Sunday, December 19, 2010

Tron in Review

I hadn’t intended to read about Tron: Legacy before I saw it. I was planning to go in without any preconceptions beyond those that had been established by Disney’s marketing machine. But I guess that it was actually inevitable. My social media threads are full of geeks and Disney addicts, so in retrospect the comments were unavoidable. My surprise came from their vehemence. I logged onto my Twitter feed to find a debate over the merits of the film in full swing, and I found at least two links out to reviews on my Facebook feed, each claiming to be the definitive analysis of the movie.

So I went to the theater with some trepidation. I had read the allegations that the plot was simplistic, the editing was bloated, and that nostalgia was all the film had to offer. I was hoping that those criticisms were wrong, but I was worried that I would walk out of the theater disappointed.

They were wrong, and I didn’t.

Tron: Legacy is a film that lives up to its hype. Unlike its predecessor, it does not (unknowingly or otherwise) predict the future, nor does it offer some great sagacious moral or complex societal insight. It is not an epic, nor is it a social drama. Tron: Legacy is what a good movie should be – it is a window into another world that offers excitement, heroism, and a chance to hope for a better future.

I’m a child of the 80s, and I carry the nostalgia for that decade that many of my generation do. I’ve read all the sociological and psychological analysis. I know about the analysis of the 80s as a time of rampant materialism, glitz overlying corruption, and lack of social consciousness. But the 80s had something precious that the second millennium CE is lacking thus far – it had a hope for a better future.

Tron: Legacy has many merits. Its visuals are stunning; its score is wonderful; its production design and special effects are groundbreaking. Even its emotional beats are on target with the writers and editors allowing time for character interaction and development between the sweeping visual set pieces. But those merits are not what sold me on the film.

Sitting in the darkened theatre, I found myself thinking back on the discussions I had read about the movie. I realized that, to me at least, those people had missed the point of the film, the theme running behind the cinematic elements. They missed the joy.

Tron: Legacy does indeed rely on nostalgia, but that nostalgia is not merely references to the earlier film, although those do litter the digital landscape. It relies on nostalgia for a cinematic era where fun and adventure were viable bases for a movie, where the future was brighter than the present, and where man’s touch in shaping and creating was not always a death sentence for all that was good. It is an homage to the optimism and the occasionally unhealthy glitter of an earlier era, but it combines that nod with a purposeful optimism for the future that refuses to denigrate the past or complicate the future.

Take, for example, its characters. Flynn the elder is half hippie, half jedi, a decidedly dated, yet deeply empathetic character. His aggressively idealistic vision has been replaced with a refusal to do anything. Flynn the younger is a rebel without a cause, a capable, intelligent young man who consciously refuses to take responsibility. The villain of the piece, CLU, is the embodiment of an impossible and unyielding ideal. And the catalyst that makes it all move forward is a type of program described as innocent and wise who, the film makers are sure to tell the audience, has been nurtured on the literature of human experience and dreams, not unbending ideals. That cast of archetypes leads the viewer through a dazzling world occupied by creatures like the utterly outrageous Zeus (a being whose essence is so deeply embedded in the 80s that he summarizes much of the era). But the denouement is neither an apocalyptic end of all nor a promise for a happily ever after. Instead, it is the affirmation of hope and wonder as a compliment, not negation, of responsibility – a reminder to appreciate the things we take for granted and to cherish the hope that what we bring with us from our experiences can be the key to a better tomorrow.

Will most people walk away from Tron: Legacy with some great truth? Hardly. The film is intended to be a Christmas blockbuster, and I hope it meets that goal – the Walt Disney Company could certainly benefit from the cinematic success. At the very least, it’s some of the finest eye candy out there right now. But beyond the visuals, audiences are offered something more valuable by Tron if they are willing to enjoy it. They are offered a world where human beings can see the potential of the unfathomable, where rebels can find a cause and take responsibility, and, most importantly, where the beauty of the sunrise is something to be recognized and savored.

Tron: Legacy is a film worth seeing. It’s fun, pretty, and it dares to urge us to dream of a better tomorrow and to enjoy all the imperfections of our greatest dreams.