Reviewing the Legacy

 

Tron: Legacy is a fast paced special effects ride through a literal computer generated landscape.  The plot picks up about 27 years after the original Tron ended.  Kevin Flynn disappeared 7 years after his original adventure leaving his son Sam Flynn as an orphan.  Sam, now an adult, doesn’t have much that he cares about in his life and is little more than a rich prankster.  Out of the blue he is called to his father’s old video arcade by a mysterious page and is quickly trapped inside the computerized world that his father created.  There he participates in deadly games and must help to free his father from his runaway creation, Clu, who has become a virtual dictator on the grid.

The strongest points of Tron: Legacy are without a doubt the special effects and the music, which are consistent throughout the film.  The special effects sell themselves and are worth the price of admission alone.  While some may feel that they are too flashy and that it’s hard to see what’s going on I thought that they were crisp and clean and worked very well.  The soundtrack, performed by Daft Punk, also helps to set the scene and develops a transcendent atmosphere.

The character devleopment and the acting are also fairly strong.  Jeff Bridges’ rendition of Kevin Flynn and his alter ego Clu are distinct and create depth and emotion in the characters.  The dichotomy between Flynn and his created program Clu is the single best plot point of the movie and it is acted very well.  Clu was originally created by Flynn to help him create a perfect world, but the search for perfection eventually consumed him and he rebelled against his creator.  Flynn’s search for redemption for his sin of pride is a major theme of the movie.  The other main characters, the independent program Quorra and Flynn’s son Sam, are also both portrayed fairly well especially when you consider that the majority of their acting was done surrounded by green screens.

Where Tron: Legacy fails the most is in realizing its potential for a great plot.  Alan, Flynn’s friend and the creator of Tron, tells Sam: “He (Flynn) said he was about to change everything…science, medicene, religion.  He wouldn’t have left all that.”  The implication is that the digital world that Flynn created somehow has real world implications that will literally change how we see and live in the world.  This sounds very compelling, but it is not really supported throughout the movie.  There are occasional lines that point to religious or spiritual ideas, but they are not really followed up.  For instance, Flynn talks to his son Sam about the importance of doing nothing and waiting, and while he is not a complete hypocrite as his hand is forced, shortly after he says this he proceeds to do quite a lot.  The other big religious implication is the development of the Isos.  The Isos are independent programs that emerged or evolved inside Flynn’s world without Flynn’s direct guidance.  They are literally a new form of life.   This is truly an amazing idea, but unfortunately it is not explored and is little more than a throw away line to provide a back story.  What made the Isos so unique?  Where did they come from?  Unfortunately these questions are not answered, but the good thing about Tron: Legacy is that the action is quick and engaging and the audience doesn’t dwell on these questions for too long.

Despite its lack of a solid plot or any 3 dimensional ideas it is a fun movie and worth watching, especially in 3D.
2.5 out of 4 stars!

– Kevin

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Kevin’s Top 50 Sci-fi Movies

Despite the biased nature of this list I tried to primarily include groundbreaking films that changed the industry and had a strong moral or thought provoking point.

15. The Fifth Element, 1997 (PG-13):  Space Opera with an actual opera scene in space.  The fifth element is love, which shines in the night and pushes back the darkness.  Overall, it was a fun look at the future.

Priest Vito Cornelius: “Because it is evil, absolutely evil.”
President Lindberg: “One more reason to shoot first.”
Priest Vito Cornelius: “Evil begets evil, Mr. President. Shooting will only make it stronger.”

14. Bicentennial Man, 1999 (PG):  A fascinating movie that despite some pacing and scripting issues deeply explores what it means to be human and to become human.  Also based on an Asimov short story.

Andrew Martin: “In a sense I have. I am growing old, my body is deteriorating, and like all of you, will eventually cease to function. As a robot, I could have lived forever. But I tell you all today, I would rather die a man, than live for all eternity a machine.”

President Marjorie Bota: “Why do you want this?”

Andrew Martin: “To be acknowledged for who and what I am, no more, no less. Not for acclaim, not for approval, but, the simple truth of that recognition. This has been the elemental drive of my existence, and it must be achieved, if I am to live or die with dignity.”

13. The Abyss, 1989 (PG-13):  A film with everything.  Complex characters, special effects, and exploration of the final frontier: the oceans.  At first it seems like it’s a run of the mill action/disaster movie, but it quickly gets much deeper in more ways than one.  Lessons learned: nitrogen bubbles in your blood can make you crazy, and deep water oil drilling is dangerous…too late.

Lindsey Brigman: So, raise your hand if you thought that was a Russian water tentacle.

12. Alien, 1979 (R):  A true classic of both horror and sci-fi.  It explores our deepest fears  about the unknown both within (literally) and without.  It also contains many classic scenes and characters and in my opinion this movie holds up and is one of the least dated of almost any other movie from this time period.  “In space no one can hear you scream.”

Ripley: “Ash, that transmission… Mother’s deciphered part of it. It doesn’t look like an S.O.S.”
Ash: “What is it, then?”
Ripley: “Well, I… it looks like a warning. I’m gonna go out after them.”
Ash: “What’s the point? I mean by the, the time it takes to get there, you’ll… they’ll know if it’s a warning or not, yes?”

11. The Empire Strikes Back, 1980 (PG): Far and above the best of the Star Wars movies.  This has it all from romance to lightsaber duals.  I still remember the moment where Darth Vader reveals the nature of his relationship to Luke.  What sets this movie far and above the rest of the saga is really the depth of the story and the character development that all of the characters go through.

Yoda: “Stopped they must be; on this all depends. Only a fully trained Jedi Knight, with the Force as his ally, will conquer Vader and his Emperor. If you end your training now – if you choose the quick and easy path as Vader did – you will become an agent of evil.”

10. Children of Men, 2006 (R): A more recent movie that explores an apocalyptic future where hope takes the form of a baby, the first baby to be conceived in over 18 years.

Theodore Faron: “I can’t really remember when I last had any hope, and I certainly can’t remember when anyone else did either. Because really, since women stopped being able to have babies, what’s left to hope for?”

9. Pandorum, 2009 (R): An amazing exploration of the depths of space and the depths of the human soul.  It also takes an interesting look at what happens when man plays god.

Payton: “I can’t remember any of my life before this flight began.”

8. The Fountain, 2006 (R): Directed by Darren Aronofsky The Fountain explores life, death, and rebirth in three different time periods.  Throughout the narrative it jumps from a Spanish conquistador in 1500, to a scientist in 2000, to an astronaut in 2500 all exploring the purpose of life and death.  The cinematography is also beautiful and breathtaking along with the story.

Tom Creo: “Death is a disease, it’s like any other. And there’s a cure. A cure – and I will find it.”

7. Akira, 1987 (R): An animated film about a post-apocalyptic Tokyo where the government is developing psychic children to be used as weapons.  Some of the children are immensely powerful and quickly escape the bounds of their program wrecking havoc in the city.  Akira also largely brought Japanese anime to the US in the ’90s.

Kiyoko: “The future is not a straight line. It is filled with many crossroads. There must be a future that we can choose for ourselves.”

6. Primer, 2004 (PG-13): A scientifically sound and very complex movie that was released in only a few theaters but is definitely one to catch on DVD.  It involves two part time inventors who invent a time machine that allows them to travel back in time six hours repeating a part of each day.

Aaron: “You got anything to eat? I haven’t eaten anything since later this afternoon.”

5. Forbidden Planet, 1956: The oldest on my list and a true classic.  Based partly on Shakespeare’s The Tempest this groundbreaking film takes place on an alien world with Robby the robot, a human crew in a flying saucer, and a real monster from the Id.

Commander John J. Adams: Alta, about a million years from now the human race will have crawled up to where the Krell stood in their great moment of triumph and tragedy. And your father’s name will shine again like a beacon in the galaxy. It’s true, it will remind us that we are, after all, not God.

4. Gattaca, 1997 (PG-13): A man classified as flawed due to his genetic makeup fights the system and tries to make more of himself than people expect from him.  There is no gene for the human spirit.

Vincent: You want to know how I did it? This is how I did it, Anton: I never saved anything for the swim back.

Vincent: For someone who was never meant for this world, I must confess I’m suddenly having a hard time leaving it. Of course, they say every atom in our bodies was once part of a star. Maybe I’m not leaving… maybe I’m going home.

3. Blade Runner, 1982 (R): Deckard, a blade runner, must hunt down 6 violent replicants (androids) in this thought provoking sci-fi thriller loosely based on a Philip K. Dick short story and directed by Ridley Scott.  Blade Runner was truly groundbreaking combining cyberpunk with film noir and many other influences.  Besides its significance to the genre and to the history of film in general it is also a great movie in its own right exploring artificial life and the nature of what it means to be human.

Deckard: “She doesn’t know.”
Tyrell: “She’s beginning to suspect, I think.”
Deckard: “Suspect? How can it not know what it is?”

2. 2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968 (G): Mankind finds a mysterious, obviously artificial, artifact buried on the moon and, with the intelligent computer HAL, sets off on a quest to find their destiny.

Dave Bowman: “Hello, HAL. Do you read me, HAL?”
HAL: “Affirmative, Dave. I read you.”
Dave Bowman: “Open the pod bay doors, HAL.”
HAL: “I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.”
Dave Bowman: “What’s the problem?”
HAL: “I think you know what the problem is just as well as I do.”

1. The Matrix, 1999 (R): I still remember the shock when I realized what the Matrix truly was.  This movie has great action, writing, and special effects and it delves into many deep ideas touching on many aspects of our lives.  In many ways the essential question of the matrix is the question that we must answer every day:  Do we take the blue pill and stay in a false world, or do we take the red pill and see just how deep the rabbit hole goes?

Morpheus: “The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us. Even now, in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work… when you go to church… when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.”

Neo:”What truth?”

Morpheus: “That you are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else you were born into bondage. Into a prison that you cannot taste or see or touch. A prison for your mind.”

One Small Step…

To begin the first of many posts on the development of technology we will travel back in time to the very first days of humanity.  In fact, we might just go a little bit further.  In 1968, the year before the moon landing, Stanley Kubrick and Arther C. Clarke created the iconic film 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The beginning of the film features over 3 minutes of a black screen with atmospheric music that eventually overwhelms the viewer (quite an experience in a movie theater as I always just fast-forwarded at home without realizing the movie had started.)  Suddenly the image cuts to the moon, earth, and sun in perfect alignment.  It’s quite a moment of creation suddenly switching from a screen devoid of light to our entire local universe of earth, moon, and sun.  Coincidentally as I write these words we are having a solar eclipse, which unfortunately is not visible from the northern hemisphere, but is still very exciting.

The Ultimate Tool

Next we watch a tribe of apes, who seem strangely human, forage for food.  They are beset upon by a leopard and then an aggressive neighboring tribe and seem on the verge of being wiped out when suddenly the Monolith appears the next morning.  After spending time with the Monolith one member realizes his ability to use an old discarded thigh bone as a club…using a tool to manipulate his environment.  Soon afterwards he teaches this new skill to his tribe and they come to dominate the area using their new technology of bone tools.

Let me show you this new tool

While this depiction of the first tool use among humanity’s ancestors is purely fictionalized, and the myth of man as tool maker has been debunked with numerous examples of animal tool use, I do think that it shows an important connection.  It was not simply having a hand that allowed the ape to use the tool.  A cognitive development in his mind allowed him to realize the potential he had in manipulating his environment.  Two previously unlinked parts of his brain connected and concept consciously became reality.  When our ancestors picked up their first tools of bone, stone, and wood, and perhaps other materials that did not survive the ages, it truly was a revolution of the mind and a defining moment in history.  These first technologies allowed our ancestors to gather and hunt more food, to protect themselves, and eventually to build ever more complex tools taking more and more control of their environments.

In the biblical story of creation I think it is worth mentioning that tools were first indirectly mentioned just after the Fall.  In the Garden of Eden there was no need for tools, but soon after eating the Fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil Adam and Eve: “knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves” and after the LORD God had discovered them He “sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. (GEN 3:7, 23).

Why did we eat the fruit?

While this is pretty advanced technology compared to the bone club of 2001 I think it highlights a potential link between fallen humanity and the need/use of technology.  The world we live in is far from perfect and the vast majority of us depend on multiple technologies for our survival and comfort.  However, I would also argue that many of us in the modern world, in addition to using technology to survive, in some way see technological development as an effort to return to paradise.  This is paradoxical because the Garden of Eden was a place devoid of technology, and yet we are trying to recreate it by using technology.  I am not saying that technology is evil by any means, but I think this begs many interesting questions.

To further highlight that link lets go back to 2001. After the apes devastate the neighboring tribe using their new bone weapons their leader, Moon-Watcher, tosses his bone club into the air and the film cuts to an image of an orbiting nuclear weapons platform matching it to the movement of the bone.  This perfectly juxtaposes the strong link between tools and weapons, and technological advances and war.  Most technological developments, even if meant to aid humanity as a whole, are used to instead bolster a specific group’s interests.  Of course technology is also hard to keep secret and the use of bone clubs, clothing, fire and other developments would have spread quickly among prehistoric man.

Once we began using tools, for good or bad we could no longer view ourselves as simply a part of nature; instead we began slowly at first and ever faster to manipulate and control our environment.  From the first bone tools to the most advanced rockets and computers humanity began its long journey with, as always, one small step…

One Small Step...

-Kevin

Review of District 9: Becoming the Other

District 9 is a science fiction thriller released on August 14th, 2009.  It is unique in many ways including the cinematography style that was used, which mixed a realistic documentary style with over the top action, and the way it incorporated powerful themes such as seeing the other as ourselves, xenophobia, historic analogies with Apartheid, and international corporations replacing governments among others.  This review will contain a few spoilers so if you have not seen the movie you may want to see it before finishing this.  Suffice it to say that I recommend this film highly and although it is far from perfect it strongly challenges our assumptions about the world and ourselves.  It is a breath of fresh air in the recent history of science fiction films and hopefully it will inspire directors,  producers, and writers to create similar movies that force us to reflect upon ourselves and the future that we are creating.

The story begins with a space ship full of worker aliens, with no apparent leadership, that comes to hover above Johannesburg, South Africa.  Despite being able to hover miles above the ground the ship is otherwise disabled and inert.  Three months after the ship arrived humans make the next move breaking into the ship.  Inside they find thousands of aliens dieing of thirst and hunger and they relocate them to the surface in what will become District 9 inside the city of Johannesburg.  20 years pass and District 9 has quickly become a slum with all the crime and issues that impoverished areas are prone to such as drug trafficking, weapon and technology smuggling, and other problems.  At the same time the MNU (Multi National Union), a corporation with a large military force and a scientific research branch, has taken control of MNU and also failed to understand any of the aliens advanced technology, which is keyed to the aliens DNA.

The narrative follows Wikus van de Merwe who is a seemingly inept mid level manager at MNU.  He is put in charge of the forced relocation of the aliens from District 9 in Johannesburg to District 10 away from the city by his father-in-law who is in charge of MNU.  During the relocation as Wikus and hundreds of MNU mercenaries and bureaucrats gather signatures from the aliens legally permitting the MNU to move them Wikus in injured and comes into contact with a mysterious liquid.  That night after suffering a nose bleed with a black liquid coming out of his nose he discovers that his injured arm is changing into an alien arm as he heals.  He panics and is taken into custody by MNU where they plan to harvest his hybrid genes for their weapon programs.  He manages to escape and runs for District 9 where he hides from them.  At this point his previous immoral actions of lying to the aliens, and heartlessly destroying a nest of their eggs among other actions begin to come back to haunt him.  Over the course of the movie Wikus begins to understand the aliens as he slowly becomes more and more like them.  By the end of the film he has joined them in their resistance against the MNU and other human oppressors such as the Nigerian gangsters.  The ending of the film is hopeful but at the same time tinged with a realism that we cannot turn away from as we face the hope and the fear that are a part of our humanity.

One of the strongest symbols in the film is the obvious analogy to Apartheid in South Africa.  District 9 is a direct comparison to the real Distract 6 in Cape Town, which was declared a “whites only” zone forcing non-Europeans to relocate to another area sometimes leaving homes they had lived in for generations.  District 9 shows us in stark relief how difficult it is for humanity to learn from its past mistakes and how very easy it is to always fall into the same traps of hatred, fear, and oppression.  No matter the time or place we must always struggle with our fear of the “other” whether they are a different race, social class, or culture or if they are a completely different species.  We must be vigilant and follow the highest of God’s commandments of treating our neighbors as ourselves.  It is only then that we will begin to truly create God’s kingdom here on Earth.

The answer to the fear of the other in the film is to take on the perspective, literally in this case, of the other.  In one sense this is the classic tale of someone in the leadership falling from grace and becoming one of the oppressed.  Only then do they begin to understand the magnitude of their sin.  But in District 9 Wikus’ perspective is not changed by him simply falling out of favor, but in true sci-fi fashion, he is genetically altered and slowly becomes one of the aliens.  This is a drastic shift, but one that clearly shows how we can hope to gain understanding of the other by trying to take on their point of view and to see the world how they see it.  In addition to understanding his new neighbors by becoming like them Wikus also takes action in the end, after a rather steep learning curve, to help them repair their ship.  One last theme I’ll mention is the importance of family throughout the film.  Wikus repeatedly called his wife during his run from the MNU and was always trying to get back to her as he slowly lost his physical humanity.  Also Christopher, one of the leading alien characters, had a son who was very important to him and who was a pretty cute kid, from an alien perspective.  Both Wikus and Christopher place a high value on family values.  To juxtapose the importance of family and to strengthen Wikus’ sin in the beginning of the film one of the most difficult moments to sit through was when Wikus found an unlicensed nest of alien eggs and set them afire.  He explained to the television camera that the popping noises the eggs made as they exploded were just like popcorn.

The only major issue I had with the film was the extreme violence that ran though out it.  Especially in the last 20 or 30 minutes during the climax of the film all of the stops were pulled out and District 9 become a literal war zone with modern and alien weapons firing left and right.  The extreme violence, while it fit well with the documentary style of the film, was a bit of a turn off for me.  Above and beyond that however is how the climax felt.  It seemed to be a very different sort of movie as Wikus and Christopher ran through District 9 dodging bullets.  While it doesn’t break the movie it was a bit abrupt and seemed to take a step away from the thoughtfulness of the first part of the movie.

Overall, I think the movie was excellent and by showing Wikus becoming the “other” it delved into the depths of the human spirit showing the vast potential that is there but also the fear and the hopelessness that we have embraced in this world.  Like all great science fiction movies this film goes beyond the known world showing aliens and high technology, but ultimately shows us ourselves in this moment and offers us a choice about the type of future we want to create.

KEM