|Nervous About Julian Assange? So Is Kevin Flynn.
||[23 Dec 2010|03:31am]
This is going to be a very long post about Tron. It's not a movie review; there have been plenty of those, and anyway everybody already knows what I thought of Tron: Legacy (hint: I really, really, really liked it). Instead, this post is about how the differences between the two Tron movies reflect the changing nature of our societal relationship to technology, and occasionally about some drawings I did and some pictures I found of the aircraft in the movie. If that doesn't keep you entertained, then I really can't help you.
Many adjectives occurred to me while I was watching this movie: beautiful, surreal, fantastic, convoluted. But afterwards the one that truly struck me was, strangely enough, "mature." Tron: Legacy feels mature. I submit that the first Tron represented a joyous, mischievous attitude towards technology, one of eager discovery and the expectation of infinite promise, while Legacy wrestles instead with questions of right, responsibility, and creation. The original Tron was made in the early eighties, when this computer thing was just starting to take off and it seemed like we were perched on the brink of something incredible. Which we were. And now we are, if not there, certainly much farther along. Hence, Legacy reflects where we stand today: thoughtful, somewhat uncertain, in a position of both unexpected power and unexpected responsibility. We are at the point where it stops being a game; just the fact that it wrestles with any questions at all represents a serious departure from the light-hearted original. Legacy's difference is right there in the name: it's about a legacy, about something passed on rather than something discovered. What, in our enthusiastic plunge into the digital world, are we going to leave the future? What did we inherit, and where is all this going?
Tron was one of the first movies to feature computer animation, intercutting purely CG sequences with live action footage. Legacy is roughly the seven hundred and third movie to do so. But unlike most of the current crop of CG stunners, Legacy doesn't visually posture or pose. I imagine nearly every CG technique possible makes an appearance in there somewhere, but there is no parading about, no moments designed to smack you in the face. Unlike Avatar with its parade of massive visual spectacles, Legacy keeps its splendor muted and calm. Avatar was a flamboyant display of light and color, like a teenager's first joyride in his Dad's Corvette. Legacy has moved past that. It is restrained not out of necessity but by choice. It's closer in tone to Blade Runner, featuring the same sort of still, slow panoramas. Could there be more color, more light, more detail in the smooth black surfaces and simple bright lines of the grid? Yes, but it wouldn't be right. It wouldn't fit. The real beauty is in the unity of the finished piece, an expression of the aesthetic in all parts; a complete fulfillment of an artistic vision, unfettered by technological limitations. Yes, there is a CG Jeff Bridges, built with the same facial mapping techniques used in Avatar, but there's a reason for him to be there; only once or twice are the two Jeff Bridges even onscreen together. In fact, CLU's appearance is intentionally slightly false, purposefully dipping into the Uncanny Valley - he looks like a digital copy of a real person because he is a digital copy of a real person. There are a few action sequences - the first fight with Rinzler, the fight in End of Line - but by and large the movie has a surreal, dreamlike pace to it. The "freight train" looks like anything but, a gossamer solar sailer in a world without a sun. Even the most epic, beautiful sequence in the film, the light-jet duel near the end (during which I certifiably lost my shit) has a gliding, drifting quality to it; the attack jets buzz and flicker like dragonflies, while the transport craft carrying our heroes tips and slews with the grace of an albatross catching the wind. A considered steadiness runs through the whole affair.
The same happens with the music. Given Daft Punk's presence on the film, the first time (I think) an electronic or house act has been commissioned to do the entire score of a major film, I was expecting soundscapes of incredible complexity, massive set-piece spectacles of thundering bass and adrenaline-pumping lines - club techno writ large, taking wild advantage of every resource at Disney's disposal like the proverbial kids in the candy store. I wondered if people were going to dance to it in the movie theater. Instead the score is a model of tasteful restraint. The overture begins not with pounding bass but with the slow strings and horns familiar to any moviegoer, until it rises to the melody and a pure, resonant electronic tone echoes through the theater. The rest of the score continues this idea with a blend of classical orchestral scoring and electronic music. Only once, prompted (goaded?) by Zuse, do Daft Punk really let themselves go, unleashing the kickass track "Derezzed" over a duel between Quorra, Sam, and a pack of CLU's top security programs; a duel halted only when Kevin Flynn himself appears, in his dark and awesome majesty, and puts a stop to all this.
Kevin Flynn. Flynn was the central character of the first Tron, an impish maverick in a world ruled by code and logic. Flynn could disobey the rules of the computational world because he was a "user," a human being, and thereby free of its restrictions. He was driven not by any sense of duty or morality but rather by adventure, curiosity, and a little bit of revenge. He didn't enter the digital world on purpose but dropped in by accident, in the course of fighting to regain his rights to Encom, the massive computer corporation more-than-loosely based on Microsoft. His antagonist is the Master Control Program, the tyrannical AI created by Encom's CEO that rules the Grid. Flynn wasn't even the righteous hero - that fell to Tron, the security program created by Flynn's friend Alan, the responsible programmer who stayed behind when Flynn quit. Flynn's job was to get Tron to where he needed to go, cracking wise and marveling at the digital spectacle along the way. Flynn was a human being staring out over the edge of technological progress, suddenly made aware of the awesome potential of the computer. He captured the way an emerging digital society was beginning to think. What if all the little people inside those arcade games were real beings, with lives and thoughts and names? What if there was a whole other world inside the computer? What if computers could create a world? What if they could be alive?
After his experience in the original Tron, Flynn apparently kept the Grid a secret, spending several years clandestinely experimenting with creating a new one until he was trapped inside it. Legacy begins twenty-five years later in the outside world, a thousand years subjective time later on the inside. Kevin Flynn has matured, gone salt-and-pepper grey, mellowed into something closer to…well, to The Dude. Everyone has made the joke, but there's a ring of truth to it: isn't The Dude the true guru of the internet? A laid-back, generally good-natured slacker who inexplicably hangs around with assholes; one who can be roused to great anger, but who generally prefers to go bowling instead. Someone who likes to smoke a joint, have a drink, look at a pretty lady; but don't pee on his rug, or he will find you, and you will not think he is a threat and he will not look like one but damn if he just doesn't stop.
Flynn has acquired his newfound Zen over the course of his thousand-year exile, hunted by his own creation, CLU. CLU, or more precisely CLU 2.0, is the primary antagonist of Legacy. Late in the movie, we see a flashback to his creation, during Kevin Flynn's first excursions in the new Grid. Flynn goes out into the desert, under a darkened sky, and draws a mirror in the air. We see two men reflected, briefly, and then one stands, and then the other. Reflections. Splinters. That's how CLU is made. His first words are to ask for his directive; Flynn tells him, "To create the perfect world." I give the instructions; you carry them out. I am human; you are a program. Where's the line? Flynn can create and CLU can only destroy, but it's CLU who's told to make the world. In the first movie there was a wandering Bit, that pulsed into an octahedron for Yes and a stellated icosahedron for No. We could make a new Bit now, one that didn't look like a fugitive from a Maya tutorial, but Bit doesn't have a place in this kind of movie. Instead we see that Flynn and CLU each carry a totem: an icosahedron for Flynn, a sphere for CLU. Yes and No. Two sides of the same coin. Technology can only do what we tell it to; it can change, it can destroy, but it can't create. Flynn's first enemy was Master Control; now it's himself, his own belief in the ability to build a perfect world, reflected and made flesh.
The new Flynn is a man who realizes that he has responsibilities. Flynn is no longer the maverick outsider, the laughing Trickster. He's the god of the Grid, with all that that entails. He has spent the last millennium on the run from CLU, both to protect Quorra and to keep CLU from getting his hands on Flynn's disc, which contains among other things the master key that would allow CLU to escape the system, run the portal the other way and break out into the real world. Flynn is a god facing down his own creation, dealing with the consequences of his own hubris. Flynn is us, again, looking at the world we've made. Not to say that the joy is totally gone; Kevin Flynn is still Kevin Flynn. He breaks through from time to time with all the same mischievous joy he had in the original - the man who broke into Encom on a Saturday night just for kicks. Once he tells Sam with a grin, "You're messing with my Zen thing, man." But he is calmer, more thoughtful, more careful. "The old man's going to go knock on the sky and listen to the sound." He knows that this is all because of him, the good and the bad. When we see him in the early days of the Grid he's reckless, joking, laughing and talking with Tron like it's no big deal. Playing at creation. Until CLU makes it serious. This isn't a toy; maybe that's where it started, but it isn't any more. The internet, to use its own terminology, is serious business.
Twenty-eight years after Tron, we live in a sea of computers. Once there were islands of technological complexity; now we are immersed in it. The internet stores, shuttles, manipulates information on a scale utterly incomprehensible by human beings. We are dwarfed by our own technology. And no longer are we joyriding like Kevin Flynn, sailing exuberantly on the product of our own genius. Now we have to step back and consider, in the sober light of day, what we have done. We have to be responsible. Legacy is about that next step. In the first movie, Flynn thrills to the concept that he has somehow managed to get inside the computer. He jumps right into the struggle, fighting to break the MCP AI's control of the Grid and win his company back. But once he's done it, Legacy asks, what next? How do you rule this land? How do you shape this beautiful thing you have created? How do you keep everything from going horribly, horribly wrong? CLU's directive was to create a perfect world - the perfect world we thought technology would build for us. Is this world better than it was fifty years ago? In some ways yes; in some ways no. Personally, I like it better; some people don't. Mostly it's just different. Define "better." Define "perfect".
After I got out of the movie, my friends and I were still laughing over trying to figure out the plural of Jeff Bridges. Jeffs Bridges? Jeff Bridgeses? Jeff Bridgies? What's the protocol for that situation? We've never encountered it before. There are two Jeff Bridges. I couldn't stop thinking about that while I waited for my new copy of the soundtrack to download. Then I thought about what I was doing: purchasing a digital piece of music using a virtual currency only a few minutes after having decided to buy it, while one of my friends played a game on the handheld equivalent of a Playstation 2 and the other watched an episode of a television show that had originally aired in England six years ago. Later that night we would decide to watch The Big Lebowski at 1 in the morning, and download it from a Netflix server directly to the TV, just like that.
You guys, I said. We are living in the future.
|11 Demands for Discovery
||[01 Sep 2010|06:12pm]
Let me start out by saying that I am an awful, awful person. When I first heard news of the hostage incident at Discovery Channel headquarters, my first thoughts were, in order: 1) "Wow, that's terrible," 2) "I sure hope Staudt wasn't anywhere near that," (followed by remembering Staudt is a bastard who is in Chicago and not here hanging out with me) 3) "What an idiot. He should have pulled this shit during Shark Week," and 4) "I wonder who could possibly have a beef with the Discovery Channel? They air Mythbusters!"
Then I went and read the fellow's list of demands, or at least what everyone has assumed are his list of demands, since they were posted a few weeks ago on his website (of course he has a website.) And then I became an even more awful person, because I just could not stop laughing. This is the funniest list of demands I've ever read.
( Here are some choice passagesCollapse )
So that's what Mr. Lee thinks of the Discovery Channel. Obviously, he's a crazy man, and even if he weren't these demands are absurd. Fixing unemployment, housing, global warming, pollution, overpopulation, immigration, and probably the sunspot cycle too are a bit outside of the Discovery Channel's purview. But that got me thinking: what would be reasonable demands? If I had complete control of the Discovery Channel, what changes would I make?
( Thus I have compiled Illix's List of 11 Eminently Reasonable Demands For The Discovery NetworksCollapse )
Those are my demands, Discovery Channel. You have one week to...probably ignore them all. But at least my voice has been heard.
Addendum: I have since discovered that the fellow I hate on so much in item 10 is actually Thom Beers, producer of Deadliest Catch. So you can keep him, but he's not allowed to narrate anything anymore, and he needs to stop trying to make other "dangerous occupation" shows like Ice Road Truckers and Swords and Lobstermen and all that crap. You will never make a show as awesome as Deadliest Catch, because none of those other shows have the same sense of adventure, isolation, and danger. Just...just stop.
||[24 May 2010|09:53pm]
Set me aflame and cast me free,
Away, you wretched world of tethers.
Through the endless night and day
I have never wanted more.
Always thought that I would stand
Before the faceless name of Justice
Like some law unto myself,
Like a child of god again.
And if rain brings winds of change, let it rain on us forever;
I have no doubt from what I've seen that I have never wanted more.
With this line I mark the past, as a symbol of beginning;
I have no doubt from what I've seen
That I have never wanted more.
There's a little switch on HAL, my iPhone, that puts it into "airplane mode." It turns off all the internal transmitters so that you can still use applications and play music when you're on a plane. I think about that sometimes, about hitting that little switch and entering radio silence. About cutting off communication.
So: what just happened?
( Let's do this as a Q&A, I think.Collapse )
|On winter's barren shores we sit / and sing of better days
||[20 Nov 2006|05:11pm]
I have no need of greenery
the blue sky is enough for me
the ruddy shore, the silent sea
the last great grey infinity
I have no need of company
the stormclouds are enough for me
the lightning strike, the golden sea
the first bright live infinity
I have no need of misery
the horizon is enough for me
the thin clear rim, the glassy sea
the center of infinity
I have no need of sorcery
the shadows are enough for me
the shifting sand, the waking sea
the heart of dark infinity
I have no need of mystery
I stand before infinity.
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