Maps to the Stars
David Cronenberg's film of Bruce Wagner's Hollywood satire-nightmare turns ludicrous situations into operatic tragedy.
Scout Tafoya's video essay series "The Unloved' continues with a piece on "Tron: Legacy". To say that critical consensus has yet to swing around on this film would be an understatement. When it came out in 2010, it was widely dismissed as a ridiculously delayed and altogether unnecessary sequel to a box-office bomb (Steven Lisberger's "Tron," released in 1982) that was fondly remembered by few.
One of the hardy champions was Roger Ebert, whose four-star rave prompted more than a few raised eyebrows. Aside from its then-groundbreaking computerized vistas—most of which were achieved through old-fashioned analog special effects, and on 35mm film no less—"Tron" was a dud as classically-styled storytelling, especially when you compared it to the other big sci-fi offerings that summer, "E.T.," "Blade Runner," "The Thing" and "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan."
And yet, if you can set the original film's nearly nonexistent dramaturgy aside (perhaps by deciding that if it didn't care about such things, we shouldn't either), there's much in it to celebrate. Roger was right to praise its visual boldness. The film was a sustained daydream, sometimes a nightmare. It immersed viewers in an alternate universe comprised (like the titular universe in "The Matrix") of ones and zeroes, until its "reality" became, simply, reality. Lisberger's approach now seems eerily ahead-of-the-curve. Few 1982 critics understood what he was trying to do. Roger was one. "The movie addresses itself without apology to the computer generation, embracing the imagery of those arcade video games that parents fear are rotting the minds of their children," he wrote.
Joseph Kosinski's follow up is made in the same spirit, but there's 28 years more technological evolution to chew over. Kosinski addresses it all as Lisberger did: too bluntly in dialogue, but eloquently via picture and sound, with newer, more supple tools. "Tron: Legacy" captures the buzzing trance of early 21st century consciousness, with its nonstop waves of electronic stimuli eroding the shores of concentration. It's "the Internet actualized," Scout says; "a litany of nonstop emphasis" that is "all surface." The movie "looks into a future where, thanks to motion picture technology, flesh becomes virtual, allowing the vicarious enjoyment of any dream or nightmare we can choose." — Matt Zoller Seitz
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