of the only people in my class to get the pop culture references in my work asked me if I was going to see it, so I watched what was supposed to be a trailer, but was more like a demo or something.

    Anyway, it was a massive lightcycle chase and then young and old Jeff Bridges in what I can safely say was the most awesome 2 minutes and 21 seconds of film trailer I’ve seen all year. The only thing stopping me now is the lack of cinemas in rural England…

    • Well, the original Tron is on Youtube in about 20 parts. I couldn’t even make it through the first four minutes when I found it yesterday. It really is a product of its time. The new one, however … I don’t know Irwin. I think we see eye to eye here as best friends, and I say you’re going to like it.

      Your cinema situation would kill me. When I lived in rural New York I was known to drive for several hours just to see a movie that wasn’t playing where I was. Something’s wrong with me, though.

      • James D. Irwin says:

        I used to look down on the 1980s, but it’s recently become my favourite decade. I love ’80s films, the more ‘of it’s time’ the better.

        The new film looks visually amazing, and I’m very easily entertained…

        I don’t think I’ve ever lived anywhere with a good cinema nearby… I hardly ever get to go and I love going to the cinema. I don’t think I’ve been since Iron Man 2 came out…

        • This is heartbreaking, Irwin! Heartbreaking! Here, I’m giving you this as compensation for your lack of a good cinema: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tK-Nw-rBac8

        • James D. Irwin says:

          Thanks!

          Good news— I’m going to Cambridge tomorrow to watch Tron Legacy. I’ll have to watch this tonight in my bedroom/parent’s boileroom…

        • Gloria says:

          Cambridge! I once almost died trying to navigate a hired bicycle through traffic in Cambridge.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          So, so many bicycles in Cambridge… it’s worse than Amsterdam even though there are fewer bikes because in Cambridge they’re all ridden by snobby students with a false sense of self-entitlement…

        • Relegated to movies on Youtube in your bedroom/parent’s boiler room? Sweet Jesus! It’s like your Harry Potter!

        • James D. Irwin says:

          Very much so. It’s actually a slightly nicer room than the description implies. It’s more like one of those *nice* prison cells that rich, powerful criminals get. No curtains, a concrete floor, but I have a lamp, a bed, and a desk and enough plug sockets to use my laptop.

          I had a rug in the summer, but that’s gone for some reason. Manybe because I shanked a warden out in the yard…

          This room was perfect with the rug actually. It really tied the room together… But also I didn’t have to wear shoes all the time. Although still a nice little room to use for writing over the Christmas break…

        • “It really tied the room together,” hahaha. More proof that all conversations lead to The Big Lebowski.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          I watched it just the other day. I’ve seen it loads of times, but it seemed so much funnier this time. It’s not even like it had been ages since I’d last seen it either…

          In one of my classes last year we were reading out scripts and the diner scene came up as one of the examples we were given. Hardly anyone else had seen the film! No-one wanted the chance to be The Dude! I took it, but then no-one wanted to be Walter either and he has some great lines so I switched to that instead and it was just me and the tutor.

          I’ve also now found a place that sells Kahlua so I can make my own white russians. My previous university made good ones at one of the bars, but here in classy old Winchester only one place does them and they sprinkle burnt cocoa powder over the top it seriously ruins it. Naturally I only tried one in the first place because of The Big Lebowski, and was delighted to find it tastes like alcoholic milk.

          My favourite character in the film though is still Sam Elliot’s moustache. I’ve only seen him in that and RoadHouse, where the ‘stache is absent. This leads me to imagine/hope that he didn’t grow the moustache, it just appeared by magic…

        • I wish Sam Elliot would narrate my life. That’d be awesome.

          I ordered something with Kahlua once and the smarmy little waiter said when he brought it, “Let me know when you’re ready for a big girl drink.” Asshole! There’s nothing juvenile about alcoholic milk. Nothing. Or believing in magic moustaches.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          white russians are pretty strong, and more dangerous because it’s very hard not to just drink it like a glass of milk…

    • Gloria says:

      come heeeeeeerrrrrreeeeeeeeeee!!!

  7. Reno Romero says:

    Wow. A very cool ride down memory lane. I remember Tron being the shit when it came out. I never saw the movie, but played the video game. I was just at Disneyland a few weeks back (after my anxiety attack settled down from the sight of 1000s of people) I enjoyed the myself and ended the night with a a water/laser/computer light show (World of Color) that was FUCKING amazing and capped a good day of shitty food, happy bitching kids, and the Santa Ana winds cutting through the hairs on my chinny chin chin. Anyhow, the show had, uh, gobs of colors, highlighted Disney movies and plugged Tron with zipping motorcycles. Awesome. I think that in Legacy II Jeff Bridges ought to bring back “the dude.” The Dude in neon would be a keeper.

    • It was the shit, wasn’t it. That’s what we should have titled this. Why Tron was the shit. It’s funny now to look back on it after so much advancement. What is it with writers and crowds? I can’t tolerate crowds either, and neither can any of the writers I personally know. Also, Jeff Bridges was pretty Dude-like in this one, I have to say. He could have used a bathrobe, some beer, and Donnie in a Folger’s can, but the lingo was there, man, it was *there*.

  8. New Orleans Lady says:

    I want to see Tron but only because my son and hubby have been annoying me about it. I’m too young to have any sort of memory attached to it but it does look visually pleasing. Thanks for the great report!

  9. Irene Zion says:

    Cynthia,

    I’m sorry, I don’t know about Tron, old or new.
    I think I need to take a course in what young people know
    that I don’t.
    I’ll look for one.

  10. Erika Rae says:

    I’ve never seen Tron, so… I’ll just comment on this:

    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

    Hahahahahahaha!

  11. Joe Daly says:

    I was an Atari kid as well. Actually, I was a Pong kid. When Pong came out, my friend’s parents got it for him and we were way hooked. I got the first Atari sometime thereafter, playing exciting games like “War” and “Adventure” until the wee hours (which for me was about 9 p.m.).

    Somehow I missed Tron, though.

    But if you gals enjoyed Tron as much as Avatar (which I was surprised to enjoy so much), then off I’m going to see Tron in the theater proper.

    I had assumed the new flick was little more than a regrettable decision by Bridges to go for the easy payday, so it’s nice to hear I can lay aside my uninformed judgments and enjoy the flick.

    Well done!

    • Lisa Rae Cunningham says:

      Hey, you missed Tron too! It’s kind of ironic, since we’re kind of, well, you know. Big fat media snobs. When I think Bridges December 2010, I think True Grit. You with me?

      • True Grit! I am so psyched to see True Grit this weekend.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          I’d forgotten about True Grit. I was just reading the Christmas TV listings and the original is on and then I got excited because I remembered the new Coen Brother’s version is out soon BUT then I got annoyed because it’s not out until late January.

          On the plus side it should be mainstream enough to play in the cinema where I go to university.

          It also means that the next two films I see at the cinema will star Jeff Bridges. I love Jeff Bridges.

  12. Lisa Rae Cunningham says:

    I, too, am an Atari kid. I somehow missed Tron the first time round. It’s baffling.

    • You, Joe Daly, and my husband. All of you missed Tron. My husband (also a hard-rockin’ Joe) has no concept of Tron’s one-time impact, but he’s older than me … he was maybe 13 at the time? And you were probably a baby, yeah? Maybe if it didn’t grab you at just the right age, well, then it was a non-event. (Hi Lisa Rae!)

  13. dwoz says:

    The movie was also one of the early true “geek” movies, because the name itself, “Tron” is a BASIC language system command, that turns debug tracing on. It has a corresponding “Troff” which stops debugging.

    The character itself goes around through the computer chasing rogue programs…which is the actual real world function of TRON.

    • Gloria says:

      OH.

      MY.

      GOD.

      That might be the best information I’ve heard all day.

    • Hey dwoz! They did incorporate some computer programming concepts in the new one as well, but since all of that’s over my head now (at one time, my dad wrote programs and had taught us some old-school fundamentals on the T.I., ha ha) I couldn’t tell you how clever, how accurate, or how contemporary (or not) they were about it. I’m curious what someone in the know would think of the new one ….

  14. D.R. Haney says:

    One of these days, Cynthia, you and I will have to have an exchange about a movie I’ve seen. I’m afraid I just never check out blockbusters. I don’t see new releases much at all, and when I do, it’s weird stuff.

  15. Simon Smithson says:

    I don’t want to comment because I haven’t seen it but I want to see it and I want to comment and I don’t want to not comment because I want to comment about seeing it because I want to see it and comment about seeing it in my comment!

  16. Nice one, Cynthia. And I agree with your assessment of Jeff Bridges. That guy has so much soul. And such a great outlook on life as well. I once saw an interview with Jeff and his Buddhist teacher. Truly inspirational. And funny too.

    • He’s one of my faves, for sure. My dad, who is a huge fan of westerns and John Wayne in particular, and I were just having a conversation this morning about Bridges in the new True Grit. If anyone could outshine Wayne’s Rooster Cogburn it’s Bridges, my dad confessed. I never thought he’d accept anyone other than John Wayne in that role. That right there is a testament to The Dude’s power!

  17. angela says:

    i just saw Tron last night and totally agree with gloria’s assessment that it was “a visually beautiful, highly entertaining Lady Gaga video.”

    i haven’t read all the comments so sorry if i’m repeating anything but to sum up:

    1) that light cycle race scene with that cool music was amazing! the whole film is redeemed just because of that.

    2) and because Daft Punk were the DJs in the club scene.

    3) i actually liked the Michael Sheen character. maybe i was relieved to see someone have some emotion, even if it was creepy emotion.

    4) what was up with all the unnecessary lingering shots on Olivia Wilde?

    True Grit next!

    • Hi Angela!

      1) agreed, that was so much fun
      2) ooh yes, and in fact the whole Daft Punk score was a fantastic addition
      3) I’ll compromise with you here and say that I like Michael Sheen … in other things ;)
      4) at least they weren’t unnecessary lingering shots of Megan Fox

      I loved True Grit! Enjoy!

  18. Nathaniel Missildine says:

    I haven’t seen the new Tron yet, though part of me doesn’t want to spoil the memory of watching the first one as a kid and thinking I’d just been allowed into the future. But right now, the future seems somehow old hat to me.

    I did recently see Black Swan though and I agree with Gloria that it’s exhausting and leaves you fairly shaken. It’s also however, for my money, a fascinating film that compels you to see the world through its lens afterward, which has to elevate its stature beyond those films whose main goal is spectacle. I mean digging for bigger, even if darker, themes has to count for something. But maybe I’m just a sucker for the kind of melodrama Black Swan cultivates. Also, possibly I’ve been a little scared of looking into mirrors ever since and can’t utter the words “Barbara Hershey” without getting the chills.

    I suppose I need to get on a light cycle soon.

    • Gloria says:

      Barbara Hershey was absolutely freak-tastic in Black Swan. I’m no fan of melodrama. Also, I didn’t **get** it? What was real? What wasn’t? Who cares? If left to make up “the point” my own self, I’ll say that it was a cautionary tale about women coming into their own sexually powerful selves. But what do I know?

      • I’ve been making progress on new releases, but I *still* haven’t seen Black Swan. I do know that I usually hate Aronofsky films at first and then love them weeks later after I’ve thought them through (and seen them again). I react the same way to Doris Lessing novels. I can’t explain the strange magic of either Lessing or Aronofsky. I never grew to love Aronofsky’s The Fountain, however, and it’ll be interesting to see what I’ll eventually think of Black Swan.

        Nat, “I’d just been allowed into the future” is such a great way to explain the experience of the first (and maybe even the second) Tron!

        • Nathaniel Missildine says:

          That’s an interesting interpretation, Gloria, that I hadn’t thought of. One could probably make a case for the misogyny of the film, though I would argue that the themes are more complex. This year has seen a lot of movies that play the “is it real or not” game (like Inception), but Black Swan did so in a way that seemed to have truer implications.

          Also, I was never much of an Aronofsky fan before, I didn’t enjoy getting hit over the head by Requiem for a Dream for instance. Why Black Swan is different for me, I’m not entirely sure. Maybe my years training as a professional ballerina.

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