Friday, September 7, 2012

The Late Shift: Tron

Posted By on Fri, Sep 7, 2012 at 4:06 PM

A few months ago, I spent a weekend covering Bonnaroo with my comrades at Nashville Cream which, as you may remember, caused me to miss The Raid: Redemption. Huge bummer. But, as upsetting as it was to miss out on seeing some good ol' big-screen Indonesian machete fighting, I did make a good faith effort at catching a substitute midnight movie. And by that, I mean that I watched 20 minutes of The Last Starfighter before nearly falling asleep standing up in the press area for Alice Cooper.

The thing about The Last Starfighter, which I noted before totally checking out of the movie, is that it's perhaps the pinnacle of absurd geek fantasies that claim being good at video games is directly proportional to how popular you are. Believe me — I used to be super good at video games but it sure as hell didn't help me through high school. For a while, I figured that this was definitely the king enabler of dork mountain. But that was before I saw Tron this weekend.

Before I accidentally rile up any Internet posses (again), let me go ahead and state right out: I really enjoyed Tron. In fact, I'm surprised by how much I enjoyed Tron. Even with its severely dated graphics and weirdo early ’80s neon style. Maybe it was Jeff Bridges. Maybe it was the fact that Tron sorta cherry picks every sci-fi/action trope I want in a movie. Or maybe the real trick was watching Tron in the same way that I'd watch Citizen Kane.

Bear with me.

The trouble with watching movies like Tron and Citizen Kane in 2012 is that our collective film vocabulary is way too advanced. It's impossible to appreciate these movies in the same way audiences did in 1982 or 1941. Yeah, sure, the graphics in Tron were revolutionary. They practically invented computer animation as we know it. But, once you've seen hyper-realistic blue cat people in 3D, you stop caring about whether or not the filmmaker is using deep focus in a scene.

As it turns out, that's a big advantage to Tron. Without being dazzled by all that 2MB of memory's worth of digital effects can offer, Tron holds up because it's actually kinda good, and not because of all those sweet blocky spaceships and grid patterns. The story of corporate greed damaging the livelihood of regular folks is a salient one. Plus, Tron does have some interesting stuff to say about religion, fascism, individuality and virtual reality.

Not to mention the technical aspect and the fact that man will always be at war with robots. Always. Even you, DJ Roomba.

But, there's one other thing that makes Tron — a story about The Dude getting sucked into a video game and assisting his frisbee-flinging savior buddy with saving the world — so engaging: It works like a Rosetta stone for mainstream pop culture. By the time I actually sat down and watched Citizen Kane, it turns out that I had pretty already seen the whole damn thing via clips on The Simpsons. Tron's got the same thing going for it. Maybe not in the sense that The Simpsons wholesale copied its first 20 minutes, but more that the themes and visual ideas have wormed their way into everything from Futurama to The Matrix. Decoding this movie's influential moments made it fun to watch. But, then again, I'm a huge nerd. So there's also that.

Those blocky spaceships are still pretty goofy though.

Bleeps and Bloops

- This screening of Tron marks the first time in Belcourt history that the theater has managed to wrestle a print of a movie away from Disney. Good work, guys! Could this mean more Disney-produced films appearing as repertory selections in the future? Perhaps! Edit: it looks like I got my wires crossed on that one. Jason mentioned that they had been trying to get Tron as a midnight movie for a while and I must've misinterpreted his phrasing. Sorry, Belcourt!

- Pat's drink of the evening was called the Yes/No and I totally do not remember what was in it. Tarragon syrup, I think? Some other boozy stuff? It was good and herby.

- My normal (completely scientific and not-at-all made-up on the spot) assessment of the demographic that this midnight movie pulled in was totally thrown off by a sudden influx of Vandy freshmen. I'm not sure what drove all of these 18-year-olds out to see Tron, but my money is on extra credit or forced dormitory bonding. I was expecting more older guys with chin-beards (there were a few).

- Rumor has it that Jeff Bridges was in town last weekend. I think we all secretly hoped he would drop in on one of the Tron screenings, but I'm pretty sure he's got better things to do than watch himself fight an evil computer at midnight on a Saturday.

Coming Up: Long live the new flesh! Videodrome takes Marshall McLuhan's ideas about media and makes James Woods shoot you in the face with them. Also: Not a midnight movie, but be sure to check out Cosmopolis, the new Cronenberg film also premiering at The Belcourt. It looks positively bananas.

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