Tron: Legacy, and What Is Wrong with Movies Today (Part 1)
Notice the comma. This is not an attack on Tron, but rather a review of it, and an analysis of what is wrong with movies today. I’m merely using the film as a jumping-off point.
I could never write an article like this about a movie I didn’t enjoy. Because just simply berating a piece of shit movie is fun, but it doesn’t lend itself to heavy analysis. Not that what I’m doing is either analysis or heavy. Though I guess by definition this actually is analysis. Suck it, Freud.
When you’re berating a bad film (which, lord knows I love doing), you can’t really stop and critique shot choices and blocking arrangements — they get in the way of the hate speech. You can’t stop in the middle of explaining how a movie is so dumb you wish they just killed all the characters and got done with it and how the plot is so inane that you’d rather erotically asphyxiate yourself than sit through another ten minutes, to go, “This sequence is paced completely wrong.” Can’t do it. Plus, if it’s a movie you don’t like, you don’t want to sit and talk about it. You want to rail on it as much as possible. But when it’s something you like, you’re willing to sit through it the number of times it takes to get something like this written. (I’ll leave you to guess what that number is.) It’s like — children. Say you go out somewhere with a five-year old. And they’re a little douche. Most five-year olds are. They’re little assholes who are loud and annoying. You take them to the movies and they squirm, they talk, they make you get up to go pee and you miss part of the climax, and you wish they’d just shut the fuck up and continue watching Shoah. But, if they’re your kid, you’re more willing to allow them their faults. I don’t know where I was going with that, I got lost in the metaphor. Plus I’m pretty sure I just offended a bunch of Jews. The point is, I enjoyed Tron: Legacy, and my enjoyment of the film is what’s allowing me to watch it so many times while calling Hollywood out for the ridiculous shit they put in their films (including this one).
Keep in mind, despite my enjoyment of the film, there are parts of it that I will be railing against like an antique staircase. They are things in this film that, were they not included in the final product, you wouldn’t have noticed were missing. In fact, that’s my main point in this article. It’s to point out things that, to me, seem so blatantly obvious, so unnecessary to the final product as to detract from my enjoyment of the film, that I’m like, “Does no one else see that?” And my sincere hope is that, once I point these things out to you, you too will start noticing them, and when you watch a film (because they’re fucking everywhere, these things I’m pointing out), you’ll start catching them, and be like, “Holy fuck. This actually is really annoying.” I liken it to the Lewis Black bit where he says, “It’s like when your neighbor says “Theres a bear shitting all over the neighborhood,” and you say, “Thats crazy,” and the next day the bear is following you around.” In a way I’m ruining certain movies for you, but in another way, I’m helping you understand why I’m so harsh on these movies and why I’m so unwilling to allow them a pass. Plus, you shouldn’t be one of the masses anyway. Think for yourself. Don’t just let a film demean you and then being like, “Well, the action was kind of awesome.” No it wasn’t. Your expectations are subpar at best. You’re like the woman who gets beaten constantly and keeps going back to the man because, “Well, I know deep down he’s a good person.” Yeah right, and we all read the Constitution for the articles.
Don’t worry, though, if you’re one of those people who gives movies a pass. Because it’s not your fault. Not entirely, anyway. Let’s not go No Child Left Behind on this. Sometimes it is your fault for being too stupid. But Hollywood has spent the better part of the past decade trying (and succeeding) to lower the bar of your expectations. Think of it this way. You know how most intelligent people are ashamed of the average schmuck in Middle America who likes all the shit they’re supposed to like? The people who watch American Idol and Two and a Half Men and go see Adam Sandler movies all the time?
The way it works is, 90% of the films released are designed to get these people to flip a shit. They’re meant to get the idiots to go see them. They’re also designed to get teenagers to go see them, who are one step above Middle America in the expectation departement. They’re also designed to get you, the person in the tier above teenagers, give it a pass because, “Well, I guess it’s no so bad, at least compared to (the last thing you gave a pass to).” And they’re also designed to get me, the person with the highest filter level, to go, “Well, I know it’s gonna suck, but, I kind of have to see it, because it’s the least shitty thing that’s out there and it’s either this or (movie that’s clearly shittier).” Normally, I solve this equation by just not going, but, in June and July, you kind of have to go see certain things even though you know they’re gonna suck. It’s not often, but there’s always one or two a year that get through. That’s what I’m talking about. The fact that you allow your expectations to be lowered, it leads the studios to affirm their beliefs that people want to see this trash — and then we get something like Sucker Punch unleashed upon the world. And your reaction to the name of that film alone will immediately dictate everything I’m trying to say.
Hopefully in this article you’ll see just how badly Hollywood demeans your intelligence on a regular basis (and makes you like it). It’s actually quite staggering how often it occurs. This is some heavy shit. Be prepared. What is known cannot be unknown. Unless you sit on your hand and start jerking off. I hear tell that works.
That was the prologue. Now’s where the actual article starts. Not this. The next paragraph. Imagine the next one as the lead one. First was the lead in, and then the next paragraph starts the news story. With the big oversized first letter and everything. This whole section is like that, “Time and Temperature, from a shitty local business,” pre-show message. Or that, “It’s ten o’clock, have you tried to bang your wife yet?” message. The next paragraph is when the show starts. I mean, I could have started with the strong lead and not went on this whole bit, but come on, do you know me at all? Here’s the start:
Here’s an argument —
Actually I don’t like the two “here’s” in a row. It feels like I’m pausing and doing a take two or something. A lot of exhales at once. But I like the start of the word “Here’s.” It has a lot more character and energy to it than “This is an argument.” That’s boring. That’s old white person talk, while “Here’s an argument” is something that you might say when you’re arguing with your friends. I almost added, “while you’re drinking,” but, that’s an oxymoron, because, really, who could stand to be around people when alcohol isn’t involved? Am I right? Seriously — I have to put newspaper down when they come to visit. And also, if you’re putting forward an argument while drinking, it usually starts with, “Wait, wait, wait, wait,” — always an even number of “waits” if you’ve noticed — “I got one.” I’m more of a “Hang on, hang on” guy myself, but they’re both from the same class. They both cum laude from your mouth. Because, you can’t control your volume. There’s no semen joke in there. If that’s where you thought that went.
I would start this with, “Hang on,” but, that would be like I’m interrupting something. (Or am drunk. Which…) What am I interrupting? Everything and nothing, really. But I like to think the world revolves around me and not the Sun, because — come on. A solid case there, I feel. (Note: It’s liquid at best.) So, I’m gonna stick with “Here’s.” I just won’t end the paragraph before I start with “Here’s.” Which then necessitates my writing at least two more sentences. Which, I guess, will begin with the sentence that ends here. Making this one the final sentence, before I start the article.
Here’s an argument built on a foundation that can easily be taken away by the word, “Well…”
But to simply make that counter argument just for the sake of making it is much too simple and ignores the very root of the problem.
I just described the state of our government in two sentences.
I’m about to argue that a multi-million dollar mass-market entertainment movie contains a great deal of unnecessary and ultimately hurtful characteristics. Not including alliteration. That always helps. To then say to me, “Well…it was only meant as pure entertainment” is simple, specious, and only adds to the problem. Marmaduke was only meant as pure entertainment. So was Song of the South.
Are we not going to hold “pure entertainment” films to a certain standard now, either? Aren’t all of them meant as “entertainment”?
To allow these films a pass just because they’re not meant to be anything more than what they are (or are supposed to be) is not only doing a disservice to the medium of film as an art form, but is also doing a disservice to the film industry, to the films themselves, and to you, the viewer, who has to watch the crap Hollywood rolls out each year.
Think of a child. A child that’s about, five or six. Why not that same asshole we talked about in the prologue? To be economical? And he’s at that age when kids really start to act like assholes if they aren’t raised properly. And imagine that this kid, who, on the whole, isn’t very bright, comes from a household that really only had them in order to fulfill that whole sanctity of marriage notion that procreation is the ultimate end goal. So this is kid number Se7en. And the parents, after kid (I Am) Number Four, really stopped caring so much and are now just pumping out another kid because it’s what they do. And, to complete the metaphor, let’s say that the parents, after pumping a shitload of money into this kid’s education, are expecting the kid to get a huge, well-paying job, make a boatload of money, which will, in turn, come back and help them in the future. (I really hope you’re intuitive enough to understand this metaphor.)
Now, say that kid, right now, at age six, is a little shit. They have so many terrible character traits that are really fucking annoying. They’re traits that, with just a little bit of effort, the parents could have stopped from happening. Though, some of those traits are there on purpose, because the parents believe that, since this child is theirs, they can instill in it all the values that they hold sacred, and ones they maybe couldn’t instill on the other children, because, say, one of them thinks for themselves (the auteur), or one was a low priority child with little expenses and few expectations, so they let the kid do what they wanted (the indie), one they adopted (the real indie, that got picked up after the fact), and one they can’t instill the values on because they’re breeding them to be a very important person like a senator and don’t want people to think less of them (Oscar). But this one – this is the one that’s going to be the breadwinner. The astronaut. The brilliant alcoholic physicist playboy whose company makes weapons and then becomes a superhero on the side. The kid with the robot for a car – fuck it, you know what I’m talking about – the blockbuster. And this kid — Little Blockie — despite having all of these insanely annoying characteristics, is ultimately fairly charming. They’re still a good kid overall. And because they’re just six years old, you tend to give them a pass anyway, like, “Well, they aren’t any older and aren’t meant to know better…” To which I say, “why not?” Why can’t their parents fix the problems or have fixed them before with a little bit of effort? Because, if the kid’s still acting like that at twenty, then people are gonna start getting upset. Which is the equivalent to what we’re getting now.
What I’m saying is that audiences’ all-too-willing desire to give these films a pass isn’t doing anyone any good. And it’s indirectly telling the studios that we don’t care what kind of advertising they put in the films (not matter how overt it is), we don’t care what kind of dumbed-down stories with clear-cut endings (to the point where you know everything that’s gonna happen fifteen minutes into the movie) they throw at us, as long as shit blows up and, “It’s awesome.” I’m about to go back to the Civil Rights comparison. I don’t care if you get offended. Allowing the studios to demean your intelligence and punch you in the face with advertising and going along willingly with it, because, “well, the films are only meant as entertainment,” is allowing the studios to get bigger and bolder with their actions. It’s the equivalent of allowing a 25-year-old kid to throw a tantrum in the middle of a Denny’s because they ran out of curly fries and not calling them out on it.
The difference between a blockbuster that blatantly treats an audience member like a dumb blonde that’s drunk at a frat party and a grown man standing on a table at a fast food restaurant, screaming and crying because his fries are “the boring and stupid kind” is that only one of them has a morbid curiosity to them. The other one just gets repetitive and sad (and takes a lot of liberties that it probably shouldn’t be taking). How long is it gonna be before someone steps up and says something? If we just sit there and say, “Well, the films are only meant as entertainment,” and not voice our displeasure with the fact that, “Hey, having that one character dress only in clothes from Armani with the logo printed all over the chest was kind of overt and pointless,” the studios are going to continue to ignore it and continue taking even bigger liberties with the films. Something like this happened once before — you made have heard of it — it was called World War II.
Allowing studios to brazenly cheapen their material by riddling it with unnecessary clichés and shameless product placement without holding them to a standard of quality is serving no good aside from bringing us shittier and shittier films each year. It’s gotten to the point where studios are going in and adding unnecessary material at the expense of good storytelling, a coherent plot, visual stability, and even simple character development.
The big budget blockbuster used to be filled with a good story, strong characters, an emotional hook, good writing, fun and/or badass action sequences – now they’re nothing more than loud and noisy music videos filled with endless scenes of people running, driving and blowing shit up, terrible mainstream music, and excess moments of what’s allegedly called suspense, because they think the audience would rather a film more often “bring the awesome” rather than tell a coherent story.
It’s gotten to the point where characters are now introduced by action scenes rather than introductions. The first time you meet a new character, they’re being chased by the police, having a shootout for no good reason, or, are sexualized or attempted to be made badass for no apparent good reason. These people end up having no real motivation whatsoever aside from the fact that they help the plot move forward and give the protagonist someone to talk to. And instead of having these characters show signs of a personality, now, whenever there’s an emotional scene, it’s often swiftly followed by or cut abruptly short in favor of yet another ten-minute car chase followed by a zeppelin race. (Naturally it ends in a big explosion. Bonus “awesome” if the main character walks away slowly from it.)
Adding an action beat every five minutes just because “nothing exciting is happening” really shows you just how dim-witted and bottom-line oriented most of these studio executives really are (and how dumb they think we are). Generally within a film when the action parts don’t happen, the story is happening! You know, that thing that makes a film worth watching? The whole reason the film exists in the first place! You’re cutting out the story in favor of more explosions! These films have more explosions and bullets discharged in them then they do lines of dialogue! It’s a cyclical problem, assholes. You’re shortening attention spans by adding more action and then saying we need more action because of the shortened attention spans.
I’ll give you an example. Take any major big budget film (circa, now) – you meet a guy at the beginning. He’s what’s known as your protagonist. He’s not a very interesting guy, but we pretend he is, because we’re stuck spending the next two hours with him. He’s portrayed as an average guy. Stable home life, has a girlfriend, a decent job, maybe even a dog. He lives in a mansion even though the film says he’s supposed to be middle class. I don’t know any middle class people who live in mansions. Do you? In fact, his entire apartment is filled with any number of items that a copy editor would never be able to afford. But, I guess they were gifts from his rich uncle or something.
After we get to know this “average” guy, know his problems, know what his desires are, know what his life is like in a plain, superficial manner — we know he’s popular because he gives gunfingers to the people at work. We know he’s a loner because the one-night stand he went home with finds herself alone in bed the next morning. We know he dreams of something bigger because of the exotic travel magazines sitting on his desk in extreme close-up), his life suddenly changes in the blink of an eye. Blink. He probably finds out he’s an assassin or is supposed to save the world. You know, middle class problems. Now he has something he has to do. This is what’s known as a “inciting incident.” It’s the event that will lead to him going on whatever adventure is in store for him and also will lead to (allegedly. The waters have been getting a bit murky on this one in recent years. I guess it’s because of the body counts) some major revelation about himself that he’ll discover before the journey is complete. Usually (in good movies), the inciting event has something to do with an aspect of the character’s personality (as do all of the plot developments in the film), and is caused by some action he did or did not take that is different than one he’d normally perform. But now it’s usually that he goes on the adventure because — well, that’s what people in this situation do. (Perhaps that’s the answer to all this. Things happen now because that’s what convention dictates, rather than unfolding as a natural progression. But, you know, we’ll trudge on, because, hey, I didn’t put in all this fucking work for nothing. Or maybe I did…)
So now the protagonist is on his way (he don’t know where he’s going), doing whatever it is he’s set out to do (takin’ his time but he don’t know where). He meets some other people (Rosie, the Queen of Corona), who tell him things and help him out a bit. Maybe some of them even join him on his journey because they have similar goals (“My name is Indigo Montoya…”), goals that either are an offshoot to his or overlap enough to where they can travel together until one of them completes their journey and bids the other a heartfelt goodbye. Normally in these situations, when characters interact with one another on a journey, you learn something about them. You learn more information than you knew before, which in turn makes their journey all the more interesting. Just knowing that this person is along for the ride isn’t enough. If we find out they’re along for the ride because the villain’s primary henchman killed their father, we’re more interested in seeing them achieve vengeance. Empathizing with the characters is what binds the audience to them on the journey. Otherwise, why bother taking the journey if the character has nothing to change, and is only doing it because that’s the way the movie’s supposed to work?
In today’s films, what you get is, any time the action subsides long enough for the characters to actually go from being emotionless killing machines to real people, the studios step in like a fat guy from Brooklyn at an opera and shout, “Boring!”, and suddenly some asshole with a gun shows up and we have a pointless shootout for no reason. And all we end up learning about the characters is that they can drive a car evasively and shoot a gun with enough accuracy to kill their pursuers with one bullet. Which, in the universe of big-budget filmmaking, everyone so obviously knows how to do that it should just be assumed that everyone is a trained marksman who can drive like a professional getaway driver. Even the soccer moms.
In today’s films, all the studios think you need to know a character is that they can shoot others and overcome every obstacle in their way. Because it’s not about who they are as people, but the fact that they can get out of action scenes and move forward to the end when they kill the bad guy. They aren’t people. They’re plot devices pretending to be people. The only way the studios are making three-dimensional characters is with the use of special cameras and big glasses and stuff. That’s not a way to make your characters more interesting, it’s a way to mask your inability to accept your own failures.
The ultimate point I’m making with this is that, in today’s films, the studios, blinded by the dollar signs that have been forever emblazoned in their irises, have ignored any conventional rules of storytelling, good filmmaking, or even respect for their audiences. They believe the only way a film can play is by a formula and won’t even try to let it stand on its own two feet. The only time you see something interesting is when established filmmakers make something. Other than that, you’ll see a film that’s not at a breakneck pace, and all of a sudden, you’ll know the studio went, “Needs more action,” because, out of nowhere, there’s a chase scene. And all because some idiot in the theater with a comment card and attention deficit disorder said he wanted “More shooty shooty and boomy boom.” And to top it off the studio then cuts an important monologue in which the villain explains his motivations, in favor of a few extra money shots (because we can’t have it be more than two hours. Audiences fall asleep after two.), making the film completely devoid of any logic, which the studios figure, “Meh, the action makes up for it.” Because we really needed that extra ten-minute gun battle through the burn ward at the children’s hospital.
And the audiences today are so complacent and willing to accept anything that they just sit there and take it. They come out of the film, going, “It was awesome!” meanwhile the whole film was a series of characters walking away from explosions and the only dialogue spoken was explanations of what was happening on-screen and sarcastic comments meant to be badass “action lines.” And they don’t care because they’ll accept anything. Meanwhile the film actually had a character named Nike, who was nothing more than a giant floating check mark who walked around saying, “Just Do It” all the time. Instead of taking the studios to task for this, everyone just sort shrugs and lets it go, as they move on to the next theater, where the next film is about to start. It’s fucking pathetic.
It’s not like this stuff is ever going to end, and it would be pointless for me to make an argument to try to get it to. And let’s face it, as a filmgoer, I’m just as — okay, less stupid, most of the time – but just as willing to accept a certain amount of stupidity in my movies (you have to. Otherwise you can never fully appreciate the brilliance behind a Nicolas Cage film), and some of these blockbusters that take certain liberties with the audience’s time and intelligence can be forgiven as long as the studio maintains a little dignity in doing so. It’s like football. You can play a little dirty here and there – it’s part of the game – but just don’t blatantly grab the facemask and push someone to the ground and call it sportsmanship. You know? Going back to that shithead child analogy, it would be like if, because they’re six, and you’re like, twenty, you let them shoot a free throw a couple steps closer to the hoop because they don’t have the arm strength to shoot from regular distance. But then after you let them do that, they say they’re not gonna dribble anymore and every basket they make counts as twice its normal amount and if you block their shots they automatically get the ball back. How long before you want to beat the shit out of that child? So what I’m doing here is just giving the studios a little slap to show them, “Hey, what the fuck?”
Now, it doesn’t matter what I think, the studios aren’t going to give a shit. As they shouldn’t. The only place you can really hurt the studios is at the box office. Which is why I pray to America every week to not go see the shitty movies and give the studios the box office they assume they’re going to get unless the film really deserves it. My goal with this review is for people who go to the movies to read it and to remember the stuff I’m saying. All it takes is for a few people to notice the things I’m pointing out and see how pervasive they are within films and how annoying and unnecessary they are. And if they start point it out to others, maybe, little by little, people will start holding these studios accountable for the shit they keep piling onto us. It seems to be happening without my two cents – the box office for this year is down some obscene amount compared to last year, and only one weekend has grossed more than the corresponding weekend last year. So clearly people are responding to the shit by not going to the movies as often as they would. Which is good. The studios are now held accountable for the shitty movies they dump in January and February. They’re still going to make the money and push all the shit in the summer movies, which is where I’m focusing my attention. Everyone else is raiding one house, I’m setting up next door, just hoping the sentiment carries over to this area as well – but it certainly doesn’t hurt to make one’s opinions known. Especially since – do you really not mind having advertising shoved down your throat in the most blatant of blatant manners?
Allowing small amounts of product placement has become accepted in this society. We all know it’s going to happen whether we want it to or not, but the agreement we have is that as long as studios are respectful about it and don’t shove it in our faces, we’ll let it slide. It’s like the pigeons. There’s an agreement. But when you have a film where the logo for a product is not only plastered on screen in Mega 3D close up (patent pending), but the main character even mentions the product on-screen, something is definitely wrong.
Studios have taken so many liberties with the viewing public that I find myself unable to stay quiet and accept it anymore. I’m going to demonstrate my argument by doing a moment by moment analysis of the movie Tron: Legacy. Before anyone gets down in legs, let me remind you that I liked the movie. I enjoyed all the pretty colors. The soundtrack was the best I heard from last year (True Grit being a very close second). I liked, for the most part, how it continued the Tron legacy. Pun ridiculously intended. There were story elements I disagreed with, but ultimately those were the studio’s decision and that’s that.
That said, the amount of anal fissure-inducing product placement and fucking terrible, studio-forced “moments” in the film, designed to appeal to as many people as possible are fucking disgraceful. It reminded me why I hate mega-budget studio filmmaking (not to be confused with big-budget studio filmmaking. And what’s worse – Disney mega-budget studio filmmaking). For all the things we let them get away with, I realized, they were taking such brazen liberties with my intelligence that it was like I was being treated like Randle P. McMurphy, post-lobotomy. I found myself mad as hell unable to take it anymore and told myself I needed to point out the obvious, just to see if everyone else was either too stupid to notice, or if they all saw what I saw and were just too complacent to say anything. (And again, just saying, “Well, that’s how it is,” is too easy and ignores the problem. Obviously nothing’s going to change, but, can we all just agree that it’s happening?)
I decided to use Tron: Legacy as my point of analysis, because, like I said, I enjoyed the film. Choosing a film I enjoyed would keep my tremendous desire to shit all over bad films in check. Instead of spending two hours berating how awful the film is, I’m able to restrain myself from pointing out all of the unnecessary elements the movie has for no reason and which piss me off to no end. And I can even step back more than once or twice to be like, “Honestly, the movie does a good job here.” In a truly, bad movie, you’re lucky if you get more than two of those. Tron actually has several long chunks of time that I have absolutely no problem with aside from a little thing here and there (which is really what this article is about anyway).
The parts I’m going to be talking about are the ones where — as I’ve made you painfully aware of — the details are so minor as to almost go unnoticed. And these are details that, ultimately, hurt the film. They’re moments so unnecessary that, were they left out, I’m not joking when I say you wouldn’t notice them at all. And yet, the fact that they’re there is like the six year old — just, needling you every few minutes. Making you wonder why they can’t just stop and make this a peaceful ride for everyone.
So that’s the introduction. Tomorrow I’ll get into analysis of the film itself. The fun part. It helps if you actually watch the film before reading my analysis. I think. I guess we’ll treat it like a film class. Only I won’t give you shit to watch for beforehand. I’ll just let you watch it, pick up what you will, then I’ll talk about what I have to talk about. And the great thing is, I bet when you read my analysis, you’ll remember almost all of the moments I’m talking about. And that’s the point.
CONTINUED TOMORROW, IN PART II.