That's Something You Don't See Every Day, Chauncey

Watch me pull a rabbit outta my hat!

All-Time Top 20 Favorite Movies, #15: I kept dreaming of a world I thought I’d never see.

Posted by kozemp on November 8, 2012


I am not kidding.

Tron: Legacy.

And here’s the thing: I am at something of a loss as to why. I can’t figure it out entirely, but for whatever reason I absolutely LOVE this movie. And not in any kind of snarky, ironic, I’m-an-asshole-who-says-things-like-so-bad-it’s-good way. I genuinely, truly love this movie, without reservation or qualification.

I’d seen the original in the theatre when I was a kid – quite possibly the first movie I saw at the old theatre at Cottman and Frankford, which has been since the theatre closed a Rite Aid and now a bank. I distinctly remember loving the movie when I was young – I mean, come on, light cycles. I also remember watching it years ago when it came out on DVD and finding it, in retrospect, to be a pretty terrible movie. The original Tron is one of those things from when you were a kid that you WISH you could love, but for me, at least, my nostalgia for it was not strong enough to overcome the fact that it’s really just not a very good movie.

But still, you might remember when that first teaser trailer for Legacy came out, the reception for it was pretty wild. I was highly dubious that anything could be done to make Tron good, especially with a guy making the movie who was, as near as I could tell, an architect. But that first teaser came out, the one with Clu in the light cycle, and I watched that and said, “okay, I think I would want to see THIS movie.”

It’s interesting to note that while none of the actual footage in that teaser is in the movie – it came out almost a year and a half before the movie was released – it captures the look and feel of the movie perfectly. More than that, watching that teaser (which I and many others did over and over again) you got a great sense of how real the world was that Kosinski was creating, as opposed to the now-silly theatricality of the original movie. Yes, I get that visual effects have advanced a lot in the last 30 years, but one of the things I simply cannot get past is how amateurish the world of the original Tron looks. That’s a problem Legacy doesn’t have; quite the opposite, in fact. The Grid is so real you almost want to reach into the screen and touch it. More on that later.

So the teasers and the trailers came out, and I actually got pretty excited to see Legacy when it came out.

And then for some reason I just never got around to it. The reviews for it were pretty tepid and there wasn’t much interest among my friends to get out to it. So it came and went from theatres without me seeing it, and then, honestly, it sort of slipped my mind. One of those things that every now and then I’d hear about it and think, “oh, I wanted to see that,” and then quickly move my brain onto the next bit.

Flash forward, now, to this past May. I am on a plane home from Germany. I have a 9 hour flight for which I have to stay awake so that my body clock isn’t totally fucked when I get back home. I watched Cedar Rapids, which I liked, but the watching of it has made me realize that the movies on the plane are edited, bowdlerized, kid-friendly versions. So to continue to stay awake and not get pissed at terrible airplane editing, I need to find something with no bad language and relatively bloodless violence.

I page through the choices and see Tron: Legacy and remember, “oh, hey, I’ve wanted to watch that for a while now.”

I fire it up.

Now maybe it was because I was wiped out from the week in Germany, or the recycled air on the plane, or whatever microorganism that had been tearing up my lower gastrointestinal tract the whole trip had migrated up to my brain, but I watched that movie on the back of the seat in front of me – this is on a 5-inch screen, mind you – and was absolutely and completely entranced by it.

When our plane landed, the first thing I did was call my father to tell him to pick me up once I cleared customs.

The second thing I did was order the Blu Ray of Tron Legacy from my Amazon app. Literally, I had ordered the movie before I got to the concourse from the plane.

Two days after that it arrived in the mail and I came home to watch it on the Blu Ray player, in HD, in full 5.1, and the only thought in my head was me rather stupidly saying to myself, “oh my god this movie is fucking great!”

In the last six months I have literally watched this movie probably ten times. I love it to death. And I still, for the life of me, cannot entirely figure out why.

The production design is certainly a lot of it. I have mentioned many times in a lot of places that one of the things I disliked about the Avengers was the big CGI battle scene at the end of the film. I am so not impressed with sequences like that anymore, CGI monsters destroying a city. That shit bores me to tears. I’ve seen it before. I’ve seen it, in fact, too goddamn many times. Familiarity didn’t just breed contempt, contempt grew up, got a good job, and moved into the house next door.

The thing about Legacy, though, and one of the things about it that entrances me so much, is that Kosinski and Co. use CGI not to show me an excruciatingly detailed mock up of New York get destroyed by aliens. Legacy uses CGI to create an entire world, one with a look and a feel and an aesthetic of its own, that is at the same time cold and clinical and dangerous, yet brimming with life and possibility. You watch the scenes in the grid, and you get the sense that there is STUFF around the corner from where characters are standing, that it was filmed on an actual location and not a set that was extended and manipulated through a greenscreen.

It’s not using special effects to make big explosions or move the plot along – Legacy contains the finest, strongest, most detailed world building in movies outside of the Lord of the Rings, and I am a total sucker for that. Use CGI to create an actor who isn’t there? Meh. It’s been done. Use CGI to create an entire world, that I’ve never seen before, and create it to such a level of detail that you can practically feel it when you watch? I’m there.


I’ll be honest – is the script the greatest in movie history? No. But it’s perfectly serviceable. Are the performances going to win Oscars? Well, they didn’t, so that’s kind of a moot rhetorical question, but they’re certainly not bad. Jeff Bridges, especially, seems to be having an awful lot of fun with his character(s). I’ve always said I’d rather see miserable actors in a good show than happy actors in a bad one, but there is something to be said for watching people who are having a good time. And the story, once again, there’s meat on the bone there. Moody, depressive children of absent parents learning to deal with abandonment isn’t exactly short shrift when it comes to the theme department, and it’s worth noting that that description covers both Sam AND Clu, and any movie that makes a serious go of investigating how a computer program deals with daddy issues gets an A for effort, at the very least. And cribbing from Paradise Lost is hardly ever a bad idea.

(Seriously, it’s Paradise Lost. Think about it.)

That, really, is the reason I love this movie. The main one. Your average movie “like” this, and I don’t mean specifically movies set in a digital gladiatorial arena, I mean big, eventy, would-be sci-fi tentpole epics, they’re usually content to just say, “hey, here’s some shit. You’ll be impressed by it. Oh, and it has actors who do stuff. We didn’t really think too much about that.” I really dig the fact that in addition to saying, “okay, we are going to combine actors and sets and CGI and create this incredible digital world that no one has ever seen anything like,” the filmmakers actually worked hard to create a real story, and real characters, and at least attempted to imbue the film with however much real meaning they could get into it.

In a movie world where so many people don’t even try to do that at the most basic level, how can you not love a movie that aims for the very top and falls just a bit short?


(PS – I could, were I so inclined, do another entire post about the soundtrack by Daft Punk, which I had years before I saw the movie, and may be one of the most perfect movie soundtracks ever devised.)


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