Monday, December 20, 2010
Why did I see Tron: Legacy last weekend?
I could say I thought it was going to be a good movie—Jeff Bridges! A Daft Punk soundtrack! Shiny things!—but I read the AV Club review and knew it wasn’t going to be “good.” Maybe I thought it would be entertaining, the way Die Hard 4 was kind of entertaining, or the way one of those CSI-esque shows on Fox that doesn’t make any sense but keeps chugging along anyway and sucks you into its bullshit world is entertaining. I didn’t think it would be boring.
Well, it was. Most of the scenes were of people talking, and mostly they were just trying to explain to each other (and the audience) what the hell was going on. The plot is about the people who live in a computer trying to come out and taking over the world with glowing disks and rods, or something, led by Evil Jeff Bridges, and opposed by Good Jeff Bridges and his son, who is played by a guy with only two facial expressions. There’s also some business with some Magical Beings who live in the computer and can “change everything” if they get out of the computer. All of this was treated extremely seriously, with the only comic relief coming in the form of a character who I can only describe as a homosexual Mad Hatter. The action sequences are either sub-Matrix martial arts fights, or stuff ripped off directly from the first Tron or the first Star Wars. Oh, and Good Jeff Bridges talks like The Dude from The Big Lebowski for reasons that are not adequately explained. “You’re really messing with my Zen thing man,” he says at one point. I guess that was supposed to be funny.
It was shiny, I’ll give it that. There were a lot of blinking lights, and when one of the computer people got killed they would collapse into a bunch of cubes. And sometimes entire motorcycles materialize around people! That was cool, but by the climatic, Star-Fox-inspired battle scene, I was back to being bored. It looked about as impressive as a video game, with a story that could have been a Saturday-morning cartoon.
Tron is the kind of movie that makes you incredibly curious about aspects of the story that are skimmed over, despite the mountains of exposition. Like, are all the computer people true Turing-test-passing AIs? And how does Bridges’ 1980s-computer have enough memory to handle all of them? Why does Evil Jeff Bridges only have about five henchmen with him at any one time; why isn’t he using his entire army to track down Good Jeff Bridges? Most importantly, why are the computer programs (apparently) men and women? Do they have sex?
Those last questions, about what kind of sex computer programs have with each other, are kind of unavoidable—there’s a scene at an actually-not-very-exciting-looking party where a couple of sexy lady programs are sitting on guy programs’ laps and we follow Beau Garrett’s hypnotic ass as she walks through the crowd. Seriously, do computer people have dicks, or what? Do they get pregnant? Don’t tell me that Good Jeff Bridges has been cohabiting with his only ally, the smoking hot Olivia Wilde, for what amounts to hundreds of years without knocking neon-covered boots with her. And clearly Olivia Wilde is attracted to Jeff Bridge’s Son The Shitty Actor—there’s an intense one-act play about a father-son-mistress love triangle buried in this movie, but that’s skimmed over. This is a Disney production, after all, and Disney’s house special is creating characters that ooze sexuality (even when the characters in question are animated animals) and then neutering them.
Tron follows a trend, exemplified by Avatar, of extraordinarily stupid science fiction blockbusters. Old-fashioned science fiction was written by people like Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke, who knew their science and wrote intellectually inquisitive stories and novels, albeit ones with wooden prose and thin characters. Hollywood sci-fi keeps the thin characters but doesn’t give a shit about explaining how anything happens or why. Science is just magic in Tron. How does a person go inside a computer and apparently remain a flesh-and-blood being who ages and bleeds? How do computer people made out of data become actual matter when they go outside of the computer? Doesn’t that violate the basic law of physics? No, because everything happens because of magic. You aren’t meant to ask questions or engage with the fictional world or think about anything when you watch a Hollywood sci-fi epic. Just sit back and let the effects wash over you, like you were watching a 120-minute car commercial.
People love this shit, of course—Tron earned 43 million at the box office over the weekend, and at least one sequel is likely. The user review section on Metacritic is filled with high ratings from people who thought it was great, and who use movies to distract themselves from the terrible, soul-crushing reality of their own existences. “It's a moovie for peat sake,” one of the reviews read. Movies like Tron aren’t meant to make you think deep thoughts, the comments section argues, they’re just mindless fun entertainment for you to zonk out to, sort of like heroin but less addictive and more expensive. People like me, who thought that Tron was really boring and not even comically bad most of the time, even when you are stoned and drinking wine in the theater and thinking of snarky things to say about it later, are not supposed to see this movie; we’re supposed to go read the New York Times and re-watch Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and go to art museums with scarf-wearing women with Etsy profiles. Fine, I’ll go do that. You assholes can have the next five Tron movies, which will be about as fun as watching someone else play a video game.