Tron Review

Tron is a 1982 science fiction movie written and directed by Steven Lisberger, starring Jeff Bridges

Plot

We meet Kevin Flynn (played by Jeff Bridges) who is trying to hack into his old place of work, the software company ENCOM. Ed Dillinger (played by David Warner) previously stole Flynn’s video-game designs and, passing them off as his own, scaled many rungs on the corporate ladder, becoming the company’s senior executive. While Flynn is searching the mainframe for evidence of Ed’s wrong doing, he is consistently blocked by the extremely oppressive authoritarian Master Control Program (MCP) that controls the mainframe.

ENCOM employees Alan Bradley (played by Bruce Boxleitner) and Lora Baines (played by Cindy Morgan) inform Flynn that Dillinger knows what he is up to and has thus tightened security clearances. Flynn manages to get his friends on board his mission and they all break into ENCOM so that he can get them into the system and place Brad’s security program “Tron” within it: a program which would monitor communications between the MCP and the outside work. Once inside the ENCOM lab however, the MCP takes control of a matter-digitising laser which is aimed at Flynn’s back where digital wackiness ensues..........................

Review

Tron was groundbreaking back in the 1980’s. The special effects incorporated classic animation, computer animation and live action elements using back-lighting techniques. It was extremely brave of Disney to take this project on as it was cutting edge: nobody had seen anything like this before and it was a risk. Similar to 2008’s Speed Racer, it was a hard film to define: was it live action or a cartoon? Even the Academy Awards snubbed the film for its special effects as they believe the production team “cheated” by using computers, of course now-a-days such CG use is the norm as it is relatively cheaper and safer.

Tron has excellent action sequences that are well paced and brilliantly realised: the light- cycles races and disk-battles are always coupled with a sense of urgency and danger, while all the while looking really cool with speed and glowing-ghosting of images leaving their trace across the screen.

The story of being sucked into a computer and playing along with the programs was a popular theme in the 80’s. The Star Wars two player arcade video game had a pilot and a shooter guiding its X-Wing through the Death Star with 3d vector graphics throwing themselves across the screen. It is with this influence amongst early video gaming verging on 3D that lead to the theme of playing inside the machine. The Last Star Fighter had its hero being lost in the story of his local arcade machine, an escape from his trailer park life. Unbeknownst to him, the arcade machine was actually a recruitment program which selects him to battle amongst the stars in his own space-ship.

At the time, video / arcade machines were a social venture, allowing players and viewers to be transported to a fantastical land. With the introduction of home consoles and desk-top computers, video-gaming became much more introverted whereas now, gaming can be done with a wealth of strangers online, albeit on your couch. Games however have now become so realistic, that the fantasy element has suffered. Instead of exploring other worlds with sci-fi technology, we are privy to stealing cars and participating in wars. It is interesting to note that early video-game movies which have placed their characters in the real world (Super Mario Brothers, The Wizard) suffered as a result, and that movies based on ‘realistic’ video-games underperform (Silent Hill, Alone in the Dark).

Tron shares a few religious philosophical themes usually reserved for a Manga film, particularly the religious belief in ‘users’: programmers responsible for their programs within the computer, god-like beings that, when descended into the Tron world, yield supernatural abilities.

The idea that programmers imprint their souls onto every piece of code that they write can be likened to any work that anyone does – a piece of us, our attention, our expertise and / or love is dedicated to every piece of work that we do, be it technical, artistic or caring for another. Tron represents this idea through using the actors playing the programmers to double-up and play their counterpart programs. This simple expression of this idea is executed perfectly, with soul imprints reacting to each other as they would in the ‘real’ world. This is a refreshing visual interpretation of the idea of what it means to be human compared to the verbose Ghost in the Shell. Kevin Flynn’s Clu program acts in the way I would have expected a ‘program’ to act – specific and robotic. However, ghosting of souls from programmers lead to a natural evolution of complexity to the programs having feelings and relationships, evolving beyond their ‘written’ purpose/destiny.

Disney excels at anthropomorphic characters, what with first giving a mouse a voice, then a dog, a duck and so on (heck, come to think of it they even did cars and furniture). Over time their characters started to look similar to their real-life counterparts, making their plight even more emotionally involving as we felt for them. Tron does keep this tradition going but with almost clairvoyant predictive clarity: in an era when computers where cold, beige pieces of furniture, Tron made us feel for programs: things designed to assist us, the real. Tron developed a social class but put a face to it as well, before Macintosh made computers a piece of high design, where people felt for tamagochi  pets and where computers emitted sounds of delight or disappointment with our actions.

Of course now we can design our computers and convergent devices to our tastes, leading to an emotional connection with them. Will Smith’s character asks a robot designer “why do you make them look like humans” in I, Robot. Why indeed. Where children were flushing their newly acquired clown fish down the toilets to free them and keeping all of their old toys from the rubbish, should we really be thinking twice before deleting a program or Word document? Oh..that’s right: Windows does ask you if you REALLY want to carry through with that action, along with an emotional beep.  

That being said, the plot and themes of Tron are tied in with programming theory and language. For a general audience member, let alone a child watching the film in the 1980’s where the internet didn’t exist and computers were more common taking up half a room in an office building, this may have been a bit daunting. In the computer tech-savvy millennium however, audiences should be able to follow this easily.

Rating

Obviously all of these themes and visual cues (especially comparing live circuit boards to a living city) were executed in the brilliant Matrix trilogy (which picked to death similar themed Manga films, of note Ghost in the Shell), encompassing many eastern themes and marrying them up perfectly with a wealth of psychology, philosophy, religion as represented through complex computer programming. Tron did it first, perhaps too soon for a general audience and therefore alienating itself. However the audience did select this movie through time and that is why it is now a cult classic.

Fun fast and flashy, this user gives Tron 4.5 disks out of 5

Check out what Rotten Tomatoes have to say, and check out the trailer!

 

Luke McWilliams,January 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 Review

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part 1 is the first part of the 7th and final chapter in the Harry Potter series.

Plot

We quickly meet Harry Potter (again played by Daniel Radcliffe) in his England ‘muggle’ house as he is to be escorted to the safety of the Burrow, by the heroic Order of the Phoenix. Hogwarts is now host to the evil Death Eaters led by the villainous Lord Voldermort, who do their best to dispatch our hero along his way. Escaping the chaos and destruction that the Death Eaters bring to their supporters, Ron Weasley ( played by Rupert Grint), Harry and Hermione (played by Emma Watson)soon choose to go their own way, constantly disapparating to areas throughout England on a quest to find and destroy the remaining Horcruxes ( physical objects that aid Voldermort’s immortality) before the evil Wizard can kill Harry and come to his full power. Wackiness this-way ensues....................

Review

Last year’s Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince ended with a quest being set up, giving birth to a new trilogy of films in the Harry Potter series. Whereas each previous part started with an introduction of a plot, a year in the life of Harry and his friends and then a quick resolution of the storylines mentioned at the movie’s / books beginning, The Half-Blood Prince positions Harry on the path to his ultimate showdown with He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. In other words, this is the start of the end and what we all have been dying to see for so long!

The Half-Blood Prince went a way to take us off of the beaten track that has set up the Harry Potter series: we usually are introduced to Harry in his muggle home, again returning to Hogwarts to learn more about being a Wizard, his mysterious past and overcoming another obstacle, most usually Voldermort’s attempts to get his groove back, all in time to go home at year’s end. At the Half-Blood Prince’s end, all bets are off and Harry and friends decide not to go back to Hogwart’s but instead to go on a mission to find Voldermort’s magical devices and destroy them, giving them a chance at ultimately defeating him.

This premise was enticing as it moved our heroes away from an environment that they, and we, have gotten comfortable with. Done with English private boarding schools metaphors and allegory, this movie chooses to showcase themes of maturity and being able to finally put theory into real-world practice: metaphors of the machinations of war during WWII brings up the atmosphere and tension of a thriller. However, in the execution, we get a road movie reminiscent of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, complete with a shared object of evil power, worn around our characters’ necks that force them to turn on each other during their journey to destroy it.

In relation to script, Alfred Hitchcock invented a script-writing term for an arbitrary object to kick his protagonists and antagonists into action: a MacGuffin. A MacGuffin was usually something that the antagonist needed to complete their evil scheme and one which the hero must then stop him from getting. The first Mission Impossible movie was criticized for having a too convoluted plot, where the 2nd was given a MacGuffin which was cheekily constantly explained throughout. The third film went further and referenced their MacGuffin in theory only, never revealing what it was to the audience! The movie admitted that it was only a plot device to what the audience really wanted to see anyway: action action action and Maggie Q. Harry Potter 7.1 however relies on no more than 7 Macguffins, with two previously being dispatched in HP6. The story is basically a treasure hunt for our young heroes whilst avoiding the attacks of their enemies.

Another lazy script-writing technique is, when one is facing writer’s block and just cannot move their story along, they kill a character to send a shock-wave through the remaining character arc / storyline like the butterfly effect. This usually progresses the story through a myriad of new threads, setting up questions such as who killed the character and why? What sort of affect will this have on the characters and their situations and so on.

JK Rowling has done this since Harry Potter 4, and doesn’t slow down. Admittedly, a big theme of the Harry Potter series is death, what with Harry’s parents being killed by an evil wizard who wants to kill he-who-lives. However when a minor character is reintroduced to a series just to be killed-off is cheap and reeks of bad television.

That all being said, the acting and characterization in this film is great. The Hermione character hits her stride after leaving me cold in a few of the previous instalments. Emma Watson has now found a middle-ground between early adolescence and just being a brat. Harry is great as always and Ron gets a few good laughs as well. The relationship between our three heroes is well balanced out. Of note is a particularly poignant scene with Harry and Hermione dancing in the face of misery and death: not in a romantic moment at all, but just two very good, old friends being there for each other in a moment of crisis.

The look of the film is fantastic. Whereas the earlier Christopher Columbus directed films have a classic, stage and CG feel, the introduction of Alfonso Cuarón in Prisoner of Azkaban gave the series an organic, natural feel: glows from wands where not overly dramatic but looked like moonlight, and Hogwart’s surrounds were rich and atmospheric. The Goblet of Fire added wands which fired off naturalistic, organic hot and cold lava which splurted and spilled plenty o’ magic about.

David Yates joined the series in Order of the Phoenix and has kept these stylistic choices, whilst getting our characters out of their school and their uniforms, placing them in the cold, dark and mysterious UK woods, country-side and beaches. The action is great and intense, melding a lot more of the real world with its magical set pieces (such as a shoot-out in a London cafe) than any other of the instalments. This feels like a gritty Harry Potter movie that we can empathise with, away from the magic of Hogwarts and into our world.

Rating

All in all, a very solid first part to a complete movie which fans of Harry Potter will lap up. Hopefully the mechanical set up will give way to a brilliant and satisfying conclusion to a film series that surprisingly still has a massive fan base. 4 out of 5 wands.

If you had to click on any of the links in the plot section of this review, chances are you will have trouble keeping up with the goings-on in this particular episode as it references close to all previous adventures. A solid Potter knowledge is required and expected with this outing!

See what Margaret and David have to say and check out the trailer!

Luke McWilliams December 2010