Sunday, 20 May 2012

Tron: Uprising (First Impressions)

Welcome back to The Grid.
Ahhh, Tron! Is there anything quite as geeky as Tron? Well...ok maybe ReBoot, but apart from that, the 1982 film Tron is perhaps the pinnacle of geeky genre movies. There's lots of reasons for this. It was a great pioneer for computer graphics. It's a complex metaphor set in a personified version of a computer's mainframe. It makes reference to primitive arcade games, yet makes them cyberpunk and badass. But probably the reason most nerds connect with the franchise, and indeed why I seem to enjoy it as well, is because even though it's a property owned by perhaps the most powerful company in the world (no, not Apple, I'm talking about Disney) it still feels very much like the underdog franchise. It was panned by critics and sold bellow what was expected, but we don't care! We still like it, and no one can tell us otherwise. There's this beer from Nova Scotia called Alexander Keith's whose slogan is "those who like it, like it a lot." And that's Tron in a nutshell. It's a cult film in every sense of the word. And yet somehow, someway, one of those cult members worked their way up the ladder at Disney and proclaimed, "hey you guys! Remember Tron? Yeah, Tron! Let's do another one of those!" And boom! In 2010 we finally got a sequel in the form of Tron Legacy...and of course it got panned by critics and sold bellow expected. Whoops! C'est la vie! Ah whatever, I liked that one too. And apparently so did enough people because it must have sold at least enough tickets to spawn an animated series. Yes, the metaphorical light-cycle keeps on cyclin' as we have more Tron goodies from the house of mouse in the form of a 10 part miniseries, Tron: Uprising. Could this franchise finally be getting the love and attention it deserves? Is this a sign of good things to happen on The Grid? ...like hell would I know! I don't work at Disney. But they are throwing us niche Tron fans a bone here, so the least we can do is watch the series and be grateful there's any new Tron at all. So I watched the first episode and hoped for the best.

Very cool design work here.
The first thing I need to point out about Tron: Uprising is how it looks, which is amazing. The world of Tron has always been, and will always be, it's own distinctive style and Uprising continues that tradition. The darkest of darks mixed with the whitest of whites with streaks of blue and red light is a simple, yet striking art style that you simply can't see anywhere else other than in the Tron universe. But aside from the general aesthetics that come with Tron, there's something unique of this series that deserves to be pointed out. Much like how the 1982 and 2010 were unique in it's styles, bringing about another level of graphic fidelity for live action film, I feel that's what Tron: Uprising is doing in the world of televised animation. While the backgrounds (and the soundtrack for that matter) is definitely rooted more in 2010 film, the design of the characters are something you don't see in the standard animated series. Designed by Robert Valley, the characters all have a distinct face, most being very tall and slender with sharp shadows. Immediately it stands apart from every other action show on TV. The whole package together is so striking and unique. The closest thing I can compare it to is Aeon Fluxx, and even that isn't totally accurate.

Quick! While it's still, soak up that design folks! Soak it up!!
How the show is animated is a bit of a anomaly as well. I read in an interview that this series is a mix of 2D and 3D animation. What was animated with what, I could only make an educated guess (pretty sure the faces are 2D while the bodies and vehicles are 3D) but what's important is, again, it's a style I haven't seen before. Does it work as well as the design? ...eeeh....kinda. In big action scenes, things look amazing. The fights and the chases all look smooth and the style really gets to shine. And also when things are perfectly still you can really soak up the design (I mean, just look at these screen shots!) But where things begin to break down is in the subtel acting. You know, dialog heavy scenes with very little movement. For some reason when the characters have to act in these scenes they seem a bit clunky, or stiff, or they move not quite right. It didn't totally pull me out of the experience, but it is something worth mentioning, and maybe it's something that will improve as the series progresses.

Oh yeah. Dat Tron...
But everyone already knew that Tron looks awesome, that was never the issue. What the critics did bash it for was its focus of flash over substance. In other words, it looks pretty but the plot sucks. While I don't think the films deserved quite the criticism they got (I thought Legacy wasn't a perfect film, but I did enjoy the plot more than most reviewers did) I do somewhat see their point. Does Uprising continue this tradition as well? Well, with only part one out of ten released so far it's hard to say for sure. The miniseries will take place between Tron and Tron Legacy. As shown in the pilot, Beck's Beginning, it will follow a young mechanic program named Beck (played by Elijah Wood) who has taken it upon himself to disguise himself as the fallen hero Tron and start a rebellion against the dictatorial forces of Clu (Tron Legacy's antagonist) under the command of General Tesler (a new antagonist for the series) as they attempt to control all of The Grid. So far it looks like a basic hero's journey of a young dude fighting back against an evil force, gets trained by an old vet and eventually realizes his potential. Knowing what the status quo will be, since I've seen Tron Legacy, I feel like not much will come as a surprise to me in the forthcoming episodes, but who knows! Maybe there'll be a couple of twists coming up that I won't see coming. All in due time, I suppose. But if you're a Tron fan, you'll have lots to love here. Having the main character be a mechanic is a perfect way to showcase all these wicked light-based vehicles, and even the original actor of Tron, Bruce Boxleitner, makes a return to the character.

What I love is the seriousness and dryness in which the plot is delivered. It's taking itself very seriously, and while there's nothing unsafe for children to watch, the tone of the show is much more mature then the standard animated action show you'd see on TV today. Which, if you ask me, is a wonderful jump forward in terms of western mainstream animated content. It's one step closer to having animated shows be seen as more then just kid's stuff, which is definitely commendable.

Geometric shapes never looked so ominous.
So the question remains, should I recommend this series to anyone? Well, I'm once again thinking of that beer slogan, "those who like it, like it a lot." If you liked the tone and the plot from the previous films, then I have a feeling you'll like this too. If you didn't....welll...at least you got a lot of pretty colours to look at, right? And if you've never seen anything to do with Tron before? I think Uprising is a pretty good jumping on point. At the end of the day, it really is something different and, in some ways, new. And when something is trying something new and interesting, the least you could do is keep an eye on it, because who knows! That might be the innovator for years to come. So good luck Tron: Uprising! I look forward to returning to The Grid and seeing where this will all lead.

Recommended!

- Moo