Thursday, 8 September 2011

Tron Legacy

Wednesday 7th September 2011 became a quiet day in which I watched two films about reality and fantasy: Tron Legacy and Inception. Both were major box office successes and both covered interesting ideas. As is usually the case the script and the acting becomes secondary to the action and visual effects. This is not to suggest the acting was bad but the emphasis on action and visual effects reduced what could have become great films into the everyday.

I have seen the original Tron made 30 years ago a couple of times but not in theatre. The concept was original at the time and remains a good one to day with another sequel in the making. In order to understand and to communicate my understanding accurately I had to go through what I know and this led to considering the extent of he changes over the past 30 years with transformation of computers from punched card machines keeping records of employees and financial accounting, payment of salaries and bills, income and expenditure using machines which filled large rooms and which I was shown when joining Department of the Borough Treasurers over 50 years ago to the slim light notebook and lap tops of today.

I remember seeing men in suits hold large heavy blocks enabling telephone communication on the move to the present small slim and light devices and have no been coupled with the third amazing development of the Internet enabling the transmission of live sporting, news and entertainment events, access to vast libraries of music and films and instant visual communication around the world, taking photos and films which can be circulated worldwide within seconds.

And then there have been the changes in the cinema and television screen. Children as infants now grow up with a remote in their hands able to participate in a reality adventure on televisions through game consoles and 3 D glasses. Given the natural blurring between dreams, the imagination and reality in all children, the dimensional change and influence of the digital world should not be underestimated. While the basics of childhood and growing up are the same, the relationship between any and every child in the economically developed countries and their environment and their self perception and understand is significantly different. My childhood memory is of real bombs dropping of rationing, empty shops and made do meals and clothing, of severe travel restrictions and darkened streets

To day computer programmers visualise games played through multiple screen options and layers of complexity and Jeff Bridges the star of the original Tron film operated a major electronic games company, who spent much of his private time in a secret development laboratory beneath his separate open to the public traditional games arcade. It is from this laboratory that he commenced a technological exploration which led him to disappear from the world, his billion dollar company and his son.

To appreciate the rationality behind the film and what the Jeff Bridges character achieved it is important to have some understanding of the nature of a computer, which I have understood accurately I will try and communicate.

Computer people talk of the machine having a platform on which and in which the various programmes which enable interaction and activity are accommodated. While each programme possess individual characteristics unique to the particular activity there are common processes which interface in positive but at times in negatives way so that incompatibilities and conflicts can arise which can slow down the system, freeze it or prevent certain aspects of programmes or individual programmes from functioning in the manner designed. The computer can therefore be understood as being organic and having the ability to create new developments from the interactions of programmes and changes to those programmes unique to each machine but these because of direct and often ongoing connectivity the changes to the operating system can be detected and problems tackled automatically as well general changes and improvements to the systen and to individual programmes

There are parallels with the human brain in terms of the magnitude of the knowledge contained such as audio and visual memory, sensation memory, factual memory, storage and retrieval. The computer has the ability to make calculations and retrieve information quicker and more effectively than the individual brain if appropriately constructed so that instead of programmes having to be warmed up before they run, they are warmed up when the computer is switched on and wound down and individually closed before the total system is shuts down. This is part of the operating system, Windows which I use and which enables me to communicate with the computer which in turn is able to communicate directly with other computers within the parameters which sentient beings lay down. The latter is crucial because once created and linked human being individual user only control what they require from what is available while other humans and other machines as well a she machine itself controls and develops what then happens.

In order to make the communication more human like computers having been given their voice such as Hal in 2001 and the splendidly amusing depressed robotic. computer in the Hitchhikers guide. The two came together in a film whose name I cannot immediately recall in which a computer and clones humans who do not understand they are manufactured clones run a space station and mining mineral extraction plant on a planet where the clones have real memories but are also created to perform specific functions and have determined life functioning span after which they are replaced by new models which the computerised station can bring to life from storage, including if an individual is accidentally harmed beyond natural healing/repair. Between the mechanical robot and the clone have been various forms of the two, the Cyborgs for example in Star Trek comes to mind awareness

The technology has also led to at least four cinematic developments. The first is the ability to create visual and audio realities which appear to be the external world but which dramatically alter and distort, destroying cities and the world in its entirety through cataclysmic events, creating new worlds, enabling human and non human beings to function in dramatic and original ways, recreating the past such as the world of the prehistoric creatures, historical battles and the imagination of fiction and science fiction writers through wide screens, high definition screens and three dimensional screens together with some primitive attempts to create smells as well as wrap around sound.

The second is the ability of the computers to communicate with each other in such a way as to harness their combined power and take control of energy and communication systems independently of external forces to the system. Another aspect of the potential power is the ability of humans to take control the various independent systems. Government to shut down the systems of their own or other countries; and individuals or groups in order to take control of countries, the while world in order to blackmail or manipulate competitive financial markets, control economies, pursue political or religious quests and so on. Developments which have become practical in reality.

Then there is the power to transport oneself mentally and physically into the system through connections rather than physically but we have also seen the transformation and transmigration of human beings into other human beings such a miniaturization for positive purposes such as medical. Tron is about the ability to transport oneself physically into the organic world of a computer system or grid. The fourth aspect is the converse- the ability of the computer system to want to experience the reality outside of itself using the human form and this aspect is the theme of Tron the Legacy.

As it is a decade or more since seeing the original film I can only base the knowledge communicated in the sequel. The sequel film begins with the disappearance of Sam’s father, Jeff Bridges who promised to take his son to the arcade to play games together but failed to return leaving the boy to brought up by his grandparents, to attend university and to set up home independently in the ultimately bachelor pad from which he use his motorcycle for dare devil riders through the city. He is financially independent as the major shareholder in his father’s company but takes no interest other than to play a practical joke on the board at their annual meeting. He not only lives alone but has no girl friend or friends of his won age.

He has acquired all the knowledge of his father so that he is able to upload the latest development of his firm into World Wide Web for free. Some joke yes. His only real contact with the firm is through a close friend of his father and who worked on developments and who designed the self protection system for the computer. We tend to see this as the computer preventing intentional or unintentional attempts from other computers and their users to search the content of the machine, to alter it, damage it, remove data and ultimate to destroy its effective functioning. In the films this is shown in an artificial human form as security guards or soldiers in the game programmes which are now in everyday use but where they have been empower to take their own initiative in blocking and eliminating threats.

The key moment in the film is when Sam is advised that his father’s friend and colleague has received a message on his pager from the number at the Arcade which has been closed down for 20 years.

This leads Sam to return to thee closed Games Arcade on his own, surprising in the circumstances, and to discover the secret laboratory and start up the system which opens up a portal into the grid and which his father had used to transport himself into the system for a maximum of eight hours each visit before the portal automatically closed down and which can then only be opened from the outside. However although the portal is opened, when inside it is necessary to hold a key to get out thus preventing forces within the system make their way into the external reality at every opportunity.

What Sam’s father did was to also create a computerised form of himself he could continue to function, operate the system when not present, with the function to lead and control ongoing activity to create improvements to free the system from malfunctions and eternal threats. What he then found is that as a consequence of the work the system in effect created new beings, hybrids sentient beings who combined the skills of the computer with the characteristics and imperfections of human beings and which could function within the machine and outside of it. This opened the doorway to tackling some of the great problems known to human beings.

However what happened is that the control of the systems which he designed and placed in the form of himself lacked the human characteristics and he thought and acted rationally in terms of its construction to create a perfect world. Because the hyrid were part human and therefore possessed imperfections they had to be eliminated and all were but one of the hybrids, in the form of a young female. This also meant that when the creator returned being just human he was viewed has been more imperfect and therefore at the top of the elimination list.

Bridges had been rescued by the remaining hybrid and taken to a previously unknown area of the grid in much the same way that we have parts of our brain which appear not to be in use and therefore their function remains unknown. Because Bridges is all human he cannot engage with his creation but the hybrid can because she is superior combining the digital and human abilities and skills. Having rescued and hidden Bridges away the portal is closed and he has no way of communicating with the outside and letting anyone know what has happened. Thus the film’s viewers immediately know that it was not the father who contact

The son has no idea of what is to happen once he finds himself inside the machine especially as he was transported into the games area. The rational for this is obvious given that the film is primarily intended for the game playing and computer literate world of the adolescent and young adult and therefore as an action science fiction movie it is to provide game play including the use of transformers and shape shifting with speed chasing and life and death combats. Fortunately the young man, aged 27 years has knowledge and skill of game playing so he knows what to expect and his bike riding and other dare devil escapades give him performance dexterity.

He is rescued from this and the clutches of his computerised father and the security system headed by Tron created by the colleague and friend who alerted Sam and meets his father over 20 years has created a liveable world with books and music food and wine to make life bearable. Finding out that they only have eight hours to reach the open portal the son is all for a full frontal assault and escape whereas his father wants to sit quietly and think because he did not send the message and therefore there must be a reason why the computerised version of himself did.

Bridges works out that his creation has taken the original plan to its logical conclusion wants to fill the external world with the perfect but soulless creations without human qualities and which in turn means eliminating all the imperfect humans. He has therefore created a huge army to accompany him through the opened portal and once outside he can of course open as often as he wants and return at will creating all the forces and resources to achieve the objective, He also knows that the one threat to his plan is the son who having served his purpose opening the portal he would use to enable him to obtain the holographic key held by Bridges to enable his release.

The son being young, emotional and headstrong refuses to sit quietly and think out what to do and as a consequence enables the computerised father to gain hold of the key nearly killing the hybrid and making him and his father impotent. Well done son! However with the help of the regenerated hybrid they work out at plan to get ahead of the army as it progresses towards the portal. The key is in fact obtained by Zuse, the owner of a Night club providing everyone with unlimited pleasures and who represent hedonism within the system. Zuse having obtained the key proposes to sell to the new order in exchange for control of the inner world while the outer is taken over. He is then exterminated after serving his purpose as the new order is puritanical rather than pleasure seeking regarded as another imperfection.

There is then the usual climax where the father realises he must remain and neutralize his self recreated while his son and the hybrid escape. Unlike Inception I had become engaged with the characters and cared about their future so the ending has its emotional moments. Having return to the external world the son decides it is time to take responsibility for his father’s work and the company and informs his father friend and colleague that they will form the new Chairman and CEO of the company, with the son being the new CEO. He takes the hybrid off to see the sun rise and to live happy ever after together. Interestingly he has taken a copy of the operating system on disk with him suggesting he has the intention to return. I understand that a sequel to the sequel is in the making.

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