What I’ve been watching: January 2011

Prince of Space – Turns out that Invasion of the Neptune Men, which I watched last month, was sequel to this.  This one establishes the secret identity (but not the origin story) of the random superhero that intervenes in the later movie.  Anyway, not much to add about this one – same stuff, except the villain here has the best evil laugh ever!

Wall Street – Not my usual type of movie, but I watched it because a friend was talking about wanting to see the sequel that’s just out.  It’s actually pretty good.  I can’t pretend to understand all the money market jargon that gets tossed around, but I get the hijinks that are going on.  Overall, not a waste of time.

Mega Piranha – Basically the same as Mega-Shark vs. Giant Octopus, with all the details changed.  And yes, it does have an impossibly overgrown fish biting aircraft out of the sky.  This movie deserves to be called out for its bad CG, bad compositing, bad acting, bad cinematography and the fact that the entire thing seems to have been filmed through an orange filter for some reason.  It’s also the fastest-moving plot I can recall seeing – there’s no tedious mucking about with boring things like character development here.

The Mysterious Doctor – A nice short British style mystery – almost like a classic Dr. Who episode except there’s no SF aspect. It’s also fairly obviously wartime propaganda; the villain turns out to be a German agent and there’s lots of blathering about patriotism and war effort.

The 8th Plague – Pretty standard zombie fare. Rather annoying Blair Witch style direction.  One or two rather gory scenes.  The only notable thing about it is the setting – an prison that is pretty nice if you like abandoned building ruins.

Tron Reloaded

I’ve seen Tron: Legacy twice now, and I think that’s enough for me to follow up my previous post about the original Tron.  There’s so much to comment on in this (long!) movie that I really need to be able to pause it to make note of everything though.

The good: Overall I enjoyed it.  It was not incompetently done, the soundtrack was great, the visuals were nice and it properly sequeled the first story.  It picked up the theme of parallels from the first movie and continued it somewhat.  And it left several loose ends for a third movie to pick up. Things I liked:

  • CLU is pretty much the same program he was in the original; dogged, determined to accomplish his task, unafraid of authority but unimaginative.
  • The solar sail ride to the finish line nicely parallels the one in the first movie.
  • The carrier is reborn.  New shape but still really cool looking.
  • The light cycle sequence.  After seeing the trailers I was griping about this since they weren’t following rectilinear paths, but it actually worked out well.  It was a pretty exciting scene.
  • The music, and the nice touch that Daft Punk were personified in the club scene as the DJs.  I actually didn’t like the music as it was applied to the trailers, but in the actual film it worked.

The bad: It had more wince moments than the original and I really do not like where they went with the visual and sound design.  The environmental sounds lost their deliberately artificial aspect that helped reinforce the unreality of the digital environment, and the visual design lost the abstraction that was the best part of the visuals in the first movie.  Case in point: the Recognizers.  In Tron, they were an assemblage of disconnected blocks, appearing that way because that’s how they were designed by some user (Flynn).  In Tron Legacy, someone clearly put some thought into making the recognizers resemble functional machines: all the parts are connected, it has a reaction-based propulsion system, and there is a mechanical way of loading and unloading passengers and crew.  None of that is necessary, and it destroys one of my favorite aspects of the property.  It’s not necessary because this is not a physical environment.  It’s a designed world where things work because someone says they work.  Same goes for the glass city environment – reflections and feelings of solidity aren’t needed.  I preferred the outlined, solid-because-someone-said-so shapes of the original.

Overall Tron: Legacy is both better and worse than I expected.  It was a letdown relative to my hopes, but a relief relative to my fears.  I will likely watch it several more times over the next few decades.

And now every nerd’s favorite part: the nitpicking!  I’ll try to do this in roughly linear order, but it’s a long movie and my memory is poor so I might leave stuff out.

  • The young versions of Flynn aren’t very well done as CG goes these days; his eyes look dead and his skin looks like he’s been taking beauty tips from Odo.
  • Why are there Tron movie posters and toys in this world?  Are we to assume Flynn released Tron or a similar film in his universe to tell the tale of his adventures with the MCP?  He obviously has announced the existence of the digital realm publically – and where’s the world-shattering fallout from that?  People around the world should have been all over that one.
  • The opening monologue was kind of lame.
  • Alan presumably knows what happened to Flynn in the first movie; why didn’t he search for him in the digital world when he went missing?
  • Seeing the big red door and hearing the same comment about it again was a nice touch, but why was it in the plot?  Why would Sam go through the ostensibly most secure door to sneak into an office building?  And why do they even have that door if you can get from there to a poorly guarded stairwell?
  • Pulling his parachute that late would result in dead.
  • The motorcycle chase scene was jarring since I recognized all the locations, and they’re not physically connected that way! :)
  • Why are all the games still in the arcade?  If Flynn is missing presumed dead, something would have been done with them; they’re all collectors’ items by now.
  • Again with the fake computer hacking text scrolly stuff!  ‘Whoami’ is a real command and appropriate to the situation, but all the rest was the usual insulting crap.
  • Why is there an analogue of Flynn’s arcade in the digital world?  Do programs play video games inside video games?  And why hadn’t CLU paved it over as an imperfection?
  • Why is the portal to return to the meat world in a different digital world location from the point of arrival?  Granted the same was true in the first movie, but this one made me realize it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
  • As mentioned above, why does the Recognizer have jets?  They’re not necessary!  It moves because that’s how Flynn defined it when he wrote Space Paranoids.
  • Sam acquits himself well in the disk battles, despite showing no aptitude for athletics or sports, or even video games for that matter.  He later comments that the light cycle game is more his bag, which drives it home: as far as we know he’s a motorcycle enthusiast with philanthropy and practical joke streaks.  TRON was designed to be a survivor.  Flynn wrote the games.  They both have reasons to be good at them; Sam doesn’t.
  • Why does CLU wear a helmet to spectate at the games?  Obviously so he can appear on-screen without spoiling the Big Reveal a few minutes later, but it’s out of character and pretentious.  The same thing could have been accomplished with a rear or silhouette view.
  • The guy with the blue visor.  You can just tell he’s going to get iced by CLU.  I’ll call it good character design to convey that right from the beginning.
  • The light cycle thing.  I liked it.  The addition of multiple levels and ramps to the playfield is a good idea.  I would complain about them following curved paths but the cycles in the original movie could do that too; they just didn’t do so while in game mode.  We didn’t need to see spinning engine parts though, again because they don’t need to exist here.
  • The scene were Sam and Cora are driving through the wastelands – her driving looks so fake.  She’s just randomly jerking the wheel.  And if she’s such a precious resource to Flynn, why does he let her go snoop around in the city?  He could just cook up another program for that.
  • Ah yes, the classic perfection error.  Flynn uncorked a genie in CLU, and now he’s complaining that his wish was granted.  You’d think that people would have learned to word their wishes more carefully after the number of times this plot framework has been used.
  • Books in the digital world – downloaded from Project Gutenberg, I assume.
  • There are digital suckling pigs to eat?
  • Costumes – the costume designs were crap in this movie.  Filming the costume scenes for the original movie was a buttload of work (see the Making Of stuff on the Tron deluxe edition DVD), but it looked awesome.  With the CG technology we have today it should have been easy to beat, but instead it looks like everyone was wearing wetsuits with some haphazardly applied retro-reflective tape on them.
  • ZEUS.  Gah, I wanted to strangle him from the moment he appeared on screen.  What an irritating character!  And you just knew he was a traitor immediately – no surprise there at all.  And all that capering about and maniacal laughter and random shooting – WTF was that?  Not a believable character at all.
  • Does the train represent a slow download? :)
  • Cora’s origin story.  OK, so these ISOs (dumb name!) naturally evolved in the digital world.  That’s cool, and a good story idea.  Why do they look humanoid?  (For that matter, why do programs look humanoid?  We’re told programs resemble their authors, but these ISOs don’t have authors and needn’t even have a humanoid shape.  We saw several nonhumanoid creatures in the first movie.)
  • Cora is the last of her kind.  Oh please, really?  That always happens!
  • CLU wants to invade meatspace.  Why?  He hasn’t finished imposing his idea of perfection on the digital world yet, from what I can see.  And wouldn’t it be funny if all his machines stopped working the moment they emerged in the real world?  Different laws of physics, bub!  Also, if the laser only has enough energy to keep the portal open for a few minutes realtime, where’s it going to find the juice to fabricate an entire army out of nothing?
  • The aerial combat scene – why do the aircraft leave solid trails like the light cycles?  It doesn’t make sense in such an unconstrained environment.
  • Why does TRON have a conscience attack at that particular moment?  Well, I guess that’s typical of brainwashed villains; a second later and he would have won.  I could buy it if Flynn had used some of his user mojo on TRON when they made eye contact, but he didn’t.
  • Why does Flynn necessarily have to merge with CLU to destroy him, and why does he have to be destroyed in the process?  He created CLU out of nothing without apparent sacrifice.  This makes no sense.
  • The Lion’s Gate bridge is never that devoid of traffic!
  • Cora’s existence in meatspace raises lots of questions.  Is she made of meat now?  If so, what kind – does she have a human-like biology?  How did the computer manage to invent one for her that left her looking the same?  And if all that Flynn said about the wonders of her body (heh) holds true, she’s going to have to steer clear of biologists or else end up in a lab somewhere.

What I’ve been watching, December 2010

I, Robot – I have to admit I’ve never read the original book. I know it’s a glaring omission for a science fiction fan like myself, but I have a tendency to avoid “the classics”. If I had read it, no doubt I would have many complaints about this movie. As it stands, I actually enjoyed it a lot. There seems to be a fair bit of character development missing with regard to the old woman and Spooner’s friend who never listens – the latter especially feels like he was included to try and appease the book-loyalty crowd but could have been left out of the movie. I really liked the delivery truck design. Other than that, there’s nothing remarkable to call out.

First Men in the Moon (2010) – Doesn’t really add anything over previous versions. Some nice stock footage of the Earth and Moon from space, and a historical wrapper around the original story, but it’s pretty much identical and the CG creature effects are almost worse than the original stop-motion. Skip it.

The 40-Year-Old Virgin – The title of this movie has bugged me since it came out, since I always figured its title would eventually become my title and it seemed to be implying some kind of stigma.  I finally decided I should at least know what its content is before the due date.  I regret it.  I tend to avoid sitcom-like and American-style slice-of-life movies because they make me wince; the magnifications of interpersonal awkwardness and unhealthy “buddy” relationships are almost physically painful for me to see.  My avoidance policy has now been reinforced.  The only “life lesson” I got from watching this is confirmation of my existing opinions that the “singles scene” is to be avoided at all costs and that the advice single men give other single men is crap and can easily be recognized as such because they’re single men.

The Strange World of Planet X – Turned out I had seen this before under a different name.  I wish they wouldn’t give movies alternate titles.  Even so, it’s a pretty decent flick and I watched it through anyway.  It’s another in the fine tradition of aliens getting scared by our adventures in science and coming down to try and put us in our place.  For our own good, of course.  Bah!

Tron 1 and 2 – Tron was such an influential movie in my life that I wrote about it separately here, and I will write another post about this year’s sequel after I’ve seen it once or twice more.

The Sound of Music – From when my family first got cable TV until I left home, we watched this movie almost every Christmas.  I generally hated it; it seemed silly and sappy to my younger self.  After having not watched it for many years, I decided to test-revive the tradition for myself this year.  Maybe I’m just getting sentimental or something.  Anyway, it’s not as tortuous as I remember; musical silliness aside (nobody calling the whitecoats for someone singing in public) it’s a decent family love story that is sentimental without being a tear-jerker, and refreshingly lacks the heavy-handedness of modern drama.  Also, Julie Andrews was pretty hot in her time.

Invasion from Inner Earth – I’m amazed this one escaped my notice for so long.   It’s unfortunate the low-budget production gets in the way of the story.  There is a lot of silent implication going on towards the end and I get the impression the director is trying to set up the surprise ending to be something profound, but the rest of it is so dreadfully boring I wasn’t motivated to pay it enough attention to understand what it might all mean.  I can make some guesses at what the ending was about but I have no idea if I’m right.  The rest of it was chock full of people entertaining the crackpot UFO theories of the time, and variously dodging red flashlight beams or shouting at CB radios.

Machete – The fake trailer was such a wonderful parody that it ended up getting made into a movie.  I really wanted to see this on the big screen, but it came and went so quickly I didn’t get a chance.  Not let down though – the movie delivers what the trailer promises.  Definitely recommended as a good ultra-violence action romp that doesn’t take itself seriously at all.

Legion – Meh. I had wanted to see this when it was in theaters but didn’t get a chance.  Now that I’ve seen it, I’m glad; it would have been a waste of money and effort.  Not much going for it – basically a zombie horde versus gas station occupants standoff with a couple of boss characters and a biblical skin on the whole thing.  Nothing impressive story-wise or effects-wise.

Hunter / Prey – I was afraid this was going to be a rehash of Enemy Mine, which I hated because of its predictable and overly heavy-handed moralizing.  Indeed there are a lot of similarities but I enjoyed this one more.  I wouldn’t say it’s outstanding but at least it wasn’t painful to watch.

Invasion of the Neptune Men – Typical Toei SF.  Aliens try to conquer the Earth (because what else would aliens do with themselves?) and are thwarted by observant children, selfless scientists, slimy journalists, the occasional superhero, and easy worldwide cooperation.  Love it!

Tank Girl – I don’t know what motivated me to watch this.  I guess I was hoping that like many more recent comic-based movies it might actually be good.  I would have been just as happy having not watched it.  All annoying style, no substance.