Monday, February 18, 2013

Tron 2

I recently saw Tron 2 (i.e. Tron: The Legacy). It’s tempting for SF directors to make a film that’s just a string of special effects. CGI set-pieces that lack continuity. That don’t add up to anything.

To its credit, Tron 2 uses CGI to create a holistic, detailed alternate world. You’re not just seeing special effects tacked onto an otherwise ordinary world. Rather, you see everything within the simulated world. The viewer is completely immersed in the spacious, variegated, digital world of the story. That’s artistically satisfying. The film also has a good sound track.

But because the film does some things so well, that draws attention to what it does poorly. A magnificent framework without much filling. Why do SF directors invest so much in CGI, but so little in hiring a talented screenwriter?

In the film, Sam goes on the Grid to see if his father is still alive, and bring him back to the real world. That premise has a lot of dramatic potential–potential that’s largely squandered in the course of the story. And that’s because Sam is in a hurry to leave. He meets his dad early in the story. As soon as he meets his dad, he wants to get back to the real world. So most of the film is about trying to get away. Getting off the Grid.

But why does the director invest so much effort in enabling the audience to visualize the Grid, to be dazzled by what they see, if the rest of the film is about characters striving to put all that behind them as fast as they can? Why not linger? Look around? Play the tourist? Savor the moment?

Watching the film, I think of ways to rewrite the script which would make it better. It could be a futuristic Odyssey. Instead of Sam discovering his father so soon, it would be best to postpone the reunion. Give Sam time to explore the Grid. Get to know more characters. Have some adventures.

Of course, the premise of Sam searching for his father to bring him back home raises a persistent, irritating question: to bring him back assumes that Kevin’s body is still alive somewhere, 20 years later. But that requires some explanation. Theoretically, Kevin could arrange to have his body put in stasis, or kept on life support. Have robots care for his body while he’s on the Grid. That’s kind of clunky, but that would make more sense.

On a related note, there’s the problem of how digital characters like Quorra are able to cross over to the physical world. How can she survive off the grid? What platform supports her personality? Where did she get a flesh-and-blood body?

A more elegant solution would be for Sam to upload his consciousness into the program. That’s a popular SF device. That way, he could survive even if his body died.

Of course, on that scenario, he could never go back. He has no body to return to.

But that has dramatic potential. Instead of having Sam trying to talk his father into leaving, you could have his father trying to persuade Sam to stay. Reverse it. It starts out one way, but flips around.

And Sam might be tempted to stay, not only to remain with his dad, but because he finds the Grid more appealing than real life.

That would also be a better way of handling the “portal.” On this version, the narrowing window of opportunity would represent the body of the user. It can only survive without water for a few days.

That would make the choice more momentous. Once you cross that line, there’s no going back. You can’t change your mind.

Also, because the sense of time’s passage is different on the Grid, Sam could spend weeks or months in virtual time exploring the Grid to find out if he wanted to stay there. And the audience could see it through his eyes.

We might also consider theological ways of developing the plot. Maybe Kevin originally intended to go home every night to be with his family, after spending hours on the Grid, but as a creator, he was seduced by his own creation. He became increasingly captivated by the world he made for himself on the Grid, where he was his own little god.

Or maybe he lost track of time. Because time passes at a different rate on the Grid, perhaps he got so wrapped up in the virtual world that he inadvertently let the exit close (i.e. his body expired). Then he was trapped inside against his will.

Or we could view it as a Faustian bargain. A choice between dying in this world, in the hope of Christian immortality–or trading that for virtual immortality, where you upload your consciousness into the program. As long as the hardware survives, you survive. 

Or you could make Kevin a man who’s disillusioned with the real world, and tries to create a utopian alternative. Only he discovers that his alternative is no escape. Because he’s a sinner in the real world, his sin infects the virtual world. The digital characters share his flaws. The Grid takes on a life of its own, with “fallen” AI characters. They need a Savior, but Kevin can’t save them, for he himself needs a Savior.


  1. Didn't the original Tron establish that the user's body was deconstructed by laser, and reconstructed again when he exited the Grid? So there is no body outside the Grid as long as the player is inside; it is converted into a data stream for the duration.

    That also suggests that an NPC could have a body created in a similar fashion, by converting their data stream into a material construct.

  2. That could be. I haven't seen the original. I'm commenting on the reboot. I guess the data stream model would trade on Einstein's matter=energy formula.

  3. I've seen the original several times. The idea is like Dominic describes- it's akin to the transporter in Star Trek. Matter is interchanged with energy, and if a machine can copy whichever formular/algorithm that comprised the human it just converted, it can reproduce it elsewhere. That's how Kevin got into the grid in the first place- and the reverse was used for Quorra in Tron Legacy. It was ludicrous in that her origin was a spontaneous generation event, but that aside, the point is that Quorra, as an A.I. program, was somehow born with a predesigned formula/algorithm for a physical human body, ergo she could travel between both worlds just like Sam could.

    That's how it worked in the movie- though again, it's perfectly ludicrous. I just wish there had been more- ahem* TRON in the movie.