Of Legacies and Sequels-A Tron Story

In 1982 a movie starring Jeff Bridges as a brilliant computer programmer sucked into the computer world, wowed movie going audiences with its (then considered) “cutting edge” computer graphics and cyberpunk imagery. The movie was TRON, which went on to become a cult classic.

Fast forward 28 years to 2010 when the LONG anticipated sequel to the cult classic is to be released. The movie, aptly titled TRON:Legacy takes the cyber universe from the first movie to a whole visually updated new 3-D experience.

The movie is of course yet to release. But the buzz for it began almost a year ago with a teaser trailer (a rather long one at that!) showcased at the Comic Con 2009.

To those who had no clue about the original movie, this trailer was only eye candy and simply looked “AWESOME”. But fans and viewers of the original movie were instantly hooked since they saw the protagonist from the previous movie, Kevin Flynn and his coded program, Clu (Both played by the talented Jeff Bridges) in the clip. Fans realised that the sequel had some connection with the original and wasn’t some lame attempt to reboot or simply cash in on the “TRON” banner. Their interest was definitely piqued.

The viral marketing continued in various media and Disney (the studio that has produced both TRON movies) was leaving no stone unturned to ensure brand recall for their cyber flick. Even their latest acquisition, Marvel comics got to play a role in the marketing, with the comic book behemoth having published a limited series comic book which served as a gap between the two TRON movies.

The latest set of trailers (the official theatrical versions) that have been released confirmed the rumors of the rather deep connection between the new movie and its retro prequel. These trailers definitely look even more wowsome and appealing than the teaser trailer and have certainly ensured that not just the fans of the original, but even noobs are hooked.

Theatrical Trailer 1

Theatrical Trailer 2

But the real question remains. Will the sequel be as big a success as the original? Despite all the positive reactions to the trailers and the story (synopsis and plot easily available at the Tron Wiki, IMDB or Wikipedia), I have my doubts about the new flick. Don’t get me wrong, the new movie IS going to be absolutely amazing and will definitely wow audiences and I am going to watch the movie irrespective.
But the original movie is a cult classic and a pop culture phenomenon.

Despite a “geek” oriented plot, the movie still marveled audiences for one reason. The original movie was released in an era where computers were being considered the next big step in evolution. Everyday breakthroughs were being made in the computing world and predictions of super computers capable of running on their own (read Artificial Intelligence) were becoming a hotly debated topic. This was the same era that saw other cult classics such as Short-Circuit, War-Games, Blade Runner and The Terminator being released.

The Original Tron Movie Trailer

From a visuals perspective, the movie was ground-braking. Almost 80% of the movie is rendered through computer graphics. Not only are backgrounds and props CGI cool, but the intense (by the standards of that era) action sequences are equally spectacular. The most amazing visual of course being that of the light cycle races.

The Light Cycle Races

Another aspect that worked tremendously in the favor of the original was the analogy that the creators had drawn between the computer world and the real world. Computer programs resembled human beings, more specifically the human programmers who coded them and their characteristics were a reflection of the purpose of their function (for example an accounting program looked like wore thick glasses and was rather introvert, cool huh!). Of course this has been done to death in numerous movies since (The Matrix anyone?).

I am certain the creative folks at Disney have done their homework and have ensured that the sequel has its own set of unique aspects that will stand apart from the first movie. But there is only so much creativity in the world! Having said that, the special effects for the new movie truly look awesome and the slick new look given to the cyber universe, and the fact that the movie is being released in a brand new 3-D format, the TRON experience at the cinema halls shall be Legendary.

One thing is for sure, this TRON fan is certain to catch the sequel when it hits the big screens in December. And even if you haven’t seen the first movie, do catch this one. Who knows, you may be inspired to catch the original after watching it!

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Action TV

Growing up, there were many television shows that I enjoyed watching. But being a guy, there was (and still is!) a genre of shows that had special appeal to me. These were the shows about men and their machines. No not those machines you pervert! I’m talking about the mean vehicles that these heroes used, to chase down the villain and then use the vehicle’s awesome arsenal of weapons to blow the bad-guy to kingdom come. Yeah there were the shows that epitomized raw machismo.

Developed during the decade that truly endorsed the action genre, the 80’s, these shows were dime a dozen. Some lasted for a respectable number of seasons, while others vanished without a trace. But for a true fan (such as myself!) these shows are more than just nostalgia. We grew up on this, so it kinda shaped our own perception of the action genre and was perhaps our first formal introduction to the world of ‘Super’ Automobiles.

Every time I see a new action adventure series, invariably I begin comparing it to these retro shows. My benchmark, out-dated as they may be, are these old action series, where Good was good and Bad was really really bad and you didn’t need an intricate and twisted story to get the TRPs. It was all about the action, plain and simple!

So here are the top three shows of the Automobile Action Adventure Genre (The AAAG!), that I absolutely love! And for extra effect, I’ve even thrown in the Intro sequences of each. Enjoy!

Airwolf

The protagonist is Stringfellow Hawke, a loner who is recruited by a covert government organization called ‘The Firm’ (yea i know sounds kinda cheesy) to recover a stolen supersonic attack helicopter code-named Airwolf.

Well our hero does succeed in bringing the prized chopper back home, but decides against handing it over to the government. Instead Hawke ,with the help of his confidant and buddy Dominic Santini, hides Airwolf in a defunct volcano. Hawke refuses to return Airwolf until the FIRM can recover his brother, St. John, who has been missing in action since Vietnam.

To get access to Airwolf, Archangel, the deputy director of the Firm, offers Hawke protection from other government agencies who will try to recover Airwolf in exchange for flying missions of national importance for the FIRM. What followed were four seasons of chopper-tastic action and loads of dog-fights and mach flights.

The helicopter used in Airwolf was, in one word, awesome. Agreed that today almost every war helicopter has a larger arsenal than the Airwolf chopper, but back then, this baby was gold. I would spend hours just picturing myself at the helm of this beastly beauty! Sigh,  too bad no one has thought of reviving this superb show or even considered a feature-film adaptation. Or have they?

Street Hawk

Here the protagonist is an ex-motorcycle cop, Jesse Mach, who is recruited by the government to test their top secret project, an all terrain motor-cycle, Street Hawk, designed to battle urban crime. The bike in question, is capable of reaching top speeds of 300 kmph and has an arsenal of weapons comparable to a Sherman Tank!

Obviously Mach’s true identity is a secret, shared only by one other person, federal agent Norman Tuttle, who is also the designer of Street Hawk. With Tuttle as his eyes and ears supplying real-time information from their base, Mach embarks on assignments with his mean machine to stop criminals cold in their feet.

Although short-lived (only 13 episodes!), the series developed a cult following (with me as one of the cult members!) and is often regarded as one of the best TV shows featuring a Motor-Cycle.

But what was most memorable about the show was the theme music. Rendered by the German electronic music group Tangerine Dream, the opening sequence is an adrenaline charged symphony of sounds that will raise you testosterone levels by some several notches! In fact I love the main them so much that I’ve downloaded three other versions of it and just enjoy listening to them on my mp3 player.

Knight Rider

Forget Baywatch, Knight Rider is the show that shot David Hasselhoff to fame. By far the most popular of the three, this epic action adventure series chronicled the exploits of one, Michael Knight, who drives a state of the art sentient talking car with artificial intelligence.

Knight is actually police detective Michael Long, who after a near fatal gun shot is rescued by billionaire Wilton Knight who gives Michael a new face (via surgery) and a new identity, Michael Knight. Wilton selects Michael to be the muscle in the pilot program of his Knight Foundation-funded public justice organization, the Foundation for Law and Government (FLAG).

The car was the Knight Industries Two Thousand (KITT), a Pontiac Trans Am controlled by a computer with artificial intelligence. Michael and KITT are brought in during situations where “direct action might provide the only feasible solution”.

Knight Rider spawned an entire franchise with toys, games, and tons of other merchandise. However Efforts to revive the famed KITT in different avatars on the small screen have proven somewhat unsuccessful, with even the latest adaptation featuring an upgraded KITT (voiced by Val Kilmer) being taken off the air after one season.

What I enjoyed about the show, apart from the obvious drool worthy modified Trans Am Pontiac, was the chemistry between KITT (well the AI of KITT) and Michael. Their conversations were packed with humor and dry sarcasm, which made the show a treat for everyone. But yes, the car itself was oh-so desirable. Even today, I doubt anyone would refuse the opportunity to get behind the wheel of KITT (or KARR for that matter).

Action at it’s best!

Men and their Machines!

This post is part of my Retro Series, in which I talk about all things from my childhood which are now considered as retro. Check out the other posts in this series by clicking here – Retro Series

Retro Gaming

Remember your very first taste of video-gaming? Those pixelated images that felt phenomenally ‘state of the art’, the “orchestral” MIDI soundtrack and that mundane game-play that was oh so challenging! Well, I do and occasionally also get nostalgic about those old gaming consoles, which are no longer with me (sob…may they Rest In Peace).
Today Gaming has evolved into a completely different ball-game. Graphics are more life-like, sounds more ambient and the game-play more engaging than ever before. And with gaming transcending from the conventional televisions to PC to hand-helds and mobile phones, avid gamers have more options than ever before.
I do enjoy what technology has brought with it, but don’t mind indulging in some Plain Jane games now and then. Fortunately the Internet comes to the rescue once again. A web-site called http://www.1980-games.com/ houses some of the best games from yester-years and is a nostalgic gamers’ paradise! With virtually every title from the 8, 16 and even 32 bit era, the site lets you play some of the finest games right on your PC!
The layout of the web-site may be intimidating at first but once you start clicking away, you begin to get pretty comfortable with the general navigation. But be forewarned, sometimes you might land on the French version of the website, so you may have to change the language to understand the links. You can change the language by clicking on the pixelated images, at the top, of the national flags of England and France. Alternatively you could simply log in to their US website – http://www.1980-games.com/us/
Once in you can choose form an astoundingly wide array of games which have been sorted by genre and platform. The entire thing works on an emulator and renders the game on your PC exactly the way it would have worked on the original console. Although the game-play is restricted to a fairly small screen, it still beats playing it on a cellular phone!
The web-site offers a great retreat to the age of gaming when it didn’t matter what physics engine was being used by the game or what software studios were involved in the development or what degree of detail was being rendered. All that mattered was you got some time-off from the everyday chaos to just enjoy some good old gaming.
So all you gamers who want to just sit back and relish some simple gaming fun, check out the web-site. I guarantee you will keep going back!

Retro Review-A Few Good Men

One of my all-time favorite movies, this courtroom drama starring Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson and Demi Moore, is, without a doubt, one of the finest movies ever made in Hollywood. Although released in the early 90’s, I got to catch this masterpiece sometime in the millennium year, on HBO, (I was I Pune at the time and HBO had just begun their movie channel in the country, so I was glued to the television set!)

A Few Good Men is the story of two US Marines, stationed at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, who have been accused of committing homicide, their victim… a fellow marine, PFC. (Private First Class), William Santiago. Tom Cruise is the rookie hotshot JAG lawyer assigned to the case with Demi Moore as the idealistic and Kevin Pollock as the realist co-counselors respectively. The case becomes very important when the defense realizes that the two marines are in fact the victims of a “Code-Red” (an unofficial and now illegal disciplinary action used within the US armed forces) gone wrong, which in fact was the true reason for their fellow-marine’s unforeseen death. Jack Nicholson is the Colonel at the base where the incident takes place and is the true issuer of the said Code-Red, which is willfully executed under the guidance of his sub-ordinate officer, Keifer Sutherland.

The movie opens at Guantanamo Bay Cuba, with the two marines shown entering the barracks room of William Santiago, stuffing his throat with a rag and taping his mouth with duct-tape, proceeding to shave his head. The focus then shifts to introductions of the protagonists of the movie, starting with Demi Moore’s character, a JAG lawyer from IA (Internal Affairs), who is already aware that the case does involve the issuance of a Code Red.

Tom Cruise’s opening scene shows him practicing with his softball team and his street-wise lawyer persona as he successfully negotiates his client’s sentence with the opposing counsel while he’s still batting! The chemistry when these two opposites meet for the first time is instantaneous, with Demi Moore making her dislike for Tom Cruise very obvious. Kevin Pollock plays Cruise’s good friend and colleague who keeps him abreast about the details of the case, and at times dishes out some much-needed advice as well. Jack Nicholson plays the egocentric Colonel Nathan Jessup, who does not believe in showing mercy to or protecting the weak.

A Few Good Men is a movie which is driven by the performances rather than the plot. The main story is the skeleton, but the characters are the flesh and blood. The onus of making a movie like this a success rests to a large extent on the actors and of course the director, for getting the best out of his artists. In that respect Rob Reiner has been more than successful.

The movie is based on a play written by Aaron Sorkin (Creator of hit shows like The West Wing) and in my view has been beautifully executed on celluloid by Rob Reiner with powerhouse performances by the main characters. Hence even though the movie is primarily a war of words, there isn’t a dull moment on screen. What works in favor of the movie is the fact that the director was able to get his actors to tap into the characters they were playing and successfully portray their emotions on screen.

The key performances are of course by Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson. It’s commendable the way Cruise holds his ground with a veteran like Nicholson especially in the climactic court-room sequence.

Tom Cruise is often written off as the Hunk rather than the actor in many of his movies. A Few Good Men is possibly Cruise’s best work till date. His transformation from the street smart ambulance chaser to dedicated idealistic lawyer is a theme that runs parallel to the main story-line and is very subtle. The scene that captures this transformation is when Cruise is sitting at a bar and overhears a civilian lawyer narrating his ‘out of court’ settlement using technicalities. It becomes very evident that Cruise realizes that the law is not always about winning but about defending the innocent. This realization is reflected in the statement he makes the following morning at the plea hearing of the case, “Why is it that a lawyer with a track record of plea-bargaining gets a murder case? Is it so that it never sees the inside of a courtroom? ”

Nicholson nails his character as the egotistical Colonel controlling the troops at the Guantanamo Bay marine station. Although, the screen time Nicholson commands is less than Cruise. But Nicholson makes the most of his time in front of the camera with a fireball performance. The scene that gives the audience a feel of his persona is when he tells Cruise’s character, at the base in Cuba, to ask him for PFC William Santiago’s transfer orders “nicely”. Right from the start you feel like punching him in the face for his arrogance, which of course speaks volumes about his acting prowess.

The main highlight of the movie is of-course the array of courtroom scenes, wherein the defense and the prosecution are engaged in a war of words to prove their case. However, in this movie, most of the courtroom drama is the result of the cross-examinations and testaments between the defense (Cruise) and the witnesses.

One of the best ones is when Cruise points out that the definition of a Code-Red cannot be found in any Marine handbook, just like the location of the camp-mess hall, you just follow the others!

But without a doubt, the best scene is of-course the climactic show-down between Cruise and Nicholson as the former tries to get the egotistical Colonel to admit that he did in fact order the Code-Red, which resulted in the death of PFC William Santiago. This scene has probably attained cult status with countless movies and stand-up acts, parodying this classic moment in celluloid history. Here’s a brief snippet of the dialogue from that scene:

Colonel Nathan R. Jessup (Jack Nicholson): You want answers?
Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise): I think I’m entitled.
Col. Nathan R. Jessup: You want answers?
Daniel Kaffee: I want the truth!
Col. Nathan R. Jessup: You can’t handle the truth!

Another memorable and moving moment in the movie is between Tom Cruise and Kevin Pollock. When a hammered Cruise, after hearing the news that Colonel Markinson, their key witness has committed suicide, asks Pollock whether his father is proud of him, we get a glimpse of the love that Cruise has for his late father and his sorrow for losing him before he could see him proud of his achievement on graduating law school and joining the JAG corps.

Why do I like this movie? Well I guess I’m a sucker for court-room dramas. And when you couple that with phenomenal performances by some of the best names in the industry, who can resist!