TRON's Legacy Revealed

07-Aug-09 11:38 AM by
Filed under Trailers; 1 comment.

While I was hanging with geeks in Kansas City, other geeks were congregating at Comic-Con, a veritable explosion of all things sci-fi. Many exciting announcements and previews came out of the event, not the least of which is a trailer for TRON Legacy, heretofore known as TR2N:

Although this trailer contains original footage, its script is almost identical with that of the proof of concept video released this past fall. In fact, Apple brands this new trailer as a VFX concept test. I've never known a studio to stick so closely to the same demo. Whereas the film was previously scheduled for a 2011 release, we're now looking at December 2010 — so shouldn't we be seeing new scenes, not rehashing old ones?

Regardless of its originality, the above trailer is beautiful and worth watching several times. Accompanying it was the launch of several promotional sites, such as Flynn Lives and Home of TRON. These are just two of many outlets to tide you over until the 1982 film gets the sequel it deserves. Play the game. Read the interview. Watch the RiffTrax.

Whatever your choice, I suspect that in a year, we'll learn that it's not so easy on the other side of the screen.

An Election Too Close to Call

20-Oct-08 12:54 PM by
Filed under Reviews; Comments Off on An Election Too Close to Call

The 2000 presidential election was the first I was eligible to participate in. I remember being surprised and disappointed at how slowly that election resolved itself, but I confess I didn't pay it much attention — I was still in college and felt I had more immediate concerns, like exams and concerts. The election also seemed a dull matter of lawsuits and recounts; I cared more about the resolution than the methodology.

Fast forward eight years, and I hope I'm a bit more civic minded. Still, I'm more a film buff than a politician, so it wasn't until I heard Kevin Spacey was the lead that I found myself wanting to see HBO's recent dramatization of that convoluted election.

Recount logoRecount, which aired in May and came to DVD in August, begins on November 7, 2000, and ends on December 13. What begins as a clear loss for Vice President Gore quickly snowballs as confused voters step forward and political affiliations persuade officials into partisan decisions. A series of lawsuits, hearings, and legal interpretations showcases this affair that was more drawn out than I recalled.

The title suggests a staid documentary about recounting ballots, but it's a tenser political drama than that. I live in a so-called blue state and so was challenged to find anyone who wanted to watch with me a movie "about Bush stealing the election", as they called it. I wanted to watch it not so that it would infuriate me, but for it to serve as a case study of the process in which this country will be engaging in two weeks. Recount is a look at the American election system and its flaws and loopholes — at how it should work and how it actually works.

This election is brought to life by an award-winning cast. Kevin Spacey and Tom Wilkinson play Ron Klein and James Baker, recount overseers for the Gore and Bush camps, respectively. The supporting cast includes Denis Leary (born in the city I now live in), John Hurt (Watership Down, Harry Potter, Indiana Jones 4), Bob Balaban (Waiting for Guffman, City Slickers II), and Ed Begley Jr. (Arrested Development, Star Trek: Voyager). DVD extras include interviews between the actors and the real-life characters they portray.

Attorney David Boies (Begley) invites Ron Klain (Spacey) to eat "the red ones" for breakfast.
Attorney David Boies (Begley) invites Ron Klain (Spacey)
to eat "the red ones" for breakfast.

We see only the backs, never the faces, of the actors portraying Al Gore and George W. Bush, and after the film's first few minutes, we don't see even that, being limited to their voices on speakerphone (or historical footage on TV). Although this conscious effort is a bit awkward, it underscores that the leading roles are their campaign leaders. In one particularly tense scene in the Supreme Court, we can see Kevin Spacey hold his breath as Ed Begley Jr. is asked difficult questions. There's a pause as pregnant as a chad that gives the audience time to consider how trapped and speechless we would be in that same situation, and Spacey doesn't let his breath out until Begley somehow spins an honest and helpful answer beyond the eloquence of your average American. Even though we know how Recount ends as much as we did with Titanic, it's the behind-the-scenes twists, turns, and surprises that make this film more than a historical recounting.

The cast and crew also has a pair of surprising geek connections. First is that the script was written by Danny Strong, a minor actor from Joss Whedon's Buffy and Firefly series. Second is a ten-second cameo by William Schallert, prolific actor from the Patty Duke and Dobie Gillis era. Though insignificant in this film, Mr. Schallert always brings a smile to my face, which those depressed by the remainder of this film could likely use.

Whoever the stars are on either side, it Kevin Spacey's camp that is the lead. Democrats in the audience will be happy to see their party portrayed as the scrappy underdogs working out of a strip mall while the evil and finely-tailored Republicans play hardball to get their way. I do not necessarily interpret this angle as a liberal bias; every movie needs a protagonist, and given that we all know how the movie ends, there is little cinematic alternative but to cast the two parties in these roles. Besides, I came not for the people, but for the process — and ultimately, regardless of the fairness of the process, I must believe in this closing statement for the hope of future elections:

"The system worked. There were no tanks on the street. This peaceful transfer of power in the most emotional and trying of times is a testament to the strength of the Constitution and to our faith in the rule of law."

TRON 2: More Than a Game

08-Oct-08 7:23 PM by
Filed under Trailers; 3 comments.

You don't need to be a dedicated Showbits reader to have observed my passion for TRON. It was upon its 25th anniversary last year that I reflected: "Computers and electronic games were both still new media back [in 1982]… These nascent industries could've been horribly misrepresented to the unwashed masses, and there surely was a degree of artistic license on [TRON's] silver screen, with its AIs, lasers, and whatnot. But the way its digital society was structured and how software interacted with each other and with their users worked on both digital and HCI levels."

It was at that time that rumors started to circulate of a sequel. I was of course hesitant at the prospect of some disrespectful director cashing in on the brand by rehashing the plot using modern technology and context. Fortunately, the last few months have alleviated my concerns, starting with a trailer for TR2N, as its called. The preview seems to contain no actual film footage, but its debut at Comic-Con revealed the cooperation of a key franchise figure. Watch it before Disney's lawyers yank it off YouTube yet again:

Like WarGames 2, TR2N is not a remake, update, or reboot — it is a true sequel. Its awareness of present-day cyberspace harkens back to when I asked visual effects specialist John Knoll "Do you think a Tron movie could succeed nowadays?". He responded:

I don't know! Whatever made [TRON] not successful in the first place would probably still be present in a remake, if they went with the same story. The fundamental plot devices are anachronistic now, so it'd need to be updated to be Internet-aware, with much less emphasis on mainframe computers and a much higher emphasis on personal computers and small portable devices. You could go in the Matrix direction, where some aspect of his personality is transferred over into the computer and they're linked in a way.

Another good sign: IGN recently interviewed Jeff Bridges, who seems genuinely enthusiastic about the project. As Star Trek novelist Dayton Ward told me, "It's neat that he sounds so excited to be doing this. It's not like he needs the money or anything."

The IMDb lists TR2N for a 2011 release. I hope that gives the cast and crew time to produce a final product that we, too, can be excited about.

The Screaming Skull

10-Sep-07 4:46 PM by
Filed under Films; 2 comments.

Several titles have been bandied about for the next Indiana Jones film. Some may've been tongue-in-check references to its aging cast, such as Ravages of Time. Others, such as The City of the Gods, suggested a continuation of the first and third films' theme of searching for Biblical artifacts.

Finally, today we are presented with the official title — which tells us almost nothing:

HOLLYWOOD, Calif. (Sept. 9, 2007) — The title of the new Indiana Jones adventure, now in production under the direction of Steven Spielberg, is Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, it was revealed today by actor Shia LaBeouf.

LaBeouf, who stars in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull with Harrison Ford, Cate Blanchett, Karen Allen, Ray Winstone and John Hurt, announced the title during today's MTV Video Music Awards, which were broadcast live from Las Vegas.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is a Lucasfilm Ltd. and is being distributed by Paramount Pictures. It will be released in the U.S. and simultaneously in most territories worldwide on Thursday, May 22, 2008. Frank Marshall returns as producer, with Kathleen Kennedy joining George Lucas as executive producer.

Breaking news about Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull can be found at http://www.indianajones.com.

Now, I don't need spoilers anymore than this film needs advertising. And maybe, not being an archaeologist myself, I'm missing the connotations and backstory implied by the title. But it sounds as fabricated as the Temple of Doom. Come on, Steve — just a hint as to the plot? Pleeease?