Surely I’m not the only one to feel a twinge of nostalgia (and/or jealousy) when I see little kids wearing shoes that light up. Thankfully, shoe designer Edmundo Castillo has created the adult-version: a light-up strappy wedge heel. Teaming up with the firm responsible for the costumes in the newest TRON film, Castillo’s design pays homage to the blockbuster. Castillo claims the shoe is “completely functional”; recharging the shoe is as easy as plugging in an adapter to the heel of the shoe, and the shoe can be switched to a blinking mode if desired.
Spoiler right there in the title! Relax: any further spoilers will come after the jump, so consider this your official Alert. I attended a media screening of Tron: Legacy last night, and it was a massive cattle call — a huge IMAX theater packed to the gills with people who, I’m guessing, count blogging as their main and likely sole media credential. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, especially for a movie ostensibly targeted at computer-friendly folks. However, as someone old enough to have seen the original Tron movie in theaters and to have been obsessed with the subsequent arcade game, I have absolutely no idea if Tron: Legacy is going to have any appeal for contemporary feckless youth.
The first Tron movie was considered a box-office failure. It was super-weird and had all these computerized graphics going on, papered over what amounted to a really simple adventure mythology messiah plot. But even though the parallel is not exact, and the repercussions would take years to manifest, Tron was probably responsible for introducing the concept of virtual reality into pop culture in a way that made a little bit of sense to non-nerds.
I’m not going to dwell much on the plot of either the new sequel or the original. (Gridbugs, by the way, were barely-seen little critters from the first movie that figured heavily in the arcade game, pictured above.) Rather, I’m compelled to wonder just what you’ll think of Tron: Legacy if you weren’t steeped in the lore of its predecessor. The distinctive visual style of Tron came from a charmingly half-baked iteration of what it would be like to run around in a very primitively rendered 3D world of simple forms. Everything was blocky, composed of blocks, or moved at block-like right angles. The world was called the Grid, after all. This was 1982. Software that made this kind of imagery in a real-world production environment at the time was limited to engineering and architectural purposes, so it wasn’t about properly illustrating a sumptuously curved seashell or anime princess.
Tron: Legacy definitely takes that visual aesthetic and runs with it as far as current technology will go; modern interface design intercuts with loving nostalgia for the look and feel of the old-school Tron GUI, so to speak. But this is the Troniverse as re-imagined under the Apple design philosophy. Corners are rounded off, interfaces work by touch, menus pop up and rotate pleasingly. Even the legendary light cycles swoop and swoosh in elegant ellipses, rather than the traditionally abrupt 90-degree turns.
It’s very pretty, and as someone who grew up with the original movie, it’s fun to see the updated look. But again, a viewer lacking that historical perspective will wonder why the smashing special effects are often mixed with a weird retro vibe. I can load up any first-person shooter and blow someone away with a shotgun, and their exploding, organic viscera will be lovingly detailed and disgusting. In Tron: Legacy, destroyed people still shatter into little blocks, generally mimicking the first movie. The people-blocks are really cool, don’t get me wrong! But this Disney violence definitely comes with universe-wide parental controls.
And that general nostalgia for the original Tron visual style becomes a charming joke of its own, eventually. For example, the Tron: Legacy cityscape renders every space — from office to lab to throne room to street — in the same vocabulary of flat metal, glass, and neon. This is most apparent when the main characters visit a super-exclusive penthouse nightclub that looks indistinguishable from the allegedly seedy back alleys below. Daft Punk is DJing in the club, though, so that’s a little different.
Speaking of Daft Punk, I’m not sure I need listen to their soundtrack on its own, but they do stellar work on this movie’s music. Ironically perhaps, the tunes at times feel like a more seamless update of Tronology than the movie itself. The only forced moment occurs when they DJ at the club in “person.” Electronic house music appears to have followed the same evolutionary track in this bottle universe as it did in real-world Europe, apparently.
When watching Tron: Legacy, it’s somewhat painfully obvious what sequences are custom-engineered for porting to video games, though that doesn’t mean they’re not thrilling to watch onscreen. And all that aside, the most revolutionary special effect is the youngification of Jeff Bridges’ face for the evil, ageless CLU character. There’s still something demonstrably weird about this effect, but it’s by far the best example to date. It doesn’t matter so much when you know the pseudo-face you’re looking at belongs to a piece of software, since you would expect some Uncanny Valley mileage. But the differences are striking, and not really in a bad way. I don’t want to see this become a way to insert dead or ancient actors back into new movies, but in this case it feels right on a villainous doppelganger.
“What’s Tron?” asked someone who was told I was going to this screening. That’s really the question, as I just don’t know how broad the mainstream appeal can be for an update of what amounts to a techie cult favorite. Other than continuity fascists, I think most Tron fans will like the new movie. I actually would have preferred a little more divergence from the canon, just to shake things up, but it’s still a pleasant trip down memory lane. I guess the net effect is similar to what my dad will experience when he sees the Coen brothers’ update of True Grit, where Jeff Bridges plays an ornery old coot in the proverbial non-virtual flesh.
Joining the likes of Pendleton, Chloe Sevigny, and Levi’s, the latest Opening Ceremony collaboration with TRON: Legacy merges high-performance activewear with OC’s trademark quirky aesthetic—think wetsuits meets business casual. The line coincides with the final marketing push for the much-awaited film, which has been effectively teasing fans with short clips and trailers for three years.
Available now on the Opening Ceremony site and in stores, the collection features laser-cutting, bright neon, and structured neoprene, all nods to the futuristic universe in the film. Accessories include a flat circle bag and neoprene sock boots with rubber soles. See the full collection here, or just wait for the midnight premiere on December 17—we imagine it will be a veritable runway show of these looks.
Already riding high from an Oscar win earlier this year, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Jeff Bridges’ stock dramatically spike again in December when both Tron Legacy (25/12) and the Coen Brothers’ True Grit (17/12) hit theaters. Call it the “geeks & geezers” double bill. The latter is, of course, a remake of the classic 1969 John Wayne vehicle, and Bridges told MTV News that he has high expectations. “I hope it’s going to be a great Western. You’ve got the Coen brothers — master filmmakers — doing a Western for the first time…to be a part of that was great.” Bridges also opened up about the possibility of a sequel to his first and still much-beloved collaboration with the Coens, The Big Lebowski.
Many of that film’s legions of super fans will doubtless be crestfallen to hear the news: “We talked about it occasionally, but no plans man, no plans,” Bridges said. “No, no, no, I don’t think it’s gonna happen.” I, for one, am heartened. I don’t think the peculiar alchemy of that film is something that can be repeated. A follow up would almost certainly compare unfavorably, and perhaps even retroactively discolor the first. Some films are meant to exist in and unto themselves. You need only watch one of the Psycho sequels to know that this is true.
“We’re about to live through one of the worst filmmaking decades all over again,” writes Gina Piccalo in The Daily Beast today. That decade – the ‘80s – is back in full force with a flood of remakes (Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, Clash of the Titans, Tron Legacy, The Karate Kid, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Predators, and Red Dawn, among others) and “brand-new films with plots so stale they feel as if they’ve been unearthed from some jaundiced Reagan-era slush pile.” (Piccalo mentions The Bounty Hunter, Did You Hear About the Morgans? and Cop Out as prime examples).
“The 1980s were arguably one of the worst eras in film, when every year brought another Porky’s or Police Academy, when Look Who’s Talking was a bona fide blockbuster, when hilarity ensued with every inter-racial cop duo, every country-meets-city plot, and every fast-talking career gal brought down a peg by some manly man…. With the exception of some rare gems from the likes of John Hughes, Terry Gilliam, and yes, Steven Spielberg, it’s an entire decade of filmmaking worth forgetting.”
Ouch. Piccalo blames baby-boomer nostalgia – and easy marketing – for the recent resurgence. The movies of our formative years are simply simpler to sell. And while we can’t deny the “era of excess” left us with well-worn tropes and over-hashed stereotypes (hello campy cop thriller!), you gotta give the decade some credit: Raging Bull is a cinematic classic, just as charring today as it was the day of it’s 1980 release. Aliens transformed the way we look at women in the action genre. Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing – while a bit of a thematic overload in retrospect – was confrontational, bold and groundbreaking at the time. Caddyshack’s just hilarious.
The list goes on. As for this season’s remakes and “re-imaginings,” we won’t defend Conan or encourage Mad Max 4. However, Tron Legacy looks awesome. It’s glitzy sci-fi stunner with a hint of Ziggy Stardust and a splash of Gaga.
Piccalo casts these films as pure commercial waste, quoting critic Leonard Maltin: “They’re not born of a passion for storytelling or desire to scale new heights. They’re items of commerce.”
Items of commerce? Yes – but let’s hope Piccalo’s at least partially wrong in her assessment of the quality of these features. If not, prepare to be severely bored.