Monday, December 20, 2010
Tron Legacy (2010) A Film by Joseph Kosinski
Tron Legacy picks up where the Wachowski brothers' Speed Racer left off, one-upping that film's sheer embrace of visual chaos and virtual worlds. Rarely does an event movie like this rely so heavily, and almost exclusively, on the rudimentary pleasures of light and movement, or in its essence, cinema. Director Joseph Kosinski trades the Wachowskis' bubble-gum abstractions for the simpler color scheme exercised by Stephen Lisberger in the 1982 original, only here, it's less primitive Windows and more ultra-high-def futuristic bombast, nothing short of gratuitous eye candy. The film is ultimately a black screen from which luminous whites, blues, and oranges emerge, darting wildly across the frame or just glowing in one spot comfortably, like the endless buzzing fluorescents one sees in a Lynch film. If commercial cinema has seemingly acknowledged its own intellectual vapidity in recent years and indulged gleefully in spectacle (the Transformers franchise being the keystone), Tron Legacy takes this notion to its logical extreme, flirting with visual anarchy even as its stupefying and stupid narrative sits stubbornly on the side of rigid formula.
There's at least two great scenes in the film, and the rest has a constant vibration to it, a sense of titillating movement that doesn't claim to have an end result. Kosinski, working with cinematographer Claudio Miranda and a cumbersomely large computer effects team, indulges in near-constant camera movement, giving endlessly labyrinthine form to even the most banal of sequences, and when he's just serving up a static close-up, an array of lights or a cloud of mist still animates the background. At its best, as in the two "light cycle" battles in which zippy neon motorbikes spray lethal streams of light at opponents in a digital arena, this visual stimulation approaches Brakhagian heights, almost reaching full-fledged abstraction before gesturing back to give narrative shape to the action. Truth is, the story here is a negligible distraction (so I'm not even going to be redundant and rehash the story specs that you can surely find elsewhere if you'd like), not the fatal flaw that defines this as a "bad movie". Viewers unfamiliar with the original will be left in the dark when some of the headier computer world jargon enters the picture, and the sudden emergence of the titular figure in the second light battle is particularly underwhelming if only for the seeming irrelevance of it. If anything, the narrative nuances (if you can call them that) are unwelcome injections into what really seems to aspire to something more simple-minded: a spectacular immersion into a computer-world fantasy.
With thudding references to 2001 (the glowing white headquarters with the out-of-place Victorian furniture), Star Wars (the stormtroopers and a character conflict bearing some similarities to Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker), Lord of the Rings (Jeff Bridges does his best Gandalf impression in the climactic battle sequence on a narrow bridge (no pun intended)), and The Big Lebowski ("radical man!"), it's clear that there's very little intertextual ground the film doesn't want to peripherally cover, which makes it a whole lot more fun than this year's other video-game movie, Inception. What's more, it offers obligatory shots of Daft Punk, who provide the film's pulsing soundtrack, and a cameo by Michael Sheen that channels David Bowie in utterly ridiculous fashion. A friend of mine observed how it's less a movie than a document of how computer technology has advanced in recent years, and I think that's a pretty apt description. And if that means commercial cinema is destined to self-actualize as masturbatory technological exhibitionism, then it's a simultaneously disconcerting and exhilarating prospect. With its shameless self-referentiality and revelry of cutting-edge visuals, Tron Legacy certainly continues a step in a direction; what exactly that direction is, we don't know yet. What else, other than a confirmation of the still-surviving casual racism of Disney and the privilege to ogle at another mechanically attractive babe in a pressure suit, can you ask for?