[11 November 2010]
PopMatters Comics Editor
There’s definitely a lensing effect as far as creativity goes, on Tron: Original Movie Adaptation. A sort of a lukewarm reboot of the property, that juggles innovation with the need to remain faithful to the original project.
The impulse to remain as faithful to the antecedent film speaks volumes about the skill of writer Peter David. Perhaps most recognized for his reimagining of The Incredible Hulk (first as a ‘50s-style Vegas gangster Joe Fixit, next as leader of a modernized clan of mythic Greek heroes, with the Pantheon), David elevates the 1980s property that is Tron.
David brings a deep understanding of the comics medium to Tron. The timing of the dialogue is just right. The breakpoints in the narrative, swinging from panel to panel and the time spent in between, is just perfect. And the in-panel exchanges are also, just perfect.
Take for example, Flynn’s self-admonition to “Stay frosty”, while he plays a coin-op of Power Cycles. Or Clu’s searching for missing data. Inside the tank, Clu ponders aloud (in a monotone reminiscent of fax/modem dialing up) “Do you think we can merge with this memory, Bit?”. The original movie offers a close-up on Clu, panning to a close-up on Bit who responds with an equally monotone “Yes”. The focus in the film of course is the groundbreaking animation. David’s capacity to render this moment as comics is remarkable.
Rather than focus on the spectacle, David is able to shape his audience understanding of the core. Behind the cornball vision of VR that Tron threw up for audiences in 1982 (really just a zeitgeist statement about the incursion of atheist thought into the cultural mainstream), there was a real humanity being pointed at. Clu, the anthropomorphic program working behalf on his user, Flynn, was in real danger. And his ally and greatest asset, the computerized Bit, was of no support. Flynn’s original reprimand to Clu that “Buts are for Users”, fails to ring true here. The emotional content is overwhelmed by the spectacle of the animation, Bit re-digitizing when it responds.
David’s script reduces this interaction to one panel. Rather than see the panic self-evident on his face, readers see the back of Clu’s head. The anonymous nature of the interaction added to the fact that Bit’s amorphous nature allows for no variance when viewed from in front or behind, sets the stage perfectly for the inundating and overweening nature of Master Control Program’s power. This nameless, anonymous power is seen clearly during the capture of Clu a few moments hence. David’s punchier dialogue, “Bit! There’s memory coming up. Do you think we can merge with it?”, delivers the scene with even more emotional credibility.
Everything about the original movie is just better in the comicbook. Even the tonal palette of the original (areas of absolute darkness contesting bright red, yellow or blue day-glo) is given an aesthetic texture that makes a certain amount of sense by artist Mirco Pierfederici. But even with these great artistic wellspring, there is a limit to the relevance of Tron. The problem with Tron: Original Movie Adaptation, is Tron itself.
Tron seemed to be just about as close to a 1984-nightmare scenario as humanly possible. The idea that computer culture (or more correctly hacker culture) could only be psychologically animated by offering anthropomorphic “secret lives of data bundles” seems like a paucity. It seems like creativity-by-committee, it seems like high-caliber artists being pushed onto a project that is riding a cultural simply in an attempt to cash in. Rather than understanding the mechanics of that cultural wave from its own basic principles. After Tron William Gibson’s Neuromancer feels like a godsend, the rescue of an entire generation of popculture.
Even now, Tron (even Tron: Original Movie Adaptation) feels very much like the opposite of Led Zeppelin’s magnificent The Song Remains The Same. With the band members being deeply involved in the production of the documentary, The Song Remains The Same avoided becoming a hagiography and instead multiplied the creative talents of all involved. Producers became hitmen, in the quest to secure “killer” deals for their band. Band members mini-films were not simply flights of fancy, but instead offered deep insight into their psychology, by way of fantasy.
To reissue Tron now, the original Tron, even in comicbook form positions Disney’s audience for a severe judgement. If Disney truly believed in Tron as a property, why not remain with it? George Lucas has nothing but benefited from the continued and sustained development of his Star Wars franchise, merging into videogames, comicbooks and TV shows.
But the real question for Disney is, Why use Marvel? The lensing effect on the creativity, Peter David stepping up to evolve Tron to millennium sensibility, appears very much as a project antagonistic to Masterworks and Visionaries projects that rerelease old material. The is a rawness and a momentum to Frank Miller’s Daredevils, for example. A pure creative vision that transcends the stylistic elements of ‘80s storytelling. Sending good artists after bad art, however, feels like the worst of times.
The really imposing prospect of course, is the blow dealt to The House of Ideas. Marvel was responsible for a revolution in ‘60s injecting the notion of social relevance into mainstream comics like Uncanny X-Men. The release of Tron: Original Movie Adaptation 27 years after the release of the original motion picture however, makes Marvel feel like the backlot of a failing movie studio.