Category Archives: Movies

Tron: Legacy

[Contains spoilers.]

Dear Disney,

Having recently seen Tron: Legacy, I find myself with some questions, and I was hoping you could answer them.

Who was your target demographic for this film? “Guys” was a no-brainer, but what age range? I’ve been trying to figure it out, but the clues go in all directions. Legacy, the title of the movie itself, sounds like a topic for us middle-aged and older viewers, the ones likely to remember Tron. What kind of world have we shaped, how will our kids remember us—you touched on those questions if only briefly. Although Sam Flynn has all the spiffy action scenes and gets the girl, Kevin Flynn haunts the movie well before his reappearance and what plot there is really does center on him and the results of his deeds and decisions all those years ago: a son, an evil alter-ego, a virtual world he helped create—all of it boiling down to Kevin’s identity disk, the sum total of who he is on The Grid and the key to victory for whoever can claim it. But then again, Sam Flynn is 27, he’s presumably the protagonist, and he’s being paired up with a woman who is whatever the computer equivalent is of 20-something. They’re supposed to be the characters the younger members of the audience identify with, right? The whole bit with sexy women in skintight bodysuits doesn’t tell me anything; they’re designed to appeal to any straight man who’s made it past puberty.

Overall, I’m a bit lost as to why you made a sequel to a movie that’s almost thirty years old and then were a bit stingy with the backstory. Based on a completely non-scientific random sampling of WordPress blogs, I could say that most people hadn’t seen Tron. For those people, the movie’s title won’t make a lot of sense, which isn’t an auspicious beginning. Even when we find out Tron’s fate, he ends up on the periphery of a movie that’s named after him. (Okay, he wasn’t the real star of the original film either, but he got significant screen time.) And despite my critical tone, folks, I do understand your dilemma. A program, like a dragon, may live forever, but not so little boys: Bruce Boxleitner has aged just as Jeff Bridges did. Using all the tricks of modern cinema to make one character look forever young could maybe slip by; doing it to two characters  would’ve been pushing it.

Also, why include Edward Dillinger? Seriously, only those of us who saw Tron will have any idea as to what his connection to ENCOM is, and there’s no description of his father despite the elder Dillinger’s key role in Tron. But then, having gone to all the trouble to create this character, you fail to use him beyond a few throwaway lines at the start of the film. Since you named the film Tron: Legacy, I can only assume that inheritance, father/son relationships, etc. are a theme you wished to explore. There were several directions you could go, what with having both Kevin Flynn’s son and Ed Dillinger’s son needing to come to terms with their fathers’ legacies. Having two sons to work with, you could have looked at different choices. And yet, you dodged the entire issue. It’s a option, yes, I’m just curious as to why you chose it.

Indeed, since a lot of the trouble with this movie is the rough transition between it and the original, why make a sequel at all? Why not remake Tron instead? Of course, remakes are a challenge in their own right. Some, like the current True Grit, earn great reviews but it’s true that many of them don’t. (I will itemize my complaints about Race to Witch Mountain under separate cover if I can ever bring myself to watch it again. But even then, the remake idea, however imperfectly realized, was still better than a thirty-years-delayed sequel to the two previous Witch Mountain films.)

I suppose what it all boils down to is this: why did you pour millions into special effects, salaries, promotion, and so on, and let it all go out with a less-than-stellar plot and writing? Certainly yours is not the only film I could ask this about; Avatar is an infamous example of this problem. I mean, wouldn’t good writing benefit you in the end? Does it cost more than bad writing, or something? See, I just saw your movie Tangled. I’m considering buying it when it comes out. Now overall, I think Avatar is much more impressive visually, but Tangled was the better-written movie. The thought of buying Avatar has never crossed my mind. Unfortunately for your bottom line, however minute that unfortune, I have no intentions of buying Tron: Legacy either. If it had had a plot to match its special effects, it might also be up for serious buying consideration. Just saying.

I went into Tron: Legacy with high expectations for the special effects, low expectations for the story itself, and that’s pretty much how it played out. I really did hope I’d like this movie more than I did, although I would’ve regretted not seeing it. Anyway, any light you can cast on these questions would be most appreciated. Thank you.

Sincerely,

Silvernfire

P.S. Thank you for eventually making it clear what the relationship was between Kevin Flynn and Quorra. I was having nasty thoughts that he’d created a little male-fantasy program to ease his loneliness through the years, and I never wanted to think of Flynn in that way. Nor did it seem like something normally associated with your brand. Clarifying their relationship did improve my opinion of the film.

P.P.S. No Yori? And you killed off Lora? That leaves Quorra and Gem as the only significant female characters in the movie, and calling Gem “significant” is pushing it.

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Tangled

[As with any discussion of a movie or book, there’s always the possibility that something I say might be considered a spoiler.]

I saw Tangled, Disney’s take on “Rapunzel,” a few days ago.  As it turns out, birthdays and aging help move the plot along, so it was entirely appropriate that I saw this movie on my birthday. It was the best kind of children’s movie: one that an adult can enjoy, and I noticed that I wasn’t the only woman in the audience unaccompanied by children. I didn’t see a male of any age in the audience. That’s not surprising, given the movie, but really, they’re missing out on something. And the movie got a PG rating. Wow. I didn’t know the Disney princess movies were allowed to get anything stronger than a G, although I think the end of the film was just fine the way it was and would’ve been insipid if it had been softened to G standards.

I suppose it’s the mark of a good film that you keep thinking about it after you’ve left the theatre. In my case, thinking about a film often leads to me analyzing it to the point of sounding like I hated seeing it. Not true. In the days after I saw Avatar, there was so little there beyond the (absolutely gorgeous) surface that there was nothing for me to think about at all. I thought Tangled was doing well in the beauty department as well. Oh sure, Rapunzel herself is pretty, but it’s other things, like how the flowers looked in her hair or the rough surface of the cast iron skillet or the sight of all the lanterns rising over the water, that left me thinking maybe I’ll buy this when it comes out on DVD. But anyway, as the days pass, a few points have come to mind about the film, probably none of which Disney intended me to think of.

The Penal Code

It’s a good thing Rapunzel went out, had her adventure, and learned a little about the nastier side of life. She’ll need that experience when she becomes queen years from now. After all, as we can infer from the film, this kingdom has a death penalty for theft and no guaranteed right to a trial, fair or otherwise. Presumably Flynn will be working to modify those laws. I know, I know—for drama’s sake, you need a threat to Flynn that children can understand instantly, and the prospect of a trial followed by several years of imprisonment is a little hard to convey symbolically. Nor can you have a hero who’s committed the sorts of crimes that often receive the death penalty: who wants to see Rapunzel fall in love with a murderer? Now despite the lack of constitutional protection, all the subjects appear reasonably happy and healthy, and the king and queen seem quite nice and not like power-crazed despots. But if Gothel had survived to see Rapunzel’s return to the kingdom, what would the penalty have been for kidnapping the heir apparent? Probably something that would’ve cost the film that PG rating.

Under Mother’s (and Father’s) Watchful Eye

Oddly, even though she was confined to a tower for the better part of eighteen years, Rapunzel may have been freer there than after she returned home. For whatever reason, it sounds like Gothel gave her a fairly well-rounded education and didn’t really care how she spent her days as long as it didn’t damage her hair and she didn’t leave the tower. Yet everything I’ve ever read suggests that the life of a princess is terribly constrained. She’d probably get to continue painting—and I’m guessing she won’t miss the housework—but what if she enjoyed cooking? And no more wild adventures! Only days after she’s laid eyes on a man and she’s fallen in love with one who happens to be on a ream’s worth of wanted posters . . . yes, that’ll reassure her parents no end. Gothel locked Rapunzel in a tower because she didn’t want to lose her personal fountain of youth, but after having lost their child for years, what are the chances that the king and queen will ever let her out of the castle without an armed guard ?

The Aging Dilemma

Admittedly, if you’ve just spent an entire film using the fear of aging as the villain’s primary motivation, then you probably want to depict aging as a scary thing. But would it have been so bad to make the queen look old enough to be her mother rather than her older sister? Yes, a delicate streak of white in her hair would probably have been too much to ask, although I think it could have worked as something to show that the queen—the good mother—wasn’t insanely terrified of what clearly pushed Gothel—the bad mother—over the edge. I suppose my seeing this on my birthday didn’t help matters. I figure the queen might be semi-close to me in age. I assure you, I do not look that young. Honestly, they didn’t have to make her look like a fairy godmother (what passes for a positive view of feminine aging in a Disney movie), just not like she was in her twenties.

Progress, yes, but . . .

[While I don’t think what I’m about to say contains major spoilers, if you haven’t seen Monsters vs. Aliens and you’re planning to, you might not want to read further. Do come back when you’ve seen it, though.]

I went to see Monsters vs. Aliens this morning. Understand, I didn’t go in expecting anything more than cheery animated action for 1½ hours, and that’s mostly what I got–in 3D, even. Unfortunately for my peace of mind, my mindless escapism has triggered observations and thoughts.

Now I admit to feeling a bit grumpy as the movie started. I’d just sat through a whole passel of previews. Some were intriguing, some weren’t (no way am I going to Land of the Lost, but Up has potential). One thing they had in common, though, was that they were about men and/or boys. If there was a woman in the movie, she was the love interest or a sidekick. Also, there was just one woman per movie. I’d seen one preview of Monsters vs. Aliens, enough to know that there was going to be one woman and a bunch of guys–and the fact that the woman was fifty feet tall and the guys weren’t human wasn’t really changing the situation. I probably wouldn’t have let this get to me except that I’m reading The Feminine Mystique right now, and I’m sensitized to these things.

But after a while, between the explosions and witty comments and things apparently flying out of the screen onto the audience, it finally sank in that Susan, the fifty-foot-tall woman, was the star of the show. The guys were the sidekicks. It was Susan who saved the day, Susan who figured out her fiancé wasn’t worth the effort, Susan who came to wonderful conclusions about how capable she was. Betty Friedan probably would’ve been ecstatic about this film, even if she wasn’t into sf.

And that’s the problem. The Feminine Mystique was first published in 1963, forty-six years ago. It shouldn’t be this relevant today, damn it. I should be able to take it for granted. I shouldn’t be stunned by seeing its themes in an sf film and marvelling at how rare that is. I’m thrilled that they were there, yes, but Monsters vs. Aliens isn’t likely to be a classic seen through the ages. Will other movies pick up on this? In all genres? When?

Oh, and Susan was the only main female character. Sigh.