TRON: Legacy

                                                
“Nostalgia is just a mild form of depression”. Someone said that once. Abbie Hoffman, apparently. I won’t pretend to know who she is. The point is; whether it’s an incidental product of being mentally fed up, or it’s a perfectly healthy vehicle for escapism, nostalgia buoys entire movies, keeping shit afloat when it should be sinking. And throughout its lengthy, 127 minute running time, there are moments in which TRON: Legacy finds itself perilously close to sinking (though this is not to confuse TRON: Legacy with shit).

TRON: Legacy is the sequel to 1982’s TRON. The original, while an expensive box-office flop, today serves as a precursor to the computer generated imagery we now take for granted, as well as being a revered slice of cult cinema firmly entrenched in 80’s apocrypha. 28 years later, its sequel sees central character Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) trapped in a computerised dystopia of his own creation with his self-programmed doppelganger, C.L.U (also played by Bridges, in youthful guise) threatening to take over the world or something. It’s all wildly convoluted but the fate of the universe ultimately hinges on Flynn, his son, Sam (Garrett Hedlund) and Quorra (Olivia Wilde), another creation of Flynn’s who may or may not be the key to solving all the world’s problems.

TRON: Legacy is ambitious. Too ambitious. While the 1982 original was a care-free romp through cutting-edge, technological playgrounds that placed an emphasis on ‘fun’ and curtailed any pretensions to ideology and meta-narratives; its 2010 sequel doesn’t fuck around, placing themes as far-reaching as creationism, freedom, fatherhood, sentience, genocide, evolution and biblical sacrifice at its core. And that’s where it falters. Visual splendour, frenetic action and digital dalliances with futurism, juxtaposed with throwbacks to 1980’s pop culture – these are surely the foundations on which any modern day TRON film should be built. And yet, too often and for too long, these things are treated as a mere backdrop for dense blocks of impenetrable exposition.

It‘s not all bad though. While there aren’t nearly enough of them, the action sequences that are present, are expertly composed, striking a satisfying balance between homage and progression. Homage to the iconic ‘Light Cycles’ and ‘Disc Battles’ of the original, here pulled into the 21st century in a synergy of photo-realistic CGI and probably quite dangerous practical stunt work, and progression in the form of decidedly modern ‘parkour’ and ‘base-jumping’ scenes that occur in the ‘real world‘.

A slither of the original’s revolutionary verve is also present in TRON: Legacy’s digitally ‘de-aged’ projection of a youthful Jeff Bridges, the effect of which is (mostly) impressive. Despite a few instances where technological limitations expose the imperfections of the CGI creation, one can’t help but suspect that, much like TRON ushered in an age of computer generated imagery in film, the ‘de-aging’ of actors will become commonplace in the wake of TRON: Legacy.

On the subject of actors, ‘de-aged’ or otherwise, TRON: Legacy has its share of good ones. Essentially playing three distinct roles (younger Flynn, older Flynn, and C.L.U), Jeff Bridges puts forth a predictably commendable performance, alternately exuding righteous indignation and confused villainy (C.L.U), and occupying the void between Messianic aspirant and The Big Lebowski’s The Dude (Flynn). Elsewhere, the versatile Michael Sheen crops up as the androgynous Castor, a Bowie-esque, scene-stealing haze of beguilement, and Olivia Wilde proves more than capable of being enigmatic and sultry. And flexible.

Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of the movie though, is the original soundtrack performed by Daft Punk. Presiding over a score that covers musical ground beyond the French duo’s usual scope, by fusing their trademark, playful, electronic-filtered disco sensibilities with much darker, melancholy, orchestral motifs, Daft Punk have contributed something indispensable to TRON: Legacy’s plight; atmosphere.

But more than anything, it’s the element of nostalgia that keeps TRON: Legacy from being a bit rubbish. Even in the harsh light of its plot-hole ridden and needlessly pretentious narrative and even with its dearth of action and its laboured pacing, it’s still a film that’s inextricably involved with its own history (or its own legacy, if you wanted to be cute), which in this instance, transpires to be an intoxicating miasma of neon lights, 8-bit sounds, and childhood memories.

Bob Russell

Almost Famous

I fucking love this film. I really do. And for a number of reasons. Not only is it a fundamentally great film, but there’s also a few things – themes, scenes, ideals – communicated within the flick that run parallel to aspects of my own life. And then there’s the nostalgia factor…

I first saw Almost Famous when I was around the same age as William Miller, the film’s protagonist and projection of writer/director Cameron Crowe’s teenage self. Here was a kid who never fully recovered from his own musical awakening, who lost himself in the bands, singers and musicians who inspired him, and in one sense or another, saved him. This was a socially awkward kid who would much sooner live vicariously through the rock stars he’d write about than form relationships with the kids who didn’t understand him. And I could relate. Shit, I still can.

There’s a scene at the beginning of the film that mirrored something I’d recently experienced myself so uncannily, I could have sworn it was written for me (and I suspect I’m not the only one who felt that way). There’s a scene where Miller inherits his sister’s record collection, and as he’s rifling through these strange album covers, eyes wide with wonderment, there’s an almost palpable sense of discovery, you can almost feel the trajectory of this kid’s life irrevocably changing for the better. Hendrix, Zeppelin, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Cream, Elton John, the Rolling Stones, the Who – it’s a whole new world. A few weeks before I watched this scene for the first time, I’d retreated to the back of the house with my mother’s old record player and record collection and set about my own journey of discovery. Hendrix, Zeppelin, the Who, the Beatles, the ‘Stones, U2, Neil Young, Elton John – it was a whole new world…

I can also relate to Miller’s aspirations. Becoming a rock journalist is something I’ve always wanted to do and finally, at the grand old age of 26, I’m slowly working towards that goal, undertaking a Journalism degree and (maybe) covering the local music scene for a local magazine.

Then there’s that nostalgia factor. Watching the film today evokes a sense of nostalgia that is nearly impossible to extricate from its core (and really, why would anyone want it any other way?). Not only does it take me back to my own teenage years where music was such a driving force, but it also conveys this blissfully endearing caricature of the seventies that makes me envious of anyone who was around to experience the era first-hand. Almost Famous paints a picture of a time and place where teenagers inherited the Earth, where music was currency and musicians were God, where school was little more than a quaint distraction from the novelties of sex and drugs and teenage rebellion, and the road was the most exciting place anyone could ever hope to find themselves. The road was what connected it all – the gigs, the parties, the hotels, the record stores, the people. Sure, it’s revisionist history filtered through a rose-tinted looking-glass but who cares? This is a film and a place to get lost in.

But even divorced from what it means to me personally, Almost Famous is a film that can’t help but shine. Everything about it teeters on the edge of perfection. The story is refreshing and unique, coloured by an honesty and truth that endures, even in the face of the film’s idealised setting. The soundtrack is an embarrassment of riches –  Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)”; Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer”; the Who’s “Baba O’ Reilly”; Thunderclap Newman’s “Something In The Air”; Neil Young’s “Cortez The Killer”; Joni Mitchell’s “River”; the Stooges’ “Search & Destroy”; Brenton Wood’s “The Oogum Boogum Song”; Nancy Wilson’s perfectly understated original score (that criminally, is yet to be commercial released or even bootlegged) – it’s a celebration of music from the sixties and seventies and it’s unremittingly brilliant. The characters that inhabit the film’s world are arguably its finest creations. The naiveté of William Miller, the enigma of Penny Lane, the outspoken beacon of cool that was Lester Bangs – the film does such a good job of fleshing out these characters, giving them purpose as well as presence, that you’d swear they were real people (and perhaps not too surprisingly, some of them were).

I don’t think I could fault Almost Famous if I wanted to. At all. Just as there is music that is said to be good for the soul, there is surely also cinema. Almost Famous is such cinema.

Bob Russell