Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

The Point of Smoking Lizard

Posted: June 12, 2020 in Uncategorized

Smoking Lizard is EVERYWHERE! I do columns here on this blog that are a mix of my personal adventures concerning a subject and pieces that will help others interested in that subject. At the moment, I really only like five things…WRITING (and the supporting READING): Behold! I give you the Scribbler’s Saga column. I will relate parts of my life as a writer, provide a review of properties I’ve read and tools I’ve tested, post essays about writing and hopefully interview other writers.

Additionally, when I just need to fill my cyberspace with actual writing, whether short one-shots or small pieces of the greater whole: Author’s Assortment.

MUSIC: I’ve been talking big about composing music for a decent while now. As I figure out how to fish or cut bait in this area, you, Dear Reader, will read all about it in the Composer’s Counterpoint column. Posts may include my Woody Allen-esque frustration with thinking I’m better at music than I am, reviews of music, tools and the presently rare live shows. Again, part of the mission is to interview other musicians.

TABLETOP RPGS: Yes, I play Dungeons & Dragons. Yes, I can go on for hours about the time I played a thief that hot-prowled the villain’s house and walked out with a suit of armor. But, that was a long time ago. It’s time to make new stories. It’s time to see if I can create adventures other players want to play. As with the other columns the content of the Dungeoneer’s Diary, will mix the personal and journalistic.

ILLUSTRATION and VISUAL ARTS: While I myself don’t draw, I do okay with a camera and certain apps. The Imager’s Impression column will probably be less frequently advanced, but will discuss my appreciation of pictures and the people who make them. And when I make more images with my script kid tools, the results will go here.

MOVIES: Yeah, I thought I would skip writing about movies. Start laughing now. So anyway if I’m bloviating about movies, it  goes here in the Filmgoer’s Flamethrower.There will be times when columns will cross over, because working on a fun dungeon will spark a novel idea that may cause me to pull out the harmonica…Lastly, if you came to the site for my older content click on one of the many pages that will provide links to nearby archive sites. Happy Reading.

© 2020 G.N. Jacobs

As I wrote this, HBO Max chose to yank down Gone With the Wind from the service. The obvious reasons including – ‘romanticizes the pre-Civil War South’ – ‘apologizes for slavery’ – were cited. Well, yeah, that’s a bit like my sister-in-law saying this about the average James Bond movie – “I really like James Bond movies, the action and so forth, but sometimes they’re really sexist.” My reply – “You think?”

And like the Carla Hall writing in the LA Times maybe we shouldn’t freak out so much about the old cinematic relics of the past in our rush to do better in the wake of George Floyd’s tragic murder at the hands of police. The takedown of the movie is, we’re told, temporary until HBO Max can reframe the streaming link in a greater context that tells the, admittedly, previously under-told truth that slavery, the wholesale campaign to steal wages from people who didn’t ask to be turned into Americans, required the invention, expansion and/or promotion of the violent and soul destroying racism that still bedevils us today. Erasing Gone With the Wind also erases Hattie McDaniel’s legacy.

So, it sounds like HBO Max will, at the very least, include text in the link page much like how Disney+ posts all of its parent studio’s old movies, except for Song of the South (that I have never seen in toto, just the relevant clips), which apparently has too much of the bad for the ‘outdated cultural references’ tag to cover up. In the probable case of Gone With the Wind, said warning text will probably add several paragraphs of apologizes for slaveryrefuses to acknowledge the harm causedwhitewashes cruelty that led the South to commit mass treason against the rest of America and others. Why? It’s Gone With the Wind, Stupid.

Despite my reservations that are more generally rooted in an almost atavistic protect the artist and all their expressions stance, I’m actually okay with the takedown if it truly is temporary and stops at the extended warning label and/or appropriate context. I see this as the Nobody is Completely Happy Meet in the Middle response. Or you can look at it as a government warning label on a pack of cigarettes, some people take the warning to heart and do something else…the rest won’t.

The extended text won’t stop people from clicking through. If I need to see the antics of Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler, I’ll find a way whether borrowing a copy from my library when they reopen…or buying the disk. Or in the case of HBO Max deciding that certain Bugs Bunny cartoons are just too much for me, a grown ass man who might have a good reason to see the gloriously horrible cartoons of the Bad Old Days, to make an intelligent informed decision about how I blow out my brain cells…well, there’s always a Google search.

In her piece, Ms. Hall made the excellent closing point – “If you watch Gone With the Wind and don’t get that it’s a piece of the past to be left in the past, then you’ve got problems that the contextual analysis won’t solve.” I agree, only acquiescing to the warning label because Meet in the Middle, not because of any strong opinion for or against the film.

Did I hate the movie? No. Seeing Clark Gable and Vivian Leigh tear up the screen in this massively doomed relationship was and is occasionally electric to watch. But, there’s the slavery and later Reconstruction mockery of freed blacks to contend with as you watch. Or is it that the movie is at core a story about a scheming, manipulative and most importantly entitled woman willing to do anything to get what she wants? So, don’t love the movie either.

Yeah, let’s take that to heart that Scarlett O’Hara is basically the patroness saint of all Karens. This fictional woman just isn’t nice. After the war, in order to rebuild her business interests as cheaply as possible Scarlett employs convict labor over the objections of her former lover and brother-in-law Ashley Wilkes. He begged her to hire free blacks (he used the D-word in the scene) because the convicts are treated so cruelly (paging Section One of the Thirteenth Amendment – “…except as a punishment for a crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted…”) that even he lost his lunch. 

Scarlett also plays every kind of cruel teasing head game on Rhett that culminates with him getting loaded and – “tonight Scarlett, I refuse to be turned out!” – prior to a Kick, Drag and…scene that results in their daughter. And he makes things worse the next morning when he sobers up realizing that, whatever the man was legally allowed to do to his wife, it still behooves him to apologize as he recovers his veneer of gentleman. This says that this particular Karen is also completely unable to articulate her real needs to her husband. I guess this counts as a character flaw to make Scarlett interesting.

Other than enjoying seeing Vivian Leigh eat up the screen, I suppose the women in my life who love the movie like Scarlett precisely because she’s a Karen, safely confined to the screen. Men have J.R. Ewing to fill the same niche of the interesting bad guy who we tune in every week to see what schemes he’ll cook up to chisel more money out of the Texas oil system, while acknowledging that J.R. had to contend with his brother Bobby who stood up as the counterbalance to J.R.’s schemes.

Who is Scarlett’s Bobby Ewing? Sounds like it was or should’ve been Rhett (I’ll have to see the movie again to make sure…unsubtle hint). Did he stop her worst impulses or simply enable her until he finally had enough and just walked out the front door?

Getting back to the here and now, there are people out there that based on the previous two paragraphs are just going to like or love this movie. My reason for acquiescing to the warning label is as much to accommodate them. We all like books, movies and music that others don’t and it seems like such a waste of time to police what they can and can’t experience. So, warning label with paragraphs of extra content on the landing page? Yes. Hiding it forever in the vault because adults can’t be trusted to make their own decisions about their leisure time? No.

Given that it is Gone With the Wind, a film of the same stature of, say, Doctor Zhivago that Quentin Tarantino could’ve substituted the reference in True Romance, this movie will pick up the extra scrutiny that could be even more tragic. It is possible that the anti-Wind crowd will succumb to the temptation to “annotate” the movie while it plays. Think about that, animated pop-ups with links to sites with the truth while the characters say their lines and commit their actions?

In other contexts, I’m all in favor of certain nonfiction videos being livened up the way that CBS adroitly promotes Tooning Out the News having a go at certain speeches that I frankly can’t and don’t watch without either a comedic or outright news analysis filter softening the blow. However, I really don’t think for a fictional movie that I want to deal with pop-ups that, say, in the scene with Ashley expressing his repugnance at Scarlett’s usage of prison labor leads to a page highlighting that scary clause in the Thirteenth Amendment that opponents say is part of the problem because of racist application.

Another thing likely to happen is that HBO Max may feel the need to pay to produce some talking heads videos to discuss these concepts to play out automatically after the movie wraps up and rolls credits. I’m not entirely opposed here; I suppose we do have to have the conversation as often as possible until enough decades pass (if ever) that the Civil War and the ongoing racism that went with it are truly in the past. I would simply point out that Gone With the Wind is already a three-plus-hour epic that not everyone likes enough to also put up with the presumed teachable moment at the end of the movie. 

If I don’t always sit through the credits unless trained to do so by the liberal usage of Marvel-style mid and post-credits scenes, then I’m also not sticking around for any well-intentioned discussion pieces after the camera fades to black on Scarlett surveying her ruined plantation trying to find hope for tomorrow. HBO Max can do what it likes here, but I have a Hans and Franz prediction – “hear me now believe me later!” – of these videos going largely unwatched.

Anyway, we’ll see what will happen in a few days. Director John Ridley, in his piece, also asked for a respectful cooling off period. After that, reframing the context on the landing page seems like it’s a job that should only take a couple hours putting the intern with the fastest and most accurate typing skills at the nearest workstation to enter the new data. Leading to the probable truth that figuring out what to say and running it by more than one concerned advocacy group, because we never take just one opinion in the arts, will take longer than it would to type. 

Nasty question here, once the movie cools off, at what point does a failure to get the appropriate text just so lead to the suspicion that no one on the removal side ever intended for the movie to come back? Six months? A year? Two years? I do try to take people at their word when temporary escapes their lips. We shall see…

Update: We saw. HBO Max only needed approximately three weeks to create and post the new content to go at the beginning of the movie. We are gratified that the many players in this story appear to have kept their implied word. Such acts of good faith should perhaps be reciprocated by the rest of us in other areas of this discussion and it might hurt. So does yanking off a used Band-Aid…

Anyway, it’s still a long ass movie about the patroness saint of all Karens; it’ll be a minute before I can muster the give a damn and three plus hours to actually watch it again.

Obviously, don’t break the window…

© 2020 G.N. Jacobs

In keeping with the ongoing comic book store arms race of needing to come up with things to talk about every week, it is part of the mission of this site to unpack everything, including my favorite franchises. Sorry, Mr. Bond, it’s just your turn this week.

Where to start? Let’s go with the leap from page to screen. Book Bond generally reads like someone who almost could happen. He better, he was drawn from a multitude of guys that author Ian Fleming met while serving in Naval Intelligence during WW2. A rogues’ gallery of commandos, saboteurs and spies who unlike Mr. Fleming actually had to do the missions he dreamt up in London. Fleming was more like M than Bond.

Book Bond shot people in New York in the Japanese Consulate at Rockefeller Center as part of a codebreaking operation. The first time I learned about the technique of bring a second sniper to go through thick plate glass, by the way.

Book Bond might take a few days to shag the woman in the story, while training to make the big swim through shark infested waters. This, of course, meant Bond stopped smoking long enough to get back his stamina to stay under water for ten-fifteen minutes on approach to the villain’s highly defended beach.

Book Bond spent long hours in an office reading every report generated by the entirety of the Secret Intelligence Service. Characters recurred in the office and then appeared elsewhere in later books; case in point, Mary Goodnight, was set up as Bond’s secretary through several books until let into the field as the assistant in The Man with the Golden Gun.

Movie Bond necessarily jettisoned almost every single tether to what remained of reality. Not that we wanted a realistic Intelligence Officer. I’d watch/read something by John Le Carré for that. 

The cars and their gadgets went from – “Yeah, I had one of those on that job that never actually happened in Somalia.” – to – “How do you even still have an engine?”

Oil slicks? Bullet-resistant glass? Smokescreens? All pioneered I think by various ne’er-do-wells, shitheads that needed to evade the cops and other shitheads. Al Capone rolled in a veritable tank; those O’Bannion Northsiders were a lot of trouble…until they weren’t.

The average Bond car took these things to the very limit of engineering credibility. Where does a 1964 Aston-Martin DB5 have space for the machine guns, hydraulically operated rear armor shield, the smoke projectors, caltrops, oil slick and ejector seat? My completely untrustworthy (I hide certain math classes on my transcripts) napkin calculation has this vehicle pushing up against the almighty weight limit.

Can you bore out an Aston-Martin engine enough to overcome the extra mass? Do you follow Book Felix Leiter’s example of dropping a huge Cadillac engine into a Studebaker, despite voiding the warranty? Or do you just go with it and assume that, with the help of a time machine, a cross-fiction machine and writers busting out their best “because I said so” justifications that we may assume that George Lucas lent the Millennium Falcon’s back up engine to your choice of the Broccolis or Mr. Fleming?

Now there’s a fan fiction crossover with Leia as the wishbone between Han and Bond, but I digress.

The Aston-Martin may represent the plausible Bond car. Later cars were the epitome of implausible. We have many choices, the obvious one being the white Lotus Esprit in The Spy Who Loved Me. Okay, converts to a submarine…maybe. In water mode the car has a squid ink emitter, a missile rack for small SAMs (I’m guessing about the size of a Stinger) good for wiping out helicopters hovering overhead and a minelayer that drops deadly hockey pucks to the sea floor for the unsuspecting bad guy swimmer delivery vehicles to float over just in time to go BOOM!

Here’s the thing, the car also has a fully functional land mode, which raises all kinds of Comic Book Store Geek Rumble questions. Would a car seen moments previously blasting full out on a winding Sardinian ocean view road be too much sports car to also be all that good at submarine? What is the sub’s propulsion unit if it isn’t the land mode’s high compression internal combustion engine that has to be fed air by the submarine snorkel we never saw onscreen?

Did Q unintentionally invent the world’s first hybrid car by putting a battery driven submarine electric motor next to that aforementioned gasoline engine? Why would it be a hybrid, you ask? I can think of few people who would fail to link the electric motor to the gasoline engine with a Prius style energy capture system where the gas engine charges the batteries constantly? Which then brings us back to the snorkel (works better with diesels, but…) for water mode.

And there are lots of tactical questions about the car’s employment at play here. Bond has a Stinger missile shoehorned into the Lotus’ mid-engine (rear) compartment. Presumably, the missiles are also available to wipe out the Stromberg helicopter while still driving? Bond has a license to kill (M bails Bond out of jail if he gets picked up in an Allied country and disavows everywhere else). He has just splattered a motorcycle sidecar rig all across that highway complete with the comedic twist of a blown-up feather bed truck as the Fruit Cart. He’s already made too much mess above the water; he could just fire the missile…the consequences are about the same.

 Anyway, I can obviously go on here. All you need to know about this car is that in the real world the production had to make a separate submarine based on the Lotus shell. And I both laughed and cringed seeing the car return two movies later in For Your Eyes Only go up in flames when the bad guys broke the door window setting off the security charges. 

Next Geek Rumble question, who feels safe driving a car that is that packed with high explosives…say, four Stingers, six mines, that should also be good for leaving on the road, and the, call it, pound and a half of C-4? If I’m Bond, I’m calling my pal Felix Leiter to get me a less hazardous job with the Pinkerton Detective Agency. I suppose I’ve made my point and don’t have to move on to the other cars with miniguns in the trunk.

Another thing that always had me screaming at the TV was a big moment in the filmed version of Goldfinger. The book had a big deal where SMERSH agent Goldfinger organized nearly every Mob goon not presently engaged in shaking down unions and fish markets, a train and a water delivered nerve agent to steal the gold from Fort Knox. Various know-it-alls wrote to Mr. Fleming explaining that with the actual mass of gold kept at the depository that it would take several days for Goldfinger to steal the gold before as Movie Bond put it – “You have perhaps twelve hours before the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines arrive to make you put it back.” Certainly, the forces stationed at the sort of nearby Fort Campbell would mobilize sooner.

Writers having long ago learned to tap dance around these logic flaws meant that steal becomes irradiate with a small yield dirty bomb provided by China. On the surface it seems like an adroit way to get out of the corner Mr. Fleming painted himself into. Enter a weirdo (I’m your huckleberry) with both a modestly traumatic past with certain conspiracy theorists as stepfathers and long before that a penchant for reading everybody else’s far more paranoid spy novels as well.

My question as Gert Frobe and Sean Connery enjoy mint julips discussing popping off a cobalt heavy nuke in Fort Knox was always, wouldn’t and shouldn’t the US Government go for the Big Lie about the nuclear event

“No, that wasn’t a small-scale nuclear event at Fort Knox, but a gas explosion.” 

“Well, even if there was a nuclear event that melted the gold, melted isn’t the same as vaporized. We still have the gold and this being 1963 with a changed global economy where we haven’t had to use our gold to actually buy things since the War, it means that we bury the gold slag in a tank of water and extend out all credit contracts past the half-life period. We take a hit, but continue on as before. Move along, nothing to see here.” Of course, Big Lies worthy of Joseph Goebbels really aren’t something for a Bond story, but that’s how I think.

While on the subject of my conspiracy theorist Evil Stepfather 2.0 and randomly tossing out fan fiction crossovers, do you see what’s coming? If you asked – “well, wouldn’t Goldfinger bust in only to find the Roswell aliens?” – well, now we’re cooking with gas. Actually, said stepfather really didn’t buy into aliens as part of any kind of conspiracy preferring a Christian themed – “the Catholic Church did it” – but I’m not above certain examples of character assassination now that he’s dead. Anyway, Bond v. Roswell Aliens and Men in Black…if you get to this one first, I completely understand, but ooh!

I was much surprised reading the books usually long after the movie how much more grounded in life Book Bond was. I mentioned above that during one of the many trips to Jamaica, Bahamas and the rest of the Caribbean that matched Mr. Fleming’s annual need to spend a few months at his Goldeneye estate to write and relax that Bond trained for several days which included no smoking until he got his lungs back for a big swim. So how much did Mr. Fleming know what his own smoking might do to him (dead at 56 in 1964)? But I digress.

One last major line of inquiry is to ask how much time Bond is able to devote to train to be the superman that does anything his writers ask him to? Bond can surf huge overhead waves infiltrating North Korea (Die Another Day). He can fly a teeny jet with a notoriously teeny gas tank in a VFR duel with a SAM all without anything remotely like a flare or chaff dispenser (Octopussy). The few times it’s mentioned on screen there’s a woman involved, like a certain Danish instructor at Oxford (Tomorrow Never Dies)?

I suppose I could go on and on. I’ll probably revisit this post with new observations as they occur to me.  

© 2020 G.N. Jacobs

There are amazing Byzantine treasures up the hill in the monastery of Mt. Athena…and a Nazi communications center. A ragtag team of an archeologist, corrupt Austrian art dealers currently in uniform, hookers, a stripper/low-rent Esther Williams, a comedian, a former monk turned Resistance leader, a magician, an Italian chef and other motley fools conspire to drive the really bad Nazis (the SS) into their graves on a unnamed Greek island ahead of a proposed Allied landing. I think that covers all the plot you’ll ever need for this war action movie with a cast that is ordinarily too great for this abject silliness.

The Archeologist (David Niven) has somehow fallen into the hands of the Nazis who even at this late date, 1944, are still trying to hoover up any and all valuable artifacts from everywhere in Occupied Europe. He leads an archeological scam job digging up items on Monday only to rebury them to dig them up again on Tuesday, while also acting as a low-rent Steve McQueen the Cooler King (The Great Escape would have been a better use of my time, except this movie is unintentionally funnier) escaping every chance he gets. FYI, the priapic (big penis) statue on hand for this scene was not lost on me.

The Austrian Commandant/Corrupt Art Dealer (Roger Moore) just wants to rob the really best antiquities from the Nazis leave them in the care of his sister in Switzerland. Oh, and get a leg over with the Stripper. He never gives the Roman derived, scary Nazi salute favoring the traditional military salute.

The Comedian (Elliot Gould) just wants to look after the Stripper, get rich and do his song and dance act. He wears the New York Yankees cap that those bastards wore in the Seventies when they stole the World Series twice from the Dodgers (look for the green cap liner), but I digress. Except for being the only person shiftier than either the Commandant or the Stripper, he has no actual skills the Nazis need in this Greek antiquities-theft camp. Oh, and he’s Jewish, which really doesn’t come into play because somehow the evil German SS commandant drops the ball, but I digress.

The Stripper (Stephanie Powers) is the perfect girl to get caught between the Commandant and the Comedian. She strips for the troops at USO shows and has at some point in the past been in at least one Esther Williams style synchronized swimming movie. When brought to the seaside camp, there is dialogue about this explaining that they will need her to dig up any objects currently below the waterline. And she’s exactly the kind of woman to sleep with the Commandant to stay in his good graces.

The Resistance Leader (Telly Savalas) earnestly desires to win the war in his unnamed Greek village by driving out the Nazis. He’ll promise any amount of the treasure reputed to being kept up the hill in the Mt. Athena monastery to the many reprobates making up his team, while also piously asserting said swag “belongs the Greek people.” Make up your mind, Sir. He also loves the local hooker whose brothel he uses to collect intelligence.

And that leaves the Magician (Richard Roundtree), the Chef (Sonny Bono) and the Hooker (Claudia Cardinale) to fill out this cast. Let’s face it, all these characters are caricatures played by actors who must’ve thought they were robbing the production for the tickets to the Greek Aegean. Well, except for Mr. Niven, whose son produced the movie.

Anyway, the movie plays out at the height of silliness. The really bad Nazis shoot local citizens as SS squads tended to do in the real war. They also throw various escaping prisoners into hot boxes demonstrating that someone has seen both The Great Escape and The Bridge Over the River Kwai with extra helpings of Hogan’s Heroes. However, they don’t make very much trouble for the Jewish Comedian despite threats to do so.

As for physical geography slash things the good guys need to blow up to liberate the island, we have the town, we have a submarine base, we have the monastery which serves as a rocket base. And I’m still getting confused even several days later.

As a whole the movie never comes together juxtaposing the on-paper silliness with a seesaw of even sillier performances, a couple really interesting moments and some innovations in the film grammar of the Star-Studded-Action-Packed-War-Movie.

Silly. Roger Moore as a corrupt Not So Bad Nazi. Really? If you really need to go for a buffoonish, greedy, lecherous German commandant wouldn’t you hire Werner Klemperer? Oh, sorry, the actor famous for playing Colonel Klink had a rider in his Hogan’s Heroes contract that Klink’s plans and schemes always fail. Forget I came up with that bit of pretend casting because this commandant gets both the girl and a stash of previously looted valuables. Still…silly with a Capital S.

Innovative. The monastery up further up Mt. Athena (hence the title that really doesn’t fly) is protected by electrified fencing laid down on the hill above the dome and bell tower. Proving that someone had watched all those other (and better) war movies about when you have a target high up on the hill that the good guys making the attack climb down on them from above. At least, I had never seen this before.

Really interesting. Elliot Gould’s stuntman chases down the stuntman playing the Really Bad SS Commander through the narrow streets and alleys of Downtown Rhodes on motorcycles. Proof that location scouting is a film trade that should never be overlooked; picking the right places helps make a scene. What results is a chase to join the rarified air of Steve McQueen failing to jump the barbed wire in The Great Escape or Steve McQueen, again, grinding gears you didn’t know Mustangs even had in Bullitt. Because the scenery makes the scene, I’ll also point you to the helicopter-crop duster chase in Capricorn One as an example of what I mean.

Weird bordering on silly. Stephanie Powers’ Stripper being established as a low-rent Esther Williams-type swimming star is something that has Pay Attention Important Plot Point tattooed across the moment’s forehead. As the story progresses, a swimmer must go into the water near the submarine base to turn valves and place homemade limpet mines in the best places where things go boom. 

She snorkels and runs afoul of a team of, what are later revealed as, Nazi combat swimmers in SCUBA tanks patrolling the bay and the approaches to the submarine base. Even with the throwaway line about the swimming when she’s not stripping, this whole moment is forced with a Capital F. Certainly, the Nazi SEALs should’ve lasted a little longer before Script Immunity kicks in.

Given how silly this movie is all around, I’m going to engage in direct spoilers. The submarine base blows up. The monastery with the hidden rocket base that no one knew about blows up. The greedy characters don’t get the monastery’s priceless treasures promised by the Resistance Leader, because he hid them in the back closet of the local bordello (a fact revealed in a cut to the Present where the village uses this history as an excuse to welcome tourists). The town is freed from the yoke of Nazi Oppression.

What helps is that the abjectly bad is also unintentionally funny. If you’re not the sort to grab a beer and spend a couple hours hooting at a bad movie, then you’re not going to like this one. This is also the kind of movie that must be seen as part of a streaming service’s basic lineup where the cost of seeing this movie is covered by a monthly fee that gives you much better movies. Don’t ever rent this one from iTunes…Please. Nuff said!    

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© 2020 G.N. Jacobs

Practice makes perfect. When deciding to come back to the world of Tron, the filmmakers chose to hit all the required homages while figuring out an actually interesting script to go with the eye candy of a movie that has defined the term for more than thirty years.

Just a few years after Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) returned from the old Encom system with proof that corporate executives pirated his video game ideas and thus he deserved to be elected CEO, he disappears one night after telling his son, Sam (Garrett Hedlund) about being on the verge of a miracle on the Grid created after the dust settled on the Master Control Program.

Twenty years later, Sam is a shiftless youth with a majority interest in Encom and no interest in running his father’s company. He loves his pranks played on the company at the yearly board meeting. This time he breaks in to release the 12.0 version of the company’s operating system online for free. And must flee the scene base jumping off the roof.

Old family friend and surrogate father, Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner) bails Sam out of jail and tells him of an impossible pager text from the long since disconnected landline number from Flynn’s old videogame arcade. Sam investigates, soon finding a hidden lab behind a copy of the videogame Tron where a digitizing laser waits to send Sam into the Grid.

And history largely repeats itself, what with Flynn’s old program, Clu (also Jeff Bridges) going wild in his programmed search for perfection taking over the Grid driving his creator, Flynn into hiding to protect his disk with the master codes to the Grid. Clu would very much like to use the codes to launch various programs into the real world…something that just can’t happen because Clu and the disorder of the real world just won’t mix.

The Bread and Circuses nature of the first movie is even more highly developed this time around as Sam is thrust immediately into the updated versions of Lightcycle Race and the Deadly Frisbee game played with each program’s control disk. The games are modestly improved with little tweaks and touches.

Lightcycle Maze Race, where the player rides motorcycles that stream solid walls of colored energy behind with the intent of boxing the other rider in for a vicious smush against a solid wall, gets the addition of three-dimensions with ramps and jumps to go up or down. Deadly Frisbee, where gladiators throw their control disks at each other destroying the glass walls and floors of the combat space, sees upgrades in the form of game physics, where each carom of the disks shatters glass instead of the neat derezzing from the first movie.

Sam survives these games given that his whole life in the real world is training. He rolls around on his father’s old Ducatti and had been playing the videogame versions of these sports since forever. And with the usual events, like trusting the wrong people, that naturally transpire he meets both Clu (age regressed Jeff Bridges) and his father (regular Jeff Bridges) seeing both sides of the coin of a man that tried to seek perfection. Oh, yeah, mustn’t forget Quorra (Olivia Wilde) a woman of mystery.

There are three intersecting relationships in this movie. The father/son relationship of Sam and Kevin. The twisted relationship between Clu and his creator, Kevin. And the whatever you want it to be thing between Sam and Quorra. And buried deep in these connections is a greater use of metaphor that nobody with a functional library card will miss.

For instance, we might liken Clu and Kevin to, perhaps how Yahweh might’ve felt seeing his creation, or child turn away from Grace becoming a violent, needy and scared species. Both Yahweh and Kevin Flynn initially spend a lot of time officially disengaged from the mess of his creation, until the prospect of a son forces changes in the system.

The Biblical metaphor breaks down a bit when you consider that Yahweh sent the son as an intentional shock to the system and Sam is more of an afterthought in the Flynn system aka the Grid. Still the themes of disengaging to avoid doing more harm should the creation acquire the Creator’s tools come through loud and clear, as witnessed by Clu kicking the door to Flynn’s lair and finding a table decoration of a bowl of metallic apples. Like I said the use of metaphor is both obvious as it is profound.

The other important relationship lies between Sam and Quorra. She represents the miracle alluded to by Flynn just before he was trapped in the Grid because it’s easier to get in from the real world then it is to get out. Quorra is the last surviving member of a new hybrid lifeform called an isomorphic algorithm, one that developed spontaneously in the Grid that Clu promptly wiped out to the last woman.

Was Clu jealous of the new species that Flynn promptly gave more attention to because of the possibilities to change the outside world? Does this make Clu Lucifer? Again with the Biblical metaphors.

Anyway, in her sojourn in hiding with Flynn she has learned much about the real world reading the books he brought with him and preferring Jules Verne. She also impatiently plays Go against Flynn’s calm measured Zen style to go with his disengagement with the Grid. She wants to see her first real sunrise in the real world.

I tend to think of Jeff Bridges as having two phases of his career demarcated by The Big Lebowski. After playing the great slacker that unintentionally founded a religion of slacker-ness, Mr. Bridges other roles since all seem measured against the Dude where – ‘that’s just your opinion, Man!” Maybe, he was always the Dude since becoming an adult, but in terms of what showed up on screen, the demarcation seems clear.

The later edition of Kevin Flynn who must act like the disengaged deity gazing his navel and forcing calm and peace around him is vintage post-Lebowski Jeff Bridges (he usually has to play a villain for this trope to be wrong). Nonetheless, he’s a great actor and as always, a joy to watch.

Ironically, despite being titled Tron: Legacy this movie really skimps on Tron the character. Yes, Flynn brought the security program over from the original system when he, Clu and Tron tried to build the Grid into a nice virtual place. But, in keeping with the Biblical metaphors of this movie, when Clu turns Tron leaps to defend Flynn’s much like the Archangel Michael did for Yahweh.

Tron took a beating giving the appearance of being dead only to come back as a servant of Clu. A faceless servant in a black mask recognizable by his two-disk fighting style. I guarantee you someone in the production breathed a sigh of relief at having to use CGI age-regression technology of only one actor, Jeff Bridges instead of two. It also takes Tron out of the movie, except as a plot device.

Anyway, I found myself enjoying the movie even more than the original. I’ve mentioned the thick and heavy-handed metaphor that helps give the illusion of depth. I also loved the fluid motion of the action elements where Mr. Hedlund gets into all kinds of funky positions almost flying as he did his own stunts. Olivia Wilde played her part with the profound innocence even dropping in – “have you met him?” – in reference to her favorite author Jules Verne. Who really wants to explain to a child about Death along with the concepts of Past, Present and Future?

Anyway, the effects and production design proved far more interesting than the original movie. Yes, telling a Tron story requires similar touchstones. Control disks you can throw as weapons. The lightcycles. And the beam riding skyships. The idea was to take what the original movie gave us and bringing it into some semblance of what Flynn and Sam might’ve actually seen with their eyes versus the painted on feel of the original.

I do have one quibble that the filmmakers couldn’t take the opportunity to invent at least one new game for the arena. Going back to the Lightcycle Maze Race and Deadly Frisbee, might have been a necessary nod/homage to the fans, but the Grid, like any society, evolves. Logic suggests that there could have been a third game for the brutal viewing pleasure of Clu as he intends the disposal of his enemies. An opportunity missed.

All in all, I really enjoyed this movie thinking it one of the few times where a sequel improves on the original. Check it out.