Hola all. Massawyrm here.
Normally I don’t write counterpoint reviews, preferring instead to focus strictly on my personal reactions and thoughts independent of other’s opinions. But today I make an exception as I write the first of two pieces on what is already quite a divisive film. If there is one criticism that haunts TRON: LEGACY in the whole of its negative reviews, it is the overall, incredibly generic criticism that the story is too simple. Like AVATAR before it, critics have flogged near to death the idea that there isn’t really a lot going on in the film. And from a story structure standpoint, they are not incorrect. But calling the film simple overall means they are overlooking an awful lot.
There is a basic axiom of storytelling that states that the higher the concept of your story, the simpler the elements of your story need to be. As complexity approaches infinity, the audience capable of wrapping their mind around it approaches zero, thus you need to do something to meet them halfway, especially when you are looking to expose as broad an audience as possible to some fairly high minded concepts. If your story is about a simple family living in modern suburbia, the complexity of the relationships, the oddness of the characters and the depth of the story all need to be dense enough to carry along such an ordinary situation. And if your story is about a world of ones and zeroes, presenting physical representations of abstract concepts, while wrestling with an allegory for one of the greatest ethical social quandaries of the modern era – and you want to sell it to kids – then, yeah, your film needs to be a little lighter on story.
TRON: LEGACY is an allegory for the dawn of the digital age. Now, be careful how you read that last sentence; it isn’t some lofty, overinflated pomp rhetoric that is supposed to sound cool while actually saying little. I mean it quite literally. This film is an argument about the nature of information and whether or not it should be free, beginning first as a blunt, aggressive, seemingly reckless condoning of digital anarchy before slipping into metaphor and becoming a tale about the naivety of our digital infancy. Make no mistake; there is a very definite through line here about digital freedom and almost every element of the film supports it. That said, as this discussion isn’t as in your face as the visuals, action and music, it can be overlooked and pronounced hollow by those wanting something more overtly complex.
This isn’t Vonnegut; it isn’t Huxley or Ellison or Dick either. It is a Disney movie, and thus it isn’t tangled in knots of interconnected plotlines. The film has a very simple, easy to understand narrative structure built upon the all too familiar abandonment issues story in which a kid seeks out the father that left him 20 years before. Like Avatar before it, the hero finds a world entirely unlike his own and gets swept up in events much larger than himself. And if that’s all you look at, then that’s all you’re going to get out of it. I understand the guys who were bored by this – though I’m entirely unsure what they were expecting. This looks and feels every bit like mainstream science fiction softened for the masses, but layered over something deeper and much more subtle.
As a film, I had quite a bit of fun with it. The visuals (as pretty much everyone has said) are jaw dropping - a surreal, neon, Technicolor wonderland drenched in a rainbow of epilepsy inducing colors. The DAFT PUNK score is a truly inspired soundscape that drives the film from frame one. And the action set pieces are a thing to behold. I keep reading reviews calling the dialog clunky or wooden, but it sounds exactly like people speaking in simple terms about very abstract things. These are, after all, programs existing in a purely imagined space, trying to relate their interactions on a somewhat human level; most of them are *supposed* to sound stiff and forced.
Admittedly, my reaction walking out of the theater was that the film was good, but not great. It wasn’t until the movie began to soak in and I began to wrap my mind around what it was saying that I really started to love it. I get that many folks aren’t going to want to take the time to pick it apart and see what TRON: LEGACY is doing; if you are expecting a tentpole film, odds are you aren’t exactly watching with a mind to dissect it. And in the wake of films like AVATAR, MOON, DISTRICT 9, INCEPTION and STAR TREK, this does seem, at first glance, to be rather simple.
But that by no means is to say that it is. The further I get away from it, the more I like it. I can’t wait to see it again this weekend in order to further dissect it before returning here next week for my second piece on it – a spoiler filled dissection into what I think this whole thing is all about, that I hope will make for some interesting Christmas week reading. Hope you’ll join me back here then. Until then, see it, but watch it with the mindset that it actually has something to say and you might end up getting a whole lot more out of it.
Until next time friends,
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