TRON, TRON 2.0 and TRON: LEGACY comparison / sci-fi designs

As if I haven’t published enough posts about TRON universe just recently, here’s more of it. A quick comparison between ”TRON” (1982 movie), ”TRON 2.0” (2003 videogame) and ”TRON: Legacy” (2010 movie).

TRON designs comparisontron COMPARISON

(Am I the only one who thinks the images on the right look…just a little duller?)

However, the latter disc designs are an exception. They look pretty cool.

tron COMPARISON3Because the old version just makes me think of mosquitoes…

mosquito

The light cycles look awesome too. In all versions.

TRON designs comparison

Note that in 1982 they didn’t wear a helmet when riding the light cycle, but just the same helmet as in any other scene. The same applies to 2003.

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Let’s hope for the sequel, it seems we have all grounds for it now.

 

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TRON 2.0 / sci-fi designs

I guess most people reading this post have watched (or at least have heard of) “TRON“, a 1982 movie produced by Disney and starring Jeff Bridges. It wasn’t successful at first, but it was a visual masterpiece with a very original and distinctive style, that had foreseen a lot in the technology development that came later.

The film had a commercially successful sequel in 2010, “TRON: Legacy“. Most of you have heard for sure of this one too.

But not many know that there was another release in 2003 and it was considered for a while an official sequel to the original 1982 film, just to be later declared non-canon right before the release of “TRON: Legacy” in 2010.

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This is how Internet was imagined like in 2003.

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The kernel and the antivirus guards.

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The virus has corrupted the system.

Here’s some background. In 1982, “TRON” performed worse than Disney expected – $33 mln box office with a $17 mln budget… The film didn’t appeal to the major public at its time since in 1982 the computers were not as wide-spread as now. It was too early. With years the film gained a cult following though… and it took just about 17 years before somebody started to consider making a sequel/reboot. In 1999, there were rumours that Pixar was interested. But the thing didn’t work out. And for a film, a much bigger budget was required, thus too much risk… So in early 2000-s Monolith Productions (“No One Lives Forever“, “F.E.A.R.“, “Blood“) initiated developing something else.

 

It was a 2003 videogame, “TRON 2.0“, and not only it contributed to and developed the TRON universe in a significant way (you bet it did, with +20 hours of gameplay vs 96 minutes of film…), but it successfully solved the main problems from which both movies suffered. The characters, the plot, the story.

It wasn’t my intention to write a game review, so I will just sum up main points:

  • Main characters were voiced by the same actors as in 1982 movie – Bruce Boxleitner and Cindy Morgan.
  • Sid Mead, who worked on designs of “Aliens” and “Blade Runner” developed the new “light cycle” designs
  • “TRON 2.0” is a very rare case when the game was developed not as a cash-in
  • The music, or rather the electronic ambient soundtrack, perfectly fits the digital world. It really makes you feel like you are inside, among the bits and bytes.
  • The style is a mix of a quest, role-playing game and action
  • It goes without saying that the visuals were stunning
  • Just like the original film, the game didn’t sell well, although it received excellent reviews and with years gained a cult following too. But for the most public it was something too original. It wasn’t a pure action, it wasn’t an RPG, and finally it wasn’t just a faithful adaptation of the original film, but the development of it, maintaining however the essence and the spirit.
  • Like the best cyberpunk game “Deus Ex” (2000), the world is full of details, secondary and tertiary characters, dialogues and it’s just up to you how deep you want to enter this world.

Due to an extensive gameplay and the technologies present in 2003 in our real world, the game expanded the whole concept of what it means inside the computer. You will find yourself sneaking through the firewall, literally portrayed as a giant red wall, escaping the disc format and fighting the viruses by joining your forces with a local antivirus program. Heck, there is even a level when you are transported to a PDA (anyone else here still remembers palmtops?!). Obviously, that level features a very minimalistic design and limited space. 😊

 

What happened next? Disney finally had the guts to develop a real blockbuster, with a score by Daft Pank, $170 mln budget plus Jeff Bridges and Bruce Boxleitner reprising their roles. “TRON: Legacy” received mixed reviews, but who cares, because it grossed $400 mln worldwide, thus being the first commercially successful product in TRON universe (although I am sure Disney expected much more). The film for praised for special effects, but you can also find it often in various top lists of missed opportunities. And I can understand why – it suffered from exactly the same problems as the original film.

 

The future of the franchise is unclear right now. A spin-off animated series “TRON: Uprising” premiered in 2012. Some sources say that “on February 28, 2017 during a Q&A session with Joseph Kosinski, he revealed that Tron 3 has not been scrapped, instead saying it was in ‘cryogenic freeze’. A few days later, it was reported that Disney is supposedly looking into rebooting the franchise with Jared Leto attached to portray a new character named Ares, who originated from the Tron 3 script. Disney has not officially announced as to whether a reboot is officially in development.”

Here I did a comparison of various TRON design versions.

P. S. Read an interesting opinion about Disney and their attitude towards TRON here: Disney/BVG didn’t have the balls to stick by their product and see it through the rough times…

tron1982

 

THX 1138

thx1138Director: George Lucas. Starring:Robert Duvall, Donald Pleasence, Maggie McOmie, Don Pedro Colley. Budget: $777,777. Box office: $2.4 mln. USA, 1971. IMDb: 6.8. My rating: 3/4. Disturbing art-house dystopia at its finest.

– Let us be thankful we have commerce. Buy more. Buy more now. Buy. And be happy.
(OMM, the digital Jesus)

– I think I’m dying.
– Could you be more specific?
(THX 1138’s confession to OMM, the digital Jesus)

– Everything will be all right; we are here to help you. Stay calm. We are not going to harm you. Everything will be all right.
(chrome police robots)

 

First part and more GIFs about the numbers in ”THX 1138” here.

”THX 1138” is an impressive, visionary and visually striking science fiction movie that I found fucking boring but absolutely loved at the same time. It may be a pain in the ass to watch because it’s so desperately monotonous and emotionally deadened – but that was the aim of the film too.

But once you get through it… your suffering will be rewarded. You may even want to rewatch it over time. It’s still one of the best dystopias around (and almost 50 years passed since its release).

Besides of the visuals, ”THX 1138” has an incredible amount of cultural references and just that may make it worth a watch. Steel-faced chrome police robots (lets call them, uhm, T100?), futuristic car chases (long before George Miller touched his camera), Nine Inch Nails Trent Reznor’s sampling source, dystopian underground drug-controlled society, infinite white prison with no walls (remember the Matrix endless gun warehouse scene?), early Star Wars designs, weird silent surveillance footage, erotic hologram dance, tape-recorded Jesus… A long and extensive analysis could be done on this movie.

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Discovering the depths of tape-recorded digital religion.

It’s inevitable to mention George Lucas’ persona when discussing “THX-1138”. The man was known for his little love in directing the movies, that’s why after doing this, “American Graffiti” (a coming-of-age cult film which I haven’t seen, but 7.5 IMDb and 95% RT may actually mean it’s worth something!) and the first “Star Wars” movie he stepped out of the director’s seat for 22 years, only to direct the dubious “Star Wars” prequels, which for the most part are not considered as good as the original trilogy. Anyway. I’m not a huge fan of Star Wars, although I’ve watched them multiple times and enjoyed it.

In short, “THX 1138” is everything that “Star Wars” is not. It is was the art-house face of George Lucas. Ultra slow, depressive and without even a hint of being funny. But its influence on the visuals of the latter is significant. Many of design solutions, like dominating sterile colours contrasted with black and white uniforms, holograms and other futuristic elements.

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This is not your average Interceptor.

What’s wrong with the The Director’s Cut. Oh, these freaking DC… It was released in 2004 and sadly it confirms that – with the exception of barely few scenes – Lucas lost the understanding of his own movie. He used the same approach as in Star Wars prequels with too much CGI out of place, thus many scenes were needlessly modified with new graphics, the corridors were extended (why, George? Why do we need extended corridors?) and extra space and colours added. Here‘s the full comparison and additional info here too. Several GIFs below (this may look fine out of context though):

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Copy-pasted humans and extended corridors of the infamous Director’s Cut.

Few words about the acting. Robert Duvall (born in 1931) is an interesting guy. He reminds me of Harry Dean Stanton (born in 1926), an incredibly talented American actor, who has made about 100 movies since 1956, including such titles as ”Alien”, ”Repo Man”, three David Lynch’s movies, ”Escape From New York”, ”Paris, Texas” and a literally lots of other stuff, yet the man never became a big star, staying in the shade of his colleagues.

So what has Stanton to do with Duvall? Well, both are those type of actors that we all have probably seen dozens of times (”MASH”, ”Deep Impact”, ”The Godfather 1/2”, ”Falling Down”) but struggle to recognize. So while Duvall certainly got more notoriety over the decades and received some important awards, his fate is somewhat similar compared to the Hollywood’s major stars and he is often overlooked. In ”THX 1138”, the man creates a wonderful and powerful performance, that ranges from emotional overload and despair to escapism, protest and silent consent. A very versatile role indeed.

Donald Pleasence (Carpenter’s ”Halloween”, Polanski’s ”Cul-de-sac”) was also wonderful as a psychotic and neurotic dweller of this huge underground world hospital. His characters was more one-sided than Duvall’s and that was a good contrast.

Maggie McOmie’s role as LUH felt a little bit underdeveloped given that it was her character that gave THX 1138 (the person, not the film!) a major input… She did not pursue an acting career after finishing ”THX 1138”.

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Worth watching? ”THX 1138” may seem overly slow and artsy at a glance, but nevertheless it’s a visually striking and original dystopia with various elements to be found in many forthcoming science fiction movies of all kinds. Wonderful performances from Robert Duvall and Donald Pleasence, gorgeously sterile visuals, story’s depth and a well-developed deadened underground world prove that there were times when George Lucas was as a talented and original filmmaker. 

Watch also: dystopia is a good genre for experimenting and many filmmakers used that to create something unorthodox, like amazing ”A Boy and His Dog”, poetic ”Fahrenheit 451” or absurd Soviet masterpieces”Kin-Dza-Dza!” and ”City Zero”.

3/4

Natural City / Blade Runner rip-off

naturaal cityDirector: Min Byeong-cheon. Starring: Yoo Ji-tae, Lee Jae-eun, Seo Lin. South Korea, 2003. IMDb: 5.8. My rating: 0.5/4. ”Blade Runner” rip off.

If somebody ever creates a list of ”Blade Runner” rip-offs, please put ”Natural City” on the first place.

We all know that ”Blade Runner” and another obscure movie by R. Scott did had a long-lasting effect on cinema, cyberpunk and science fiction.

We all know what is the difference between a homage and a rip-off.

”Natural City” was probably intended as a faithful homage – even the poster’s line said ”The Blade Runner era finishes and the Natural City myth starts” – but unfortunately ended up being a bad rip-off.

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THX 1138 / faceless numbers

”The death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic.”

 

 

 

 

1t is n0t exactly clear, whether it was Erich Maria Remarque, the gre4t German writer of war, sadness and l0st generation, or Joseph Stalin, the blo0dy Soviet mastermind, to pr0nounce these painful w0rds, although surely b0th had the right f0r it. E4ch fr0m the opp0site p0int of view.

”THX 1138” is a perfect illustration for what it means to be a N° in an ill, mechanical, drug-oppressed society that is even more deadened than “Fahrenheit 451”, “1984” or “Metropolis”. Heck, people even had names there.

Here… everybody is just a number. Numbers are perfectly intertwined in the stunningly sterile visuals of the story, crawling here and there, mixed with muffled camera surveillance footage and faceless chrome police robots that keep on repeating “we are here to help you”.

We are here to help you.” A recurring nightmare motif now.

The exploration of THX 1138 continues here.

 

Silent Running

Director: Douglas Trumbull. Starring: Bruce Dern, Cliff Potts, Ron Rifkin, Jesse Vint. Budget: 1$ million. USA, 1972. IMDb: 6.7. My rating: 2/4. Ecological space science fiction.

– On Earth, everywhere you go, the temperature is 75 degrees. Everything is the same; all the people are exactly the same. Now what kind of life is that?
(Freeman Lowell)

Back in 1972 “Silent Running” was kind of a low-budget modest blockbuster made in the wake of “2001: A Space Odyssey”. The film was a directional debut for Douglas Trumbull, who worked most notably on special effects on the aforementioned Kubrick’s epic, “Blade Runner”, “Andromeda Strain”, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and Malick’s “Tree of Life”. “Silent Running” was produced by Universal on a shoestring budget of one million dollars, one-tenth the budget of “2001”, which is very little for this kind of space sci-fi. Continue reading

Kung Fury

posterDirector: David Sandberg. Starring: David Sandberg, Jorma Taccone, David Hasselhoff, Andreas Cahling. Sweden, 2015. Budget: $630,000. A faithful dedication to the best & the worst of the 80-s, rage mode on.

– Fuck! That’s a laser raptor. I thought they went extinct thousands of years ago. What year is this?
– It’s the Viking Age.
– That explains the laser raptor. Fuck! I went too far back in time.
(a dialogue between Kung Fury and Barbarinna)

– I’m disarming you.
(Kung Fury, before ripping off Nazi soldier’s arm)

– Open the doors, Hoff.
– I’m sorry, Fury. I can’t let you do that.
– Open the doors!
– Did anyone tell you… not to hassle the Hoff 9000?
(Kung Fury is convincing the car computer Hoff 9000 to open the door)

”Kung Fury” is a fucked up version of the dorkiest things about the martial arts movies and the 80-s/90-s pop culture you could’ve ever imagined. Thor showing off his over-sized breast muscles? Check. A slot machine “Hoff 9000″ (built by Hitler to reestablish his power) goes rogue revenging the world? Check. ”The Matrix” parody in the goofy 80-s à la Van Damme style? Check. Tyrannosaurus vs Nazi soldiers? Check.

Growling “I’m disarming you” with Batman’s voice to an enemy with a gun and then just tear the poor man’s limb off to use it as an airscrew? Check!

Continue reading

Turbo Kid

turbo_kid.jpgDirector: François Simard, Anouk Whissell, and Yoann-Karl Whissell. Starring: Laurence Leboeuf, Munro Chambers, Michael Ironside, Aaron Jeffery, Edwin Wright. Canada (Quebec), New Zealand, 2015. Budget: $60,000. IMDb: 6.7. My rating: 3/4. An eccentric childish post-apocalyptic sci-fi with lots of gore.

– I thought all robots were evil.
– Depends on the model.
(The Kid and Apple are getting to know each other)

– You want to see something cool?
– I always want to see something cool.
(a conversation between The Kid and Apple)

“Turbo Kid” is  a faithful homage to the 80-s, a naïve love story occasionally slipping into a gory bloody post-apocalyptic trash. Sounds dorky? Well, it looks dorky too, and is entertaining as hell from the first frame.

The film doesn’t hesitate to borrow everywhere it can, but you don’t blame kids at the nearby playground for copying chases and fighting they saw on the TV screen, do you? Especially if they have a super-blaster-glove and BMX bikes.

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Continue reading

The Machine

f04c6c2af663d16125acc53ff0ea71e9.jpgDirector: James W. Caradog. Starring: Caity Lotz, Toby Stephens, Denis Lawson, Pooneh Hajimohammadi, Sam Hazeldine. UK, 2013. Budget: $1 million. Box office: $322,000 DVD sales. IMDb: 6.1. My rating: 3.5/4. Noir cyberpunk tale about a thin line that separates humans and A. I.

– How do I know that you’re alive and not just a clever imitation of life?
(one of the main scientists)

”The Machine” beats the recent ”Ghost in the Shell” adaptation with an incredible ease. If it were done in the 80-s, it would have been a cult movie. But it’s a 2013 directional debut by the Welsh director James W. Caradog, so let’s just be humble and categorize it as… almost excellent.

I have often been harsh with independent sci-fi about A. I. There hasn’t been much of it in last decade – I mean, the good one that makes think and feel, like ”Automata’ or ”Ex Machina”. Most of the others failed, taking the easy path of violence like ”A. I. against humans” or puzzles like “guess-who-is-robot-who-is-human”, which I find it incredibly boring.

So I prepared for the worst after watching the trailer of ”The Machine”, but found out something completely different. And it seems not only me. I have no idea why it was promoted (according to the trailer and poster) as an action-based sci-fi about A. I. ”The Machine” unexpectedly turns out to be dense, smart and sensible science fiction, and in the last place it’s about gore and rampage.

The plot. Near future. The West is in state of a Cold War with China. British scientists are working on creating android killing machines that will help in case of a real war that seems inevitable. Implants and artificial limbs for humans are being developed. Ava, a young scientist, joins Vincent in the hidden research facility in the attempt to develop the first self-aware artificial intellect. But they are on the edge of something bigger.

What I liked. The Machine” feels like a spiritual sibling of ”Blade Runner”, but consciously done in a harsher way. What surprised me most is that often it felt really scary – and not because of some cheap thrills. It’s because of how well it shows a thin line between humans and androids. Fear of the unknown. Few examples…

  • The guards that work as security in this research facility are for the most part wounded or partially disabled war veterans. They were given artificial limbs to substitute missing body parts or special implants that help to recover whatever sense they miss (in case their brain, sight, hearing etc were damaged), but it has certain side effects. Pretty soon they lose the ability to speak – nobody knows why, but a brilliant explanation is given later in the movie – and it seems that they start to have more of the machine than of human.
  • As the Machine (the main character) is ”born”, she behaves almost as a normal human, with small subtle differences that feel incredibly weird. There is a brilliant episode when the Machine is thinking that she is smiling to Vincent, but in fact her ”smile” looks like a sinister grin because she doesn’t know how to smile – but she doesn’t realize it, saying that she smiles it in  the same way as humans. The Machine doesn’t see the difference, so she heads to the mirror in order to learn how to smile. It looks creepy. This scene alone feels incredibly powerful.

Plus there are many episodes that feel really tense as they show broken, distorted human emotions, as if seen through a broken glass. Very creative and thoughtful approach. ”The Machine” shares a lot with the recent adaptation of ”Ghost in the Shell”, but it explores things in a deeper and more original way. Shame on you, Hollywood.

The acting is much better that one could expect from a $1 million budget directional debut of this kind – and not only from main protagonists Caity Lotz (awesome double role here), Toby Stephens and Denis Lawson, but from incredible background characters as well. Iranian-born Pooneh Hajimohammadi and Sam Hazeldine did especially a great job, portraying people with mutilated and warped senses and emotions, avoiding any kind of cliches that are typical for the genre. Kaity Lotz was very good (nothing to do with awful ”400 Days“), taking the role more seriously than portraying just a newly-created A. I. She managed to show a very wide array of emotions, from childish first steps and mistakes to delusions and learning how to survive in a cruel human world.

The movie is beautiful visually as well. It borrows a lot from “Blade Runner” visual style, and thanks God it does. It never becomes the end in itself though, blending the visuals with the narrative and using them as an integral part of the story. Everything feels organic here. With a tiny $1 million budget the Welsh director James W. Caradog and his team did really a good job. The movie never looks cheap. The synth-based soundtrack gives the warm 80-s feel as well.

What I didn’t like. There are certain moments that feel a little bit like a cliche (mostly the villain part that felt strained), but compared to the overall creativity and thoughtfulness put into the movie, let’s just close eyes to it. Finally, you cannot want everything from such a good debut like here.

Worth watching? Yes. ”The Machine” unexpectedly turned out to be one of the most original and well-crafted movies about A. I. of the last decade. It may not be as delicate and refined as ”Ex Machina” – and we don’t need another ”Ex Machina” anyway, don’t we? – but feels fresh, original and creative. Good old dense cyberpunk with an intense texture and often scary feel. A must-see for anyone who’s into thinking sci-fi.

Watch also: ”Automata”, ”Ex Machina”.

3.5/4

 

Dark Star

dark_star_ver2Director: John Carpenter. Screenplay/story: Dan O’Bannon, John Carpenter. Starring: Dan O’Bannon, Brian Narelle, Dre Pahich, Cal Kuniholm. USA, 1974. Budget: $60,000. IMDb: 6.7. My rating: 3.5/4. Odd science fiction space comedy.

– Now, Bomb, consider this next question very carefully… What is your purpose in life?
– To explode, of course.
– And you can do it only once, right?
(Doolitle convinces the bomb not to explode)

– All right, Bomb… prepare to receive new orders.
– You are false data. Therefore, I should ignore you.
(Doolitle convinces the bomb not to explode)

I must confess – I have never really liked John Carpenter. And I barely enjoy horror movies (with some notable exceptions like “The Shining”). I watched “Halloween” recently and enjoyed it at times, but if we forget for a moment its heritage, I find this cult slasher pretty mediocre. While admitting Carpenter’s immense influence, I’ve always seen most of his films made with little creativity, without that special sparkle that would lighten up everything. He is too technical in his approach, like an artisan, not an artist, who is methodically repeating similar feel and techniques in different movies. Note: I didn’t watch “Halloween”, “Escape from New York” or “The Thing” when they were released – movies that I don’t find bad, but just… pretty average in everything and with superficial characters? I’ve always felt Carpenter cares most about showing what happens to his characters, but not really the characters themselves.

But “Dark Star”, Carpenter’s and O’Bannon debut movie, made me change my mind about him. This little space comedy is like a fireworks show that you setup by yourself on a New Year’s Eve in the backyard. It’s an extravagant parody on space movies and “2001: A Space Odyssey” in particular. Fresh, well-crafted, wry and weirdly funny. Continue reading