...a blog by Richard Flowers

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Day 3640: The Two TRONies


For my latest impenetrable disguise, I have slipped into a LYCRA BODY-STOCKING with matching NEON ACCOUTREMENTS – hmm, surprisingly comfortable, actually – in order to download myself into the local cinema's Internet-based ticket-booking system and obtain a seat for the movie TRON: LEGACY.

The ORIGINAL Tron movie is almost certainly the MOST Nineteen-Eighties movie ever made. Seriously, it is! Essentially, or at least superficially, it's about a young man in a MULLET engineering a corporate takeover. It's got lasers and computers and wacky electronica; what could be MORE eighties than that?

Except, of course, it's really all about GOD.

We were able to watch BOTH "Tron" movies over the weekend. We were able to do this because we bought the DVD of "Tron" back when it came out for the Twentieth Anniversary of the movie in 2002 and before Disney went MAD and DELETED all remaining copies so that no one can buy the old one and compare it to the new one. Like wot we're about to do.

The usual total disclaimer of responsibility for spoilers for either movie applies, but I WILL keep spoilers for the NEW one to the separate review below.


Tron depicts two worlds: the "real" world of Human Beans – it even throws up the cheesy caption "meanwhile, in the real world" – which looks very like a cheap TV movie of the week inhabited by people with bad and, frankly, really BIG hair; and a second world "inside" the computers where people-shaped "programs" dressed in florescent baby-grows/over-optimistic fetishwear are oppressed by the local fascist regime, headed up by villainous muscle SARK working for the Big Brother/Emperor/Devil figure of the Master Control Program (or MCP).

There's this whole "The Wizard of Oz" thing going on so that the program-people in the computer world are doppelgangers of the people in TV movie world who programmed them – who are called "users" (with all the hilarious cannabis-based overtones you can imagine).

So, Mr Jeff Bridges is BOTH the mulletted programmer, arcade-gamer and hacker Kevin Flynn AND the intruder program CLU whom he sends into the company mainframe to obtain the proof that their valuable copyrights ought to belong to him in the first place; Mr "President" Bruce Boxleitner is both the "square" Alan Bradley, the last "honest" guy still working for the megacorp, AND the heroic titular security programme TRON tasked with policing the MCP (much to the former chess computer's annoyance); Ms Cindy Morgan is both the bimbo scientist Lora who's positioned her own desk right in front of the gigawatt laser disintegrator AND smart cookie lady-program YORI who seems to be a system control program (or possibly a solar-sailor pilot); and the transcendentally awesome Mr David Warner is nasty-suited corporate sneak-thief and senior exec Ed Dillinger AND Darth Vader… er I mean red-meanie SARK. Oh and he's also the voice of Evil Genius, er, I mean the Master Control Program. Look, he's a REASONABLE MAN…

Anyway the PLOT – as opposed to the STORY, important difference – sees Mr Kevin's intruder program CLU get caught and killed, sorry "de-rezzed" by SARK while trying to get into the company's core memory. This prompts the MCP to have his human patsy, Dillinger, order a security lockdown. This, in turn, cuts off Mr Alan's access to his new TRON program and forces Mr Alan together with the rebellious Mr Kevin. With Ms Lora's help they break in so that Mr Kevin can use her computer in the laser lab to break open the system and let Mr Alan communicate with TRON.

So far so SIMPLE!

Except… remember what I said about where Ms Lora had stupidly put her desk?

So twenty minutes in, the Master Control Program gets to use its experimental teleporter to send Mr Kevin over the rainbow or, if you don't mind me suddenly shifting metaphors, down the rabbit hole into computerland.

It's a more appropriate metaphor because there are plenty more ways that computer world resembles Wonderland than Oz, from the weird physics to the mysterious pool of liquid (probably not tears, but certainly worth a "drink me") to a guardian caterpillar.

And of course "down the rabbit hole" links us to that other movie about reality and computer simulation, because "Tron" is, obviously, "The Matrix" seen from the other point of view: the hyper-real, sci-fi world in "Tron" is the SIMULATION inside the computer inside the "real" world; "The Matrix" reverses this by having our "real" world be the simulation inside the sci-fi world of spaceships and robots. In both cases, though, a person from the more-real world aware that they are in the simulation-world gains SUPER POWERS.

Once despatched into computerland, Mr Flynn finds himself one of a band of prisoners. At this point SARK arrives. I say arrives: he is travelling in a gigantic flying battleship called his command carrier; it's one hell of an entrance. The command carrier itself is a stunningly iconic piece of design, hanging in the computerland sky in what Mr Dougie Adams would describe as exactly the way that bricks don't. Watching again, Daddy Richard recognised that this carrier is an enduring image that has stayed with him from childhood, particularly the physics-defying way that it glides over the landscape.

Mind you, you don't need a degree in RADICAL FEMINISM to spot this enormous flying Freudian symbol as a huge archetype of the patriarchal authority going on around here.

Anyway, SARK gives the prisoners a lecture – deliciously undercut by Mr Warner's almost bored, perfunctory, done-it-so-many-times-before delivery – that sets out the movie's metaphysical stall: belief in the "users" is a decadent superstition. Persist in it and we'll send you off to be killed in the CGI Gladiatorial Games. Do I NEED to say Christians versus Cat-monsters?

Of course, it's awfully easy to see SARK and his crew as a bunch of Godless Commies™, not least because they all glow RED where the goodies glow BLUE (except where they're the other way around because the makers changed their minds halfway through – check out the goodies' Light Cycles and some of the baddie tank commanders!).

And this is reinforced by the image of the MCP as Big Brother, planning on instigating a takeover by stealth; we've already heard him discussing his plans to hack into the Pentagon, in a scene which also implies that he's in charge of the Kremlin (and when we see him at the climax he IS one great big face, too!)

Remember, the "goodie" programs have "faith" in their "users" (they have to have "faith" because they cannot "hear" the voice of their "users" since the MCP has cut off all communications to the "real world" except for his own line to Dillinger); but WE know that this "faith" in the users is COMPLETELY CORRECT. But keep thinking about it because it's more complicated than it seems: for starters, as a metaphor for GOD, it's a cheerfully PANTHEISTIC model, isn't it.

Anyway, SARK dismisses the prisoners and sends Mr Flynn off for a bout of death-by-Frisbee against Mr Boxleitner's future Babylon 5 co-star Mr Peter Jurasik unless you meant it.

As an aside, Mr Jurassic plays his character in a very interesting way, slightly pathetic and slightly nasty. Not merely willing to kill to save his own life, he's actively keen to take advantage of Flynn's naivety and ignorance as to the fatal consequences of losing. It's an interesting study in how oppression makes the oppressed turn on each other, even though it means actually serving the agenda of their oppressors. (And it's a lot more subtle than the big gay double-cross in "Tron: Legacy"… **cough cough spoilers** but more of that later).

Mr Flynn DOESN'T kill Mr Peter; he refuses. But nasty SARK deletes Mr Peter's platform anyway, with the obvious nasty-plunge-into-oblivion consequences.

After this, Mr Flynn and his cell-mate, a program called RAM, get transferred to a new game: the famous LIGHT CYCLES. There they meet up with TRON at last. The light-cycle game is famously stunning – at least from the computerland perspective; up in the "real" world, it appears to be just a "worm" game with only the cycle's "lightwall" trails visible. So you build your own maze and when one of the baddies somehow smashes a "hole" in the "wall" of the game, Flynn and TRON and RAM are able to escape into the computer network.

SARK sends his forces in pursuit: rolling tank programs and the iconic flying alien/spaceship thingies called Recognisers (looking suspiciously like a less anthropomorphic EVIL-ROBOT Maximilian from Disney's previous sci-fi epic "The Black Hole", a poster for which can be spotted in "Tron: Legacy"). Earlier, in the "real world" sequence, we saw Mr Flynn playing (and winning at) the original "Space Paranoids" game which was nicked from him by Mr Dillinger and is the basis of the company's fortunes. We see that both tanks and Recognisers come from this game.

Our heroes get separated and RAM gets de-rezzed. While TRON makes his way to a communication tower, Mr Flynn discovers that, as one of the fabled "users", he has SPECIAL POWERS: he is able to reassemble a smashed Recogniser, basically by using the FORCE.

One thing that is rather terrific is the way that, as it pulls itself together, we see that the Recogniser is made up of discrete geometric shapes that just hang together unconnected. Later on, Mr Flynn's BAD DRIVING results in a crash which sees the Recognisers disassembled block by block in a similar manner.

Speaking of the FORCE, by the way, I was reading some of Mr Lawrence Miles the other day and it set me thinking about how Mr George Lucas really, really, fundamentally misunderstood his own mythology. The Force, as it was SUPPOSED to work in Star Wars, was a power that derived from the CONNECTIONS between people. Strength in the Force should therefore NOT be some innate, INNER quality – that, if anything, should be the power of the SITH – but the Jedi strength ought to be determined by their connectedness to others. Master Anakin's powerful connection to just a FEW (or ONE) people – his MUM and then his GIRLFRIEND – ought to make him WEAK in Jedi powers; conversely the selfless Princess Leia, working tirelessly for others throughout the galaxy ought to be staggeringly powerful. The exchange between Master Luke and the Emperor in "Return of the Jedi": "Your overconfidence is your weakness"/"Your faith in your friends is yours" ought to be THE central argument between Jedi and Sith, not just a bit of tacked on bitching.

Anyway, Mr Flynn escapes from the crashed Recogniser and is able to hide himself among SARK's guards – he discovers that he is able to change colour from blue to red by touching one of the red guards, and later changes back when he touches TRON, though nothing seems to be made of this point. Though if the colour of your neon's DOES indicate something about the status of your SOUL – as the blue for goodies, red for baddies divide implies – then at the very least it ought to be a BIT significant that Mr Flynn appears to have the ability to be EITHER.

This – possibly – becomes even more significant in the sequel, see below.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. TRON has met up with YORI and the two of them have managed to get into the last free IO (Input Output) Tower. The guardian there is DUMONT – who is also the avatar of Walter (Mr Barnard Hughes who made a habit of playing crumbly old men from "Mr Merlin" to grandpa in "The Lost Boys" during the Eighties) who long ago founded the company in his garage but who nowadays is treated as an indulged older uncle, playing with his laser project while Dillinger takes the company to greater things.

For all that Daddy Alex thinks he looks like the Caterpillar from Alice – and he DOES – it's also clear that DUMONT is an OLD TESTAMENT PROPHET: in the olden days, programs came to his temple, er tower to pray to, er, communicate with the users. But in these godless times no one comes here any more, and he's sour about it (like most of the prophets, who never came down from the top floor to say 'you've all done very well'). TRON and YORI promise him a revival of that old-time religion in return for him letting them use the tower. And then SARK demonstrates what a real BADDIE he is by violating the SANCTUARY of the IO Tower with, er, another huge Freudian symbol.

DUMONT gets dragged off but TRON and YORI escape on the – extremely beautiful – solar-sailor, travelling along a communication beam from the games back to the central computer. This is where they meet up with Mr Flynn again, as he is among the group of guards who jump aboard to try and stop the escape, only to be tossed overboard by TRON.

Pursued along the beam by Recognisers, Mr Flynn is able to use the FORCE again to shift them onto a different track, thus proving to them that he is one of the "users".

This is in some ways the most CRUCIAL moment in the movie, as TRON and YORI are, from their point of view rather unexpectedly, presented with proof of the existence of GOD. And it turns out that god is more of a SCREW-UP than THEY are! It's telling that TRON, the perfect little religious warrior, immediately believes that Flynn must have a grand Master Plan, because after all he IS a user. But Flynn confesses that he's just muddling through (at which point Tron is so shocked that he blasphemously CORRECTS him that that is only how it is for us on the Grid).

It has to be said, this is at least moderately PROFOUND.

However, there's no time for an EXISTENTIAL CRISIS, because SARK's command carrier is stalking them though the digital canyons, sneaking up on them, moving rather like the tiptoeing BLUE MEANIES from "The Yellow Submarine" (not the ONLY way in which these movies resemble each other, either).

The command carrier smashes the solar-sailor and SARK captures Mr Flynn and YORI while TRON is left clinging to the outside. SARK himself is taking prisoners to the MCP and leaves Flynn and YORI on the carrier as he debarks, casually ordering the whole thing to de-rez with them still aboard – which Daddy Richard says he's always thought was a tremendously powerful gesture. Imagine if Darth Vader had just as casually waved a hand and had his Star Destroyer disassemble; it shows a casual self-confidence that has no NEED of whale-sized Freudian symbolism. Plus "I'll destroy my entire carrier just to kill you".

SARK carries his prisoners, including DUMONT, to the MCP's plateau where they will essentially be fed to the master computer – it's going to absorb their functions, taking on their abilities and growing further in power. TRON makes it to the plateau too, having snuck aboard SARK's shuttle, until the Emperor, er, the MCP feels his presence and sics SARK on him. TRON beats SARK and tries to deactivate the MCP, but finds the Master Computer too well protected by a spinning shield.

However, everyone has forgotten about Mr Flynn. Using the FORCE, er, his power as a user, Flynn is able to hold enough of the command carrier together to fly over the MCP and fling himself into its core. The MCP is distracted and TRON is able to send the shutdown code, freeing the Grid at last. And as a consequence, Mr Flynn is lasered back into the real world along with the evidence he needs to live happily ever after (subject to sequels).

So, taken SUPERFICIALLY, "Tron" is a pretty ordinary action quest movie, distinguished by unprecedented computer generated visual effects that meant it stuck in the mind far longer than similar post Star Wars screen-fodder.

And yet it's actually rather DEEPER than that: scratch beneath the surface and it's a story about the power of FAITH and the reality of GOD. And, and this is the radical bit, that god's an IDIOT who's making it up as he goes along.

There's a blatant clue (yes, a reference to Red Dwarf's virtual reality episode "Back to Reality") to look deeper in the significant double meanings of NAMES. TRON itself, for example, is, apparently, genuine programming language for a security program, meaning "TRace ON"; YORI is a Japanese name meaning "reliable" (which might be a bit patronising for the only girl character, but might be a reference to Japanese domination of consumer electronics and their reputation for reliability); DUMONT is a common French name, but MIGHT be a reference to the long-since-defunct DuMont Television Network (well, he DOES control a Broadcast Tower)

Turning to the sequel movie: QUORRA used to be the name for the lower reaches of the Niger River, before it was realised they were the SAME river (so that's something that turns out to be a part of something bigger), though MAY be a reference to a DIAMOND company; particularly taken in connection with the OTHER lady character's name being GEM. And RINZLER sounds so like RIZLER and we're back to overtones of "wacky-backy" and "users" again, but unfortunately and somewhat prosaically is actually named after the author of the Making of Star Wars because that book happened to be on the producer's desk at the time. Oh well.

What is almost extraordinary is that with hindsight, you can see "Tron" as a metaphor for the whole personal computing revolution, where the power was shifted suddenly and irrevocably from big corporate mainframes like the MCP to the open-access, free-for-all carnival of a grid or "net" of users that is the Internet.

And in many ways, in spite of – or perhaps as a very function of – its immense Eighties-ness, "Tron" is a terrifically OPTIMISTIC movie. It finishes with the selfish cheat getting his comeuppance and the company in the hands of the young hippy. Freedom has won, and we are all going to share in the bright new future of opportunity. All the previous "real world" scenes were filmed in darkness, but now the long night is over and the last scene sees them all in glorious sunlight.

Of course, things in the REAL "real world" didn't ENTIRELY deliver on that promise.


At least in part, "Tron: Legacy" seeks to address the fact that the 'Eighties never lived up to the optimism that the first film promised, to apologise for that. It's a film that is about broken promises rather a lot.

Daddy Richard went into the cinema with the BIGGEST worry that "Tron: Legacy" was going to be yet another American film about Daddies and Sons. As sooooo many of them are. And you can't blame him, with the whole set up being about Mr Jeff Bridges as now OLD Mr Flynn and Mr Garrett Hedlund as his son Sam. So it was a GREAT RELIEF to find that it wasn't like that at all, and instead was a TRUE sequel and BUILT on the original. Yes, it's all about god AGAIN.

Or, if you like: "Tron" is "Where God Went Wrong"; "Tron: Legacy" is "Some More of God's Greatest Mistakes".

The failure of the promise of the Eighties is addressed directly straight away by the simplest method of having successful hero Mr Flynn DISAPPEAR. I mean WE can all guess that he's taken another zapping from the laser into computerland, but the initial focus is on the way this tears apart his company and his family, leaving his young son, seven-year-old Sam, betrayed and broken.

Twenty years later…

His Dad's company is being run by the evil execs again; Mr Alan is STILL the last honest guy in the megacorp; and now Ed Dillinger JUNIOR is in charge of program development. And Sam is hacking the new software launch, jumping off the roof and getting booked for speeding on his Dad's motorbike.


Mr Alan shares a MYSTERIOUS pager message he has received, purportedly from Mr Kevin, and this draws Sam to his Dad's old arcade where, behind the Tron machine – obviously – he finds a secret office with a computer and a laser.

Uh oh…

Yes, before you can say, "don't call up the last command file!" Mr Sam has zapped himself over the rainbow in his father's footsteps.

And that's where we go into Technicolor… or rather being nowadays, we go into 3-D. Or more precisely lots of slices of 2-D in exciting layers.

Look, let's be honest, the 3-D AIN'T ALL THAT. Actually, it worked best for the "Pirates of the Caribbean 4" trailer, which is to say in lots of long, sweeping panoramas with lots of nicely composed layers sweeping past slowly and majestically so you can take it all in. Also, pretty good for things suddenly thrusting out of the screen at you, like a big SWORD (same trailer) or a splash of water (the ONLY good thing from the – shudders – CGI Yogi Bear). High speed action sequences, though, really don't seem to cut it. I suspect your brain is just too busy trying to figure out what's occurring to bother resolving the 3-D optical illusion. Which is fine because personally I think it’s a silly, pointless gimmick that adds very little, pardon my pun, DEPTH to the story telling.

Daddy Alex, on the other fluffy foot, who hasn't seen a new-generation 3-D movie before, agrees that it didn't look brilliant, but enjoyed it for its personal sense of 'See "Tron" at the cinema and you see something you've never seen before, again,' and for its carefully designed idea that, after "The Wizard of Oz", the new TECHNICAL ACHIEVEMENT makes the 'other world' look both MORE and LESS real at the same time. But, he adds, this ARTIFICIAL process may be less successful in depicting worlds that are, well, NOT artificial.

And someone needs to point out that such a very DARK palette for your movie is a serious handicap when the audience are going to be stuck in POLARISING SUNGLASSES.

Daddy Alex wasn't keen on the sunglasses either, as they're a real pain to wear over ACTUAL glasses, too, as the two pairs literally rub up against each other the wrong way.

Almost all the reviews of "Tron: Legacy" that we've seen say basically the same thing: the effects are spectacular and the story is a bit meh. This is, of course, COMPLETELY the wrong way around.

A lot of the effects ARE glorious, from the shiny black-glass effect of the Recogniser to the ghostly washes of the Light Cycles's lightwalls, not to mention the spectacular way the cycles assemble themselves, to the butterfly wings of the perverted solar-sailor to the sinister black shark of the Rectifier (a new command carrier for a new villain).

But the thing is, nowadays ANYONE can have a shiny black glass aircraft or super hi-tech motorbike. Computer imaging is so ubiquitous that Tron's unique selling point visuals are gone. As Lawrence Miles would say: have you SEEN advertising? It's very beautifully crafted architecture, which helps, but it's not GROUNDBREAKING in the way the original was, and in many ways still is.

One of the GLORIES of the original "Tron", as detailed above, was the way that computerland had its own PHYSICS. The Light Cycles, in particular, could do the impossible: they could make perfectly right-angled turns. And that's impossible, gloriously impossible. Even taking into account that it's the way that computer games have developed, the truth is that when the Light Cycles in the new movie behave in a physics-normal way it brings them down to Earth. Instead of being something REAL behaving in a magical way to simulate a computer game, we have a computer simulation of a computer game trying to be more and more like the real world. It makes them… mundane.

(There IS a SMALL amount of physics-bending in the early disc fight, but frankly it's nothing compared to the zero-gravity corridor fight in "Inception".)

In "Tron", when programs "die" their de-resolution is into a blaze of light, as though the electrical energy that was maintaining their representation in the computer has been released. In "Tron: Legacy", when programs de-rez they shatter like glass. Which looks beautiful but rather misses the POINT.

And on a small point, the – MASSIVE Star Wars reference – dogfight between Light Jets at the end turns on the fighters climbing high into the air and stalling… WHAT air? This is a computer simulation: there isn't any NEED for real air or there ought to be air all the way up! Daddy Alex thinks that this might be a JOKE about the fight in IRON MAN which ALSO hinges on Jeff Bridges stalling at altitude.

So the EFFECTS are pretty well done but – shrug – so what?

The STORY, on the other fluffy foot, is possibly the most BREATHTAKINGLY AUDACIOUS for a Hollywood motion picture it is possible to imagine.

No, really.

Initially continuing along his father's path from the first movie, Mr Sam gets sent to the games and has a go at disc fighting until champion gladiator RINZLER recognises him as a user – and it IS significant that RINZLER knows a user when he nearly kills one. Sam gets taken to see someone he initially thinks is his long lost father, but of course it's REALLY the program CLU gone rogue. CLU puts Sam back in the arena for a Light Cycle fight – so far so didn't we do this last time – until SAM is rescued by a (yay!) JAMES BOND-ish buggy that can travel off the Grid, leaving CLU and the other Light Cycles behind.

There's a BIT of a tease that the buggy-driver might be TRON, but it turns out to be a girl-program called QUORRA and she takes Sam to the REAL Kevin Flynn.

But time is a bit Narnia-like in computerland (and if you prefer your Christian metaphysics in more dilute form, then you CAN always check out "Voyage of the Dawn Treader" before it sinks without trace at the box-office) so a lot longer has passed for Daddy than son and he is now OLD. And a bit ZEN.

In fact, this aged Mr Jeff Bridges is WAY COOL. If you thought he was using the FORCE in the first movie, that is NOTHING compared to the JEDI MASTER he plays here.

In so many ways, from the many, many little visual references – lovely moment where Sam holds the Light Cycle stick like it's a Light Sabre; and there's RINZLER'S double disc Darth Maul moment (and there's RINZLER'S NAME for goodness sake) – through to the underlying use of MYTHOLOGY, this is the Star Wars movie we never quite got from Mr Lucas.

True, it doesn't have the BREADTH either in terms of galactic scope and ever-changing landscapes, nor in terms of wide cast of characters nor the DEPTH in terms of backstory and character arcs, but the HEART of it, the heart of is gets Star Wars absolutes so right in a way that hollow prequel movies and unsatisfying Ewok climaxes somehow missed. It's an Irvin Kershner thing, probably.

And I have to admit, Mr Bridges is really rather GOOD at this. In "Tron" he was clearly having a freewheeling charismatic laugh, fun to be with but also somehow flimsy. But now he knows how to seize the camera and dominate it as solid as a statue. He's clearly got the MOJO and he knows when to put it on and when to turn it off, giving his elder Flynn a flair and charisma when he's sure he's taking the right path but also a tremulous uncertainty when he's balanced between two opposite exigencies: the needs of the Grid and the needs of his son. As the Jedi Master we never had, he can BE that philosopher, warrior and old-time fire-and-brimstone prophet. And yet he can also tip the odd genre-aware wink to the audience, as in my favourite line:

"You're really messing with my Zen thing, dude."

Jedi Master Flynn explains that CLU believes that if he can get to the "portal" and upload himself via the laser then he can enter the "real" world. The key to this is Mr Flynn's own identity disc (presumably because in technobabble terms it contains all the information needed for the laser to de-teleport a Flynn-shaped person, though this is rather glossed over – but who cares, it's a magic key to the door to another world). Flynn won't let CLU get out, so he refuses to return to the Grid to even try and reach the portal.

Sam, however, has no such Zen wisdom and reckons he can get to the portal and then just delete CLU from the system from the outside. Quorra is convinced by his passion and suggests that he ask a long-lost ally program called Zuse for help, and sends him to Zuse's gatekeeper Castor played by the ever malleable Mr Michael Sheen in a white Marty Hopkirk suit and matching fright wig.

"Why is Tony Blair playing David Bowie?" asked Daddy Alex. "Because he can?" suggested Daddy Richard.

Anyway, stop me from spoiling it if you haven't worked out where THIS obvious plot development is going, but the GREAT BIG EVIL GAYER and GREAT BIG EVIL BRIT turns out to have betrayed our boy Sam to the villain.

"Ooh, Tony Blair turned out to be in bed with the religious fascist with the invasion plan… who'd have thought?" said Daddy Alex.

Remember what we were saying about NAMES? Well, CASTOR was of course one of the Gemini twins (along with Pollox; make your own jokes) which I suppose is a bit more subtle than JANUS but still points to DUALISM and DUPLICITY.

ZUSE however is the most interesting: almost certainly a PUN, being a homonym for Zeus, it is also a reference to Konrad Zuse the German computer scientist who developed the first commercial computer, the Z4, in 1942 (though IBM don't like to talk about that). Oh, and his 1967 book "Calculating Space" suggested that the universe itself is a simulation running on a "grid" of computers. Which means he invented "Tron".

Still, at least Mr Sheen is having an absolutely SCREAMINGLY amusing time as totally camp-as-tits traitor, even if both text and sub-text and make-over at this point are all even more back to the 'Seventies than the rest of the film is back to the 'Eighties.

Looks like CURTAINS for Mr Sam, until the JEDI MASTER enters, white dude robes swapped for black billowy cloak with glowing neon accessories, slowing down time through the general power of AWESOME. This isn't a camera effect; Jeff Bridges can actually do this. Oh and Quorra drops in through the roof and kicks a little butt too, adding more "The Matrix" to the "Star Wars" cantina scene. Of course, since it IS the cantina scene, someone gets an arm chopped off. Unfortunately it's Quorra getting her arm de-rezzed. Careless there.

Returning to the echoes of the first movie, our heroes escape aboard a solar-sailor, now being used to pull freight trains. That's a metaphor right there: butterflies being used as carthorses; it tells you all about how this regime THINKS.

Mr Flynn uses the time to fix Quorra (slightly underpaying the miraculous healing of a lost arm, I feel) and explains a bit more of the plot. It turns out that she is the last of a whole new species of program: a group of self-aware programs that appeared on the grid out of nowhere, with no need to be programmed by a creating user. This is the miracle that changed Flynn's mind about creating his own perfect system, awoke him to the truth that evolved systems are better, but in turn led to CLU's rebellion and indeed genocide of the others like Quorra.

Meanwhile the train unexpectedly arrives at a station.

It turns out that the freight trains have been doing a big Auschwitz metaphor, carrying thousands of programs to be repurposed as CLU's personal Massive Fascist Army™ ready to carry out a mass restaging of Queen's "Radio Gaga" video… no? …oh, all right, staging to invade "real" world via the portal.

Before they can act, CLU's hitman RINZLER, who has been tracking them, strikes. And Flynn recognises his attack: RINZLER is TRON, the first victim of CLU's reprogramming programme.

It's a shame that they could only afford to digitally de-age ONE star from the first movie, as a reveal of a snarling Bruce Boxleitner under RINZLER's dark helmet was surely called for and deserved. Maybe that famous million-watt grin would have been too hard on the CGI processors.

Later, in fighting Sam, RINZLER comes to remember his true identity, and ends up turning on his false master, CLU. We last see him falling Jason Bourne-like into the Sea of Simulation as his neons turn from red back to blue and TRON is redeemed. And the lights are ON when we last see him. He's not de-rezzing. Jason Bourne-like, as I said.

Of course, at this point I return to the significance of the colour change that I remarked upon in "Tron": is the ABILITY to change the colour of your neons, blatantly to change sides from baddies to goodies, or vice-versa, indicative of FREE WILL, i.e. the ability to make MORAL CHOICE. This WOULD appear to be the thing that sets Mr Flynn apart from the programs in "Tron" and possibly the ISO programs from the created ones in "Tron: Legacy". Is what we are seeing at the end, that TRON achieves free will and so breaks CLU's mental conditioning?

But I'm ahead of myself again. CLU's throne ship arrives and, using Flynn's identity disc, rezzes-up a new command carrier around the station and the massed army. It's a quite nice reversal of the scene in "Tron", where SARK's command carrier is de-rezzed at the end.

Reflections and reversals like this are well used throughout the movie to make points both gross and subtle.

When CLU addresses his brainwashed battalions in a Nuremburg-style rally – the Communist overtones of "Tron" reflected as Fascist colouring in "Tron: Legacy" – he promises that they will make our world into a perfect system, telling them that their destiny is "out there". Earlier, at the start of the movie when the story of Flynn's disappearance was being done in TV news montage style, we saw him addressing a rally of his own, and asserting that "our destiny is IN there".

This conflict of INWARDS and OUTWARDS is itself very ZEN. Inwards is ascetic, self-abnegating, preserving, defensive, knowing your place, accepting, unquestioning… Outwards is ecstatic, self-aggrandising, aggressive, exploratory, inventive… Too much or not enough of either is DESTRUCTIVE. The young Flynn was too inward and lost everything; CLU is too outward, and threatens everything. This is the Zen lesson that the older Flynn has learned: the need for BALANCE.

So this is the story that we piece together from what Mr Flynn eventually tells us.

In the aftermath of the first movie, Flynn senior returned over and over to the computer world to try and rebuild the Grid. TRON helped him, as his guardian, and he created a new version of his CLU program, created in his own image (another beautifully realised effect with an imperfect mirror – that would be a clue about CLU), and told him to build a perfect system.

Let me spell it out: Flynn the Elder is THE CREATOR. CLU is his greatest creation, his chief ANGEL. And the angel discovers that god is flawed, fallible. So the angel overthrows god. CLU is Lucifer. "Clucifer" both Daddy Alex and Daddy Richard said at the same time.

This is the central mytharc of Christianity with one MASSIVE heretical twist: IT'S ALL GOD'S FAULT.

The Grid is a near-perfect (nothing's COMPLETELY perfect) disaster and CLU is a GRADE ONE FASCIST because the creator fluffed up in the beginning. The sin of PRIDE was not Lucifer's but GOD'S, in thinking he could create a perfect system, for his arrogance in thinking perfection could BE created. Lucifer's rebellion comes because he was made FLAWED and he just can't understand why god would change his mind. And god is too casual and too arrogant to explain it to him.

In this scheme, Mr Flynn's son Sam is NOT there as Mr Jesus; he doesn't save the world, he just leaves. If ANYONE is Mr Jesus, it's Mr Kevin again, with his white robes, wild beard and bare feet, living out in the WILDERNESS. He came down to the Grid from above – all the imagery is of DESCENDING to the Grid – from their idea of heaven (ironically to HIS idea of heaven). In the beginning was his Word. Or at least, his Numbers. He is very much the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost in the Machine all in one.

So Sam is not the SON of GOD; he's the INHERITOR, he is mankind. To CLU, to Lucifer, Sam is an insult, a rebuke, a flawed thing and how can the creator possibly think that this "son", this mankind is BETTER than his perfect angel? How bloody DARE he.

And yet, CLU has no power to create on his own. Like Tolkien's Morgoth, he can only twist the existing programs, repurposed them into his army of, well let's call them orcs.

Sam has made his own life, something CLU can never do. And the real "miracles" are the self-aware programs arising without intervention from Flynn; life created with NO creator.

In a Jungian sense, CLU is Mr Flynn's SHADOW, and see also the Ursula Le Guin "Wizard of Earthsea" stories, where the wizard Sparrowhawk empowers his own shadow creature and only by accepting it can in the end undo his sin of pride.

So in the final moments Flynn reabsorbs CLU into himself and, in a very Manichean way, god and the devil cancel each other out and both cease to be, leaving a Grid without creator or adversary, free at last.

And Sam saves the world… to a portable drive. Before showing Quorra another uncreated miracle: her first sunrise.

This was a GREAT movie. It's a long way from perfect, but it's brave and clever and thoughtful and deep. And a worthy legacy for "Tron".


Jennie Rigg said...

See, I REALLY wanted to go see this until you said it was like that great steaming pile of plotless poo Star Wars, only more so, and now you've put me off :(

Tat said...

I just spent ten minutes explaining why the film was a missed opportunity and all the ways the plot kept veering away from anything interesting as soon as it came up but the computer wouldn't let me publish it. To summarise: the ending was too obviously sequel-hunting and seemed confused about whether 'removing yourself from the equation' was wise or even possible (but the only reason for all that palavah at the start with Windows Vista, sorry, Encom OS 12 being 'liberated'by Sam is to say that you shouldn't try. If this was the message then the real story is relegated to a flashback when the A-Life self-generating systems emerge unexpectedly. The film shows bad faith (sorry) by expecting us to sit still through all the crass info-dumping and continuity around the boardroom (why is Dillinger's son acting so oddly, changing sides every ten seconds?) and yet ignoring the logic of the earlier film by using bombs to blow up Jareth's Goblin Castle... oops, I meant of course Castor's speakeasy rather than derezzing and having Flynn et fils eating a meal (with dad drinking a White Russian? Him calling anyone else 'Dude' seems wrong)rather than just sipping the oddly-glowing water. Physical books too. And why have Alan Bradley (incidentally the name of my school's first head, a Quaker, making the use of the name in a fight-based flick funny back in the 80s) not connect his chum's abrupt disappearance and return with an improbable tale and a whole load of dirt on Dillinger with his later disappearance when he claimed to be on to something big? Did he not track what had happened to the Magic Torch? (See - you knew the premise was familiar from somewhere).
There are a lot more niggly flaws but fundamentally the film ignores that gaming has changed beyond recognition since 1982 and so hasn't the link to something current the original had. Unless they'd either made it like the South Park 'MAke Love Not Warcraft' or had a fascistic police-state clamping down on improvisation or circulation of data with a killer paperclip ('You appear to be publishing classified cables') then it was only worth doing for nostalgia. They assume you've seen the first film fairly recently and expect you to have forgotten significant details.
I have the same glasses-on-glasses problem and I found the actiopn scenes (for many the film's raison d'etre) a confusing ordeal.