Pop Culture Princess

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Monday, December 20, 2010

Tron: Legacy-a small step or a giant leap for video game movies?

It's not so shocking that Tron:Legacy made a nice little impact on the box office in it's debut weekend,taking in 43 million in the US alone. This is not the kind of film that's dependent on positive critical reviews(most of which were mixed at best) or big name stars,other than Jeff Bridges who reprises his role from the original movie in more ways than one.

The ultimate allure of Tron:Legacy(beside it's riveting Daft Punk soundtrack)is the fantasy of living in a video game world,where anything is possible. For some,that would be a dream come true but as this movie and it's nearly thirty year old predecessor point out,it can quickly turn into a far too real nightmare:

Video game themed films are a mostly maligned genre,for good reason some would say. The best known type of these flicks are the adaptations of popular name brand games that are more often than not live action cartoons in the worst sense of the term.

A few have managed to become financially if not artistic successes such as Lara Croft and Resident Evil(enough to spawn sequels at least)but nine times out of ten if you asked the average film fan/casual gamer for an example of a video game movie,the likes of Mortal Combat or Super Mario Bros. would be first on their list:

Tron:Legacy has a slight advantage over those films,due to it's 1980s origins. Movies that dealt with this genre back then tended to create fictional games for it's characters to interact with,such as War Games and even strictly for little kids adventure capers such as 1984's Cloak & Dagger.

Tie-in versions of the games were developed but with the emphasis of being more like the movie than the other way round. That allowed the screenplays for these films to use the regular set of tropes involving action,suspense and/or sci-fi in developing the story instead of implanting computer game movements for the actors to follow lock-step into for the camera.

A favorite film of mine from those days is The Last Starfighter,where an arcade style video game was used to recruit potential warriors for an intergalactic battle zone. The blend of "small town boy going up into the big leagues" with straightforward science fiction storytelling made TLS such an entertaining footnote to that time that the possibility of it getting a long after sequel such as Tron did could be a welcoming development indeed:

Something else that gives Tron:Legacy an edge here is the rise of the virtual reality genre,which has roots in film noir as well as The Sims. The doubting of the world in which the leading character feels trapped in,reasonably or not,has been expanded along with the technology,making this familiar film fear more relevant in our fast changing cultural mindset.

While many of the takes on this concept have ranged from standard B-movie fare to art house thrillers,the mainstream mold for virtual reality films that hasn't been broke yet is The Matrix. That film and it's follow-ups caused not only audiences but film critics as well to expect a solid story structure from this genre and others that can be connected to it:

The main critique of Tron:Legacy has been it's plot,which even those film folk who like it say that it's weak as an old computer program and about as creative.

Having not seen the movie for myself,I can't really claim a side but on the other hand,,maybe the real problem with merging the video game with film is that their true entertainment intents are at cross purposes here.

Movies,like books,are meant to tell a story that goes from A to Z,for the most part. A beginning,middle and end are what the majority of moviegoers and critics have come to expect as the basis for any film in any genre. Video games,however,are all about the journey not the end point.

Don't get me wrong,this is not meant as a slam. The main purpose of a video game is to give the player an excuse to develop their skills as they go along each level. No more and no less,which is why trying to translate this enterprise to film seems to be so difficult.

Most of the early arcade games simply had what they called a "killscreen" that signaled the last level of play. That notion has been somewhat modified within the video game realm but appears to be alive and well for it's silver screen counterparts. Whether or not Tron:Legacy heralds the way towards a new film frontier or simply takes it two steps back is debatable but perhaps the best way to look at a movie like this is to readjust your preset cinematic standards.

That is not intended as an excuse for sloppy film making at all but merely a reminder that these two entertainment venues put together are more like spicy nacho cheese and popcorn than peanut butter and jelly. There are two great tastes that some will rejoice in and others will automatically revile. If we can just agree on that,maybe the video game movie killscreen will be an easier hurdle to jump over:

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