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Tron: Legacy (Curated Context)

Movie of the Week
Tron: Legacy (Curated Context)

Tron: Legacy was released this week on Blu-Ray, etc.


Background: Disney released the original Tron in 1982, looking to capitalize on the nascent video game craze both through the movie’s gamer protagonist and its groundbreaking computer-generated effects.  A young Jeff Bridges played Kevin Flynn, a genius game designer who gets laser-sucked into “the Grid,” where a digital version of himself has to recover evidence that his Encom boss stole the game designs that would have made him rich and famous.  2010’s Tron: Legacy takes Flynn’s life up to the present day, but in the intervening years Jeff Bridges’ roles have multiplied: this time around there’s young Bridges, cloned Bridges, old Bridges, and Bridges’ son.  The Bridges have multiplied and so have the release formats: 3D, 2D, IMAX, 3D IMAX, On Demand, DVD, Blu-Ray, and Blu-Ray 3D.  A lot of dimensions. 

The following top 10 list is intended to further dimensionalize your Tron experience, not with more formats, but with a bit of curated context.  Much has been made of the simultaneously fractured and yet highly connected nature of our time and culture; this list is a set of fractured but connected insights from out there on our own Grid.


10. 3D and the Hyperreal

There’s a warning at the start of the 3D version of Tron: Legacy: “Some of the following scenes will be in 2D and are intended as such.”  As it turns out, they designed it so that the Grid manifests in three dimensions and the “real world” in two. This division works pretty well until the final minutes, when Sam Flynn delivers on his promise to wow Quorra (the last of a digital “Iso” race) with the beauty of a real sunset; it ends up looking static and flat compared to the hyperreal photon energy candy we’ve been digesting for the previous 90 minutes.  Even Quorra seems bored.  Despite all of the popularity of the 3D flick these days, there are still good arguments being made as to why 3D won’t last. At least so says Walter Murch via Ebert.


9. Lebowski: Legacy and the Uncanny Valley

At this point in history, it’s impossible to divorce Bridges from Lebowski, and thus we get projects like The Tron Lebowski, and this painful interview, which actually functions as a nice lead-in to the Flynn/Clu problem.  The cast includes 1982 Bridges, 2010 Bridges, and Disney’s shot at 1989 Bridges, to whom they did not have access (they reportedly leaned heavily on Against All Odds footage).  And I’m telling you, watch Clu’s cheeks and mouth, because it’s weird.  Then again the process of cutting archival footage, new video, and CGI effects together to create a multiple Jeff Bridges for Tron: Legacy may in fact be in keeping with the writers’ stated goal, “To find a human connection in a digital world.”


“God, I love Phil Collins.”


8. Sex Robots

The four platform-pumped sirens—female “algorithms” apparently tasked with re-outfitting new Grid entrants—use laser fingers and a smooth, sinking pre-fellatio-type squat to remove Sam’s clothing and prepare him for Tron clothes. They attach a data disc/weapon to his back before mechanically backing away, shoulders back, chests out.  Nobody else in the Tron universe walks like a robot; I want to believe that this is an intentional Sex Robot reference.



The sirens just doing their job


7. Kahhhhhhhhn!

Several moments in Tron: Legacy are strongly reminiscent of Star Wars, and this interview with the writers (from Lost) paints a picture of George Lucas as the new Genghis Kahn, spreading his spawn god knows where.


6. Put together like a Greek God

Michael Sheen’s Castor/Zuse character: half Bowie, half Wonka, half Emperor, half Alan Cumming.


Building a character


5. The problems of Manichaean nomenclature and imagery

Probably by now you’re picking up on the kinds of names you hear a lot of in the Tron universe: Isomorph, Zuse (nice overlap here), Castor, Clu, Quorra…they are space-mythological and very Greek.  So why does Clu’s evil, masked bodyguard and sporting champion go by the very ungreek, a-mythological name of “Rinzler”?  Well, creating a villain’s name may be more formulaic than you think: this illustrative guide suggests that “names stuffed with x’s, k’s, y’s, and z’s” naturally conjure images of wickedness in Western conscious (Gretzky=the Great Evil One?).  I don’t know about you, but these letters strike me as suggestive of Eastern Europe, whereas Rinzler reads more German-Jewish, which has indeed raised the ire of Jewish scholars who happen to prefer that the corrupted, bad version of the title character not be coded Semitic in opposition to the idealized Greekness that graces everything else… They prefer the machines=bad angle.


4. Noble Savages

Kevin Flynn describes the great hope for the world—the spontaneously created and quickly genocided Iso’s—as “Profoundly naïve, unimaginably wise.”  According to Dagmar Wernitznig (probably evil), we modern viewers have the benefit of a late 1980’s development in the perception of the noble savage to lean on.  He writes, “Finally, the traditionally plagiarized Indian nobility of physical aesthetics… became enhanced by a new catch phrase: the spiritual, wise, and prophetic Indian.  As a consequence, the 1990’s – after centuries of physical pet Indianness – innovated savage figures by having them endorse mind/spirit qualities and talents.”


3. The Big Lebowski

If you research the original Tron, you will find out that Jeff Bridges created a noticeable bulge in his Tron suit and had to wear a “dance belt” to hide it.  That explains the flowing robes this go-round.


2. Cyberspace: The Last Frontier?

We could expect that art departments and cinematographers would make different aesthetic choices 28 years after the original Tron, and indeed they have:


Doorway to the Grid: 1982 (top) and 2010 (bottom)


Yes, the 80s chair in the original Tron has been traded up for the Herman Miller Eames Aluminum Group chair in Tron: Legacy, but the bigger cinematographic change lies in the view.  The original scene was filmed at the SHIVA solid-state laser facility at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.  In that shot, Flynn overlooked a real-life blue glowy space before he got sucked into a virtual one, whereas the new Flynn traveler stares at a brick wall prior to his adventure.  In this latter shot, we viewers are no longer positioned in front of the laser, but behind it.  3D can deceive you only so far: you’re not really invited to go on this ride.  No, this is a subtle and probably unintentional expression of the view that cyberspace isn’t really an unexplored world anymore.  That it isn’t really for exploring anymore.  We no longer have a need to link the Grid’s narrative space to that of Tron’s “real world.”  Much of the theoretical cyberspace of 1982 is here in 2011, already claimed and largely undisputed.  Yet we are frequently reminded that the power of the web in the right hands can still surprise us, positively or otherwise: after Assange, this Google manager is probably the closest thing we have to Kevin Flynn, at least in mainstream media narratives.

Today’s viewers have perhaps a more familiar sense of cyberspace (a term coined by William Gibson in 1982).


1. A TV by any other name…

According to this Cisco report, it looks like the internet is increasingly headed for consumable video territory.  Catch you on the Grid.


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