Category Archives: tron legacy

The End of the Western

When I heard that they were remaking True Grit I was very conflicted. The original True Grit – the one with John Wayne’s first Oscar, Kim Darby playing much younger than usual, and nowhere near as annoying as usual, non-actor Glen Campbell and his terrific title song, along with Robert Duvall and the late Dennis Hopper – that movie is a classic, and I love it. It’s in my top twenty movies of all-time, and my favorite western, period. There’s no way a remake could do it justice.

And then I heard who was doing it. I also love the Coen brothers. Ethan and Joel are among the best filmmakers of our time. The problem is that as absolutely brilliant as they are, the Coen brothers unfortunately can be hit or miss. For every Big Lebowski and O Brother, there’s a Ladykillers and Burn After Reading. While I can’t think of anyone better to remake it if it had to be remade… it still bugged me. Why did it need to be remade anyway? I just bet if they released the original to the theaters, it would be doing just as well as this new one.

The story, based on the novel by Charles Portis, in which the lead character was incidentally based on John Wayne, has young girl Mattie Ross seeking revenge on Tom Chaney, the man who killed her father. To this end she hires Marshall Rooster Cogburn and Texas Ranger LaBoeuf. Fourteen year-old and age-appropriate to the story, Hailee Steinfeld shines as Mattie Ross. I might even see an Oscar nod in her future she’s so good, and a far cry from Kim Darby. The problem is that’s about the only advantage this remake has over the original.

The number one problem is that the Coen brothers have clearly forgotten what makes a western a western. The western is a great American artform which has over the last three or four decades been forgotten in favor of the grim, gritty realism of what the old West may have really been. Like the concepts of cyberpunk, and rocketships and rayguns, this may have not been how it was, it is how it is done. Westerns have sweeping panoramic landscapes, big orchestral soundtracks, hokey country title songs and reasonable hygienic cowboys who are easily identifiable as the good guys and the bad guys. The new True Grit has none of these things.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not dissing realism, nor am I dissing terrific stuff like “Deadwood” or Unforgiven, it’s just that not all westerns have to be like that. One critic said of Unforgiven that it was a proper eulogy for the American western. If that’s so, then the Coen’s True Grit is the final nail in that coffin. Any of the old timey brightness mentioned above that signify the westerns of old could have saved this flick in my opinion.

The movie is also very slow, a cardinal sin when it comes to action flicks of any genre, but that’s not where the rest of the problems lie – that would be in casting. As I said, Steinfeld is fine, and may yet be headed for Oscar-land, and Josh Brolin almost makes up for Jonah Hex as Tom Chaney, but the two male leads are near disastrous.

Matt Damon’s LaBoeuf is two-dimensional and boring, and when he does break free from the cardboard, he is more than a little bit creepy, especially in his interactions with his fourteen year-old employer. It was just a touch too much “To Catch a Predator” for me. Jeff Bridges is most unsatisfying filling the Duke’s shoes as Rooster Cogburn. He is neither heroic nor charismatic, or even interesting. He also mumbles and grumbles throughout, as if he had taken Batman lessons from Christian Bale. Honestly, if he had done The Dude in this flick like he did in Tron: Legacy, it would have been more tolerable.

I am stunned that this is on several folks’ top ten lists for 2010. I can only imagine they haven’t seen the original. I can only recommend this new True Grit as a curiosity or to see Hailee Steinfeld’s performance. I did not like it. See the original version, it’s far superior.

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A Tale of Two Trons

I was never that big of a fan of the original Tron, yeah, I know, blasphemy, and I have to turn in my nerd license. Other than the cool (at the time) effects and the arcade game “Discs of Tron,” which I enjoyed on an almost daily basis for hours on just a few quarters, it never really did much for me.

The thing about Tron, is that like the cyberpunk work of the legendary William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, contemporary to the flick, it’s an idea, a fictional concept, that has been washed away by reality. The world of ‘the grid’ is over, like the rocketships and rayguns of Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon, it no longer even makes sense. That doesn’t mean I didn’t like it, or this sequel, mind you, it just raises the suspension of disbelief a hundredfold is all. Trust me – Gibson, Sterling, Rogers and Gordon all still rock my world in a major way – it’s just harder to do these days.

What I remember and respect most about the original Tron is its simplicity of style. A true grid world accessible and relatable to the videogames of the time was realized and endeared itself to a generation. That’s a real feat. It was visually exciting and forward-thinking for its time, and even today remains a very unique vision, separating it from much of its science fiction competition.

I also remember the music, a Journey song “Only Solutions,” that I liked – at a time when I wasn’t all that fond of Journey. Of course, life with The Bride has changed that. I like Journey and she likes comics – the concessions of love. The soundtrack however was mostly composed by the wonderful Wendy Carlos (formerly Walter Carlos), one of the first musicians to seriously work with the synthesizer as the next wave in sound. The soundtrack is memorable for that sound. Daft Punk more than does the job for the new century in the sequel. I recommend both soundtracks highly.

If 1982’s Tron posits a world called The Grid where programs compete in videogames for their users, the sequel Tron: Legacy represents a current day return to that world. Shortly after the events of the first movie, Kevin Flynn, played by Jeff Bridges, makes it big in the computer and videogame industry, and then after beginning to act erratically, disappears, leaving his son, Sam, alone.

Sam gets a page from his Dad and returns to Dad’s arcade, and in a flourish of 1980s nostalgia, punctuated by vintage videogames, Eurythmics music, as well as Journey, in a nod to this film’s predecessor, he ends up in The Grid. This is a much darker Grid, and a world that exhibits every strength today’s CGI special effects can avail. In this, the hype is true. This is the movie that 3D and IMAX were made for, it’s just a shame that not all of it is in 3D. As cool as these visuals are, the half 3D, half 2D of it damages it. All or nothing, I say.

As I said, this is a very dark film. Dark in the same way Disney’s Return to Oz was to MGM’s The Wizard of Oz, so in some ways it’s not a good thing. The idea of a sequel to Tron is essentially a return to a world of wonder, a world of adventure, a world we enjoyed. This new fascist Grid, under the thumb of Flynn’s evil computer counterpart Clu is not a happy place. The problem, spoiler alert, is that even though the good guys win at the end, we never actually see anything but the bad place.

Rather than this dark vision with spectacular effects, I think I would have much rather seen a remake. It’s been almost thirty years after all, and one of the legitimate reasons to remake a film is that the special effects have gotten better – and they surely have. The Light Cycles are amazing and realistic. The Recognizers are gigantic and menacing. And Clu, wow, let me tell you about Clu. Clu is a haunting CGI effect of the younger Jeff Bridges from 1982. This ‘effect’ is both stunning and disturbing.

Cast-wise, it’s fun to see Bruce Boxleitner as Alan once again, Garret Hedlund is promising in his first major role, and Olivia Wilde is definitely someone to watch. Jeff Bridges, mostly as his older current age self, is the unfortunate weak link. He seems to channel The Dude from The Big Lebowski to the point of ridiculousness. While humorous, it pulls me completely out of the film whenever he does it. And it even ruins the strong dramatic moments like when he finally connects with his estranged son. Sorry, The Dude is one of my heroes, but he doesn’t belong in Tron.

Like Avatar, this is a film you must see for the special effects at least once. In this case, the 3D and the IMAX are worth it, even though I have railed against their cost and worth before. It seems to be doing well so I suppose a sequel is possible – maybe we’ll see more of Dillinger’s kid, which I’m sure all the Tron nerds wanted as well. Despite my reservations, Tron: Legacy is recommended, and don’t forget to check out the original too, first if possible.

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Tron Legacy – Sneak Peek


Yeah, baby!

Tron Legacy, the much-anticipated sequel to 1982’s Tron, will be released some time in 2010.

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