For some reason, NPR contributing film critic Mark Jenkins saw fit to not simply review "Tron: Legacy," but to "sark" all over it and its fans. Jenkins opens with the (tee-hee) clever quip, "In Scandinavian countries, it was once common to bury a fish until it rotted, then dig it up and eat it," and closes by comparing the original "Tron" to "Howard the Duck." He also claims the 1982 CGI breakthrough movie probably never got a sequel until now because "nobody wanted it."
I just love people who make a living by "meh"-ing like an oversized muppet at anything that they don't personally find scintillating or, even worse, "meep, meep, meep"-ing about something they find hysterical because it's not funny at all. I'm talking about inexplicably popular phenomena like Dane Cook, "Tim & Eric Awesome Show, Great Job," "Jackass," The Dan Band, etc. (Again, a post for another time.) Here's Jenkins' story.
Mark Jenkins' NPR Review: "Tron Back But It's Hardly By Popular Demand"
Okay, full disclosure time here. I LOVE "Tron." It's stupid and clunky. It dated before it even hit movie screens. (I saw it the first time at a drive-in. BIG mistake. I couldn't see a damned thing for three-quarters of the movie.) It's absurdly, unashamedly impossible, even for the "forget all the laws of the Universe and any logical thinking you might be considering doing" branch of Sci-Fi. It drags. And then it drags again. It has plot holes you could drive a whole battalion of Recognizers through. The dialogue is so amazingly bad and overwrought it's almost beautiful. (Barnard Hughes as Dr.Walter Gibbs: "You know, you can remove men like Alan and me from the system, but we helped create it. And our spirit remains in every program we design for this computer." Oooh, plot foreshadowing!)
Perhaps worst of all, the best acting in the film is a toss up between two computer generated characters: Bit - the standard Disney attempt at inserting a cuddly and humorous element into everything they make (Jason Alexander as Hugo the gargoyle in "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" anyone? *shudder*) and whose only dialogue is "Yes" and "No"- and the Light Cycles - which are STILL so incredibly awesome that I would have been happy with a sequel that was 120 minutes of nothing but three or four of them racing around the game grid.
And you know what? I don't give a damn about any of the first film's many flaws. I still love it.
So here goes: Excuse me. Young man? I beg to differ with your review. But I keep forgetting, it's oh-so-hip-to-be-oh-so-flip and sneer at things if you're under 40 these days. (Jenkins turned 40 last January.) Even the title of his NPR piece makes it clear that he began from a position of scorn for both movies. And that he's a little short on information. I think this sentence from the "Tron" Wikipedia entry says EVERYTHING about a certain generation of writers/critics/bloggers and their source material: "The film received positive reviews from critics, earning a 68% overall approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Critics praised the visuals and acting, but criticized the storyline." Just one problem there Sparky: Rotten Tomatoes DIDN'T EXIST IN 1982.
First of all, despite all the vapid, direct-to-video sequels to better-left-alone classics they've cranked out over the years that would indicate otherwise, the people at Disney aren't completely stupid. So if there wasn't an instant, deafening, snowballing demand - or, for readers under 40, "buzz" - for this movie, it would have died on the drawing board. Rumors of a "Tron" sequel have been as prevalent as Elvis sightings for the last 28 years, but it never "materialized on the grid" until now - most likely because the Internet wasn't enough of a force yet to help give it a push.
It's true the original movie wasn't a big commercial success on release and yes, it looks incredibly dated now, especially on a high-def screen. But it DOES have a sizeable and very loyal fanbase that remembers it fondly from when they were tots or teenagers. Those loyal followers now have tots and teenagers. AND they spend lots and lots of money on them.
It did NOT take 'a decade or two' to make 'Tron' a cult classic. The very nature of the pre-home video/500 cable channel/download/on demand era made pretty much made every movie that wasn't box-office gold or a critical darling or that didn't find its way onto the limited number of network or local TV stations every 15 minutes a 'cult film.'
Their unavailability made them both desired by fans and, to be honest, often 'romanticized' as better than they actually were. For example, my partner Eric has an unyielding attachment to Tim Conway & Don Knotts' 1980 film "Private Eyes" - hardly their best work. But he remembers seeing it at the drive-in in his pjs. And since we don't own it on DVD, he doesn't get to see it very often. So he loves it. And that's okay.
To be fair, Jenkins isn't alone in his opinion of "Tron: Legacy." The overall reviews haven't been great and some, like Jenkins', have been downright mean-spirited. I think part of that is undoubtedly the backlash that's to be expected because Disney has treated this movie like it's the second coming of Walt since it started pre-production. If you build it up too much, you're inviting somebody to tear it down. It never fails. It doesn't matter how big you are. They're out there and they're just waiting for an excuse.
Whatever the reason for the reviews, both "Tron" and "Tron: Legacy" are what they are and should be appreciated simply for that. Nobody going to see "Tron: Legacy" is expecting "Inception, "Avatar" or the serious-actor-of-the-moment in their latest Oscar-worthy tour de force. They're going to see a new movie about two guys who get sucked into a computer and forced to play video games to save their lives that's a sequel to an old movie about a guy who gets sucked into a computer and forced to play video games to save his life. And you know what? They'll get what they paid to see.
So you can bet the fanboys and their sons will be lined up at the box office this weekend. And, lukewarm or nasty reviews be damned, I'll be right there with them - because I can't resist a Light Cycle.
Activate game grid!