TRON: Legacy needs a CLU, gets a “journey without a goal”

I wanted to like this movie.  I have such fond memories of the original TRON.  It was ahead of its time in many ways back then, and probably a little cheesy too…  It was wrapped up in religion a bit, which wasn’t bad— it gave programs a “culture,” a “faith.”  TRON: Legacy has kept up with the digital explosion in movies and taken it to grand heights, but it abandoned good writing and good characters along the way.  I found it hard not to roll my eyes, and even with such great visuals, found myself bored during the last quarter of the film.  How did they fumble such a beautiful opportunity?  I don’t know, but I have some ideas.  I offer these up for consideration.  I’m no Roger Ebert (but I’m a huge fan, Roger) but I think most critics have already agreed that the plot lacks something. The original TRON received 69% on the tomatometer from Rotten Tomatoes, the new Tron 49%.  Though, oddly the audience seems to like the second one more.  Critics agreed the light show and “glitter” are fun, and who can beat that soundtrack?  I loved the light show, the competitions, the music, but the plot is an epic fail.

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2012: The Last Movie Explosions and the End of an Era

Well, just saw a clip from the movie 2012, out in theatres in November.  After this movie, there will be no bigger explosions.  Hurray!   

I remember when Independence Day blew up the White House, and much of New York.  It was a cool special effect.  I remember when the Titanic split in two.  Wowzers!  But now, there’s not gonna be a special effect left to do using real places after 2012.  We’ll have seen the Eiffel Tower destroyed so many times, seen a realistic crumbling of the Rio Jesus, seen California being pushed into the sea, or dribbling into it as is the case here.

I mean, after that, the real end, when and if it does come, will seem like a rerun.  I bet when an earthquake hits California, one day, God forbid, but if it does, people will say “It looked just like 2012.”

Now, imagine filmmakers discussing options after 2012 comes out:  

“Well, there goes my next volcano film.  Can’t get more realistic than that!”

“And they just sunk Iowa into the ground.”

“We can’t redo the crumbling of the Statue of Liberty–we’ll be copying!”

“Exactly, boys.”  They’ll sigh.  Nod their heads.  “You know what this means?”

They’ll look around nervously.  

“We go back to plots and characters.  People won’t expect it.”

“What you mean is–they’ll yawn through another White House implosion.  No,” someone will shake his head, “we’ll go back to those all right—there’s nothing left to blow up, or blow up more realistically.  There’s nothing left but characters.  Damn.”

And this will be the END OF SPECIAL EFFECTS DRIVEN MOVIES.  Relief.  

It’s like the last ten years–post Jurassic Park–that directors have been like little boys with a new Chem Set and a set of bottles—what can we blow up?  Or Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy in Wargames, playing “Global Thermonuclear War.”   “What will we nuke first?” Broderick asks Sheedy.  “Las Vegas!  Seattle!” 

So many films destroying highways and bridges and houses and monuments…like Godzillas of the Green Screen.  Well, we’re all done with that!  Who can follow 2012?  The special effects people will be looking around for things to do and they’ll have to morph bodies on screen or something else….cause we’ve seen every conceivable iteration now.  Reality won’t be half as good! 

Either we move on now to plot/character driven movies whose special effects serve the moment, or this really is the end of the world….

God:  “Well, they’ve blown up everything they can on screen.  If I don’t cash in my chips, and call my peeps home, they’ll get bored…”

To Watch or not to Watch: a review of the Watchmen

watchmen-poster-groupMy title refers not to whether or not you should watch the film, but about the dilemma of the characters–to watch over others or not.

You should see the film. It’s good to understand the gritty basics of superheroes and why they do what they do, and what kinds of mortals these heroes be.

I’ve bought the book, but I haven’t done more than skim it to see how close it comes to the movie.  I think the movie is faithful to the book.  But for those who haven’t read the book–like me–here’s the skinny on the movie:

The movie explores a history of superheroes in America–as if they really existed. The opening credits are brilliant.  All the moments of American history have as a background these groups of superheroes–mostly non-superpowered costumed vigilantes.  We won Vietnam, Nixon has won a third term as President, it is 1985.  We are in a cold war, but Andy Warhol is painting Night Owl not Marilyn Monroe.

Someone is killing off costumed superheroes who have retired.  Since an Act of Congress, superhero groups and persons have been outlawed or disbanded.  One of the superheroes has become a megamillionaire trying to create green energy; others have just retired without revealing who they were.  The threat of nuclear war is ever present.  One hero has superpowers, Dr. Manhattan, created in an accident (like all good heroes), and he is approaching godhood, barely concerned with humanity, but seeking to help find a way to help the world find an energy solution too.  He is the reason the Russians don’t attack–they are frightened of his nuclear abilities.

These heroes have mixed pasts.  They are more vigilantes, no longer asked to keep vigil.  There is no strong moral code guiding them.  Except for Night Owl, very few of them know what a moral code is.  For Rorschach, whose mask constantly changes shape–a fascinating thing to watch–humanity is disgusting, all the baser natures breeding and leaving nothing of value.  For him, he doesn’t care about humanity–they are all criminals waiting to happen.  When he searches the streets to find answers to who killed the Comedian (who dies in the first few minutes of both the film and the trailer), he beats people up to get his answers.

The movie is more complex than a whodunnit.  And this is what I love about the story.  It will complicate your ideas of justice.  And heroes.  And what responsibility is taken up when you take up a costume and “crimefighting,” and what kind of person needs to have that role, and what person doesn’t need to have it.

The movie shows us heroes who want to do something to help the world, but are filled so much with their own problems that they just don’t have the teamwork, the focus–they aren’t even on the same page.  You thought the Fantastic Four squabbled, but this is chaos.  It’s gritty real, though, at what a “real” group of heroes would be doing–all idealism, but with their own agendas.

If you liked Dark Knight, you will enjoy Watchmen.  It makes you think about vigilantism–what decisions you are allowed to make on behalf of others, and what decisions you shouldn’t make on behalf of others–even to keep them safe.

The movie is also visually stunning.  The sequences on Mars, the blue Dr. Manhattan, the fighting sequences–we’ve come a long way through the Matrix and out again.

The movie isn’t perfect.  I’ve never seen a worse Nixon–he looks plastic, as if he is wearing a mask himself; there are poor choices in music–Leonard Cohen singing “Hallelujah” during a sex scene; the sex scene itself seems a bit long.  But these are small things in a long movie that, overall, satisfies.

It has a lot of gratuitous violence–but I think the violence says a lot about these heroes.  They’ve become numb to it, to the choices they make regarding other people.  The world is something to clean up and guard.  Silk Sepctre II says that the law that disbanded superheroes was the best thing to ever happen to her–she never wanted to be a superhero.  Her mother, the first Silk Spectre, made her.  She hated the clothes. And the responsibility.

The end will keep you talking for weeks.  I promise you.  It is no easy ending and the movie leaves you wrestling with decisions.  Go see it.  Justice isn’t an easy topic.  Our conversation afterwards at Tim Horton’s involved youth who tag buildings with graffiti, but it could have been anything we were upset about.  To what ends does vigilantism aspire?  How far would you work outside of “the law” to get “justice”?  It sparks a lot of difficult conversations.  I’m sure I came across like an idiot–but i tend to let myself talk to see what I might say.  Cause only when I’ve said it, do I get to evaluate whether or not I believe it.

So, go see the movie and see what you start talking about afterwards.

Repair-adise: The Myth of the Self-Cleaning Earth

3224040683_22edd9a60cOkay, I’ve seen the trope enough.  Yes, it is a hopeful image, but it perpetuates a myth.  End of movie: three or four people after post-apocalyptic disaster come out to “healed” Earth.  200 years in City of Ember.  700 years in Wall-E.

Gaia is a nice idea–that the Earth is bigger than us and will heal itself even from our damage.  However, it lessens any personal responsibility, and gives us some odd idea that humans, in the form that we know them, will be back one day after the Earth has gone through a cycle similar to a self-cleaning oven.

Oddly enough, the base idea is shared by those who don’t believe in Global Warming, or who don’t believe that Man is causing global warming–the idea that the Earth shifts in cold and hot and finds a balance and everything is returned to a state of Eden.

Here’s two things I know: The last Ice Age was a documented shift in the planet’s balance of hot and cold.  Those ice sheets lasted for more than 100,000 years, ending about 10,000 years ago.  The animal and plant life that we know from then have changed quite a bit over that span of time.  No more giant ground sloths, mammoths or neanderthals.  Even the steppe grasses are gone.  So,  it took the Earth 10,000 years to right itself–after some massive glaciation.  In other words, Global Warming may well indeed have been a natural shift, but Humanity will not survive a massive shift like that–certainly not in the way we are now. And likely, the Earth will come up with some radically new life forms–if it recovers at all.

The second idea here is that the Earth can take a beating from us.  No problem.  A) if it disposes of us, what have we learned?  and B)  We are capable of damaging an atmosphere irreparably.

Those Ice Ages, devastating as they were, still counted on an atmosphere.  If we hurt our atmosphere, isn’t it possible that we not just trigger an Ice Age, but stop it from fixing itself?  James Lovelock, the man who created the idea of Gaia–the earth that is an organism–was interviewed in New Scientist.

Do you think we will survive?

I’m an optimistic pessimist. I think it’s wrong to assume we’ll survive 2 °C of warming: there are already too many people on Earth. At 4 °C we could not survive with even one-tenth of our current population. The reason is we would not find enough food, unless we synthesised it. Because of this, the cull during this century is going to be huge, up to 90 per cent. The number of people remaining at the end of the century will probably be a billion or less. It has happened before: between the ice ages there were bottlenecks when there were only 2000 people left. It’s happening again.

I don’t think humans react fast enough or are clever enough to handle what’s coming up. Kyoto was 11 years ago. Virtually nothing’s been done except endless talk and meetings.

It’s a depressing outlook.

Not necessarily. I don’t think 9 billion is better than 1 billion. I see humans as rather like the first photosynthesisers, which when they first appeared on the planet caused enormous damage by releasing oxygen – a nasty, poisonous gas. It took a long time, but it turned out in the end to be of enormous benefit. I look on humans in much the same light. For the first time in its 3.5 billion years of existence, the planet has an intelligent, communicating species that can consider the whole system and even do things about it. They are not yet bright enough, they have still to evolve quite a way, but they could become a very positive contributor to planetary welfare.

How much biodiversity will be left after this climatic apocalypse?

We have the example of the Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum event 55 million years ago. About the same amount of CO2 was put into the atmosphere as we are putting in and temperatures rocketed by about 5 °C over about 20,000 years. The world became largely desert. The polar regions were tropical and most life on the planet had the time to move north and survive. When the planet cooled they moved back again. So there doesn’t have to be a massive extinction. It’s already moving: if you live in the countryside as I do you can see the changes, even in the UK.

He has a lot of optimism that despite all the damage we can do as a species, that the Earth will recover–even that perhaps these amazingly smart humans, in his opinion, the apex of creation, will figure out how to live in harmony with the Earth–eventually.

But it also might allow both a fatalism and a hedonism to develop–as if we can do nothing to hurt the Earth at all.  Lovelock was instrumental in getting the global CFC ban that led to saving the Ozone layer.   Perhaps there are still more things to do to stop the warming that’s happening–as he suggests in the article.   Certainly, we have to think short term.  Lovelock’s vision–is that after thousands and thousands of years–humanity will survive and learn.  Movies shorten that to a few hundred years, a slap on the hand for our negligent behavior instead of the mass extinction probably waiting for us.  They believe in Man rebooting after the Earth has rebooted itself.  Repair-adise.

All these movies have people waiting out the storm, walking into paradise, virtually unchanged.  Free of humanity for a mere 200 years, the planet heaves a rainbow sigh of relief, bushy gardens of plenty.  But with our weapons we can inflict planetary damage; Wall-E can never clean up all the trash and one plant can’t feed the multitudes–and there will be a long wait for the storm to be over.  And humans may not survive as humans.  There may be no humans to come back out after 55 million years….and if there are, will they remember what they did wrong?  We have to affect change.

Sure, we may not die, but we will all be changed.