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‘Tron’ Captured the Inner Lives of the First Video Games and Gamers

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‘Tron’ Captured the Inner Lives of the First Video Games and Gamers

Released 40 years ago this month, Tron is another influential film from an important year in popular culture. While it might not have enjoyed the success on its initial release of 1982’s big hit, E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial, it was a significant attempt by Disney to capture the excitement of the first generation of video games. These were being lapped up by gamers in the arcade and watching Tron today is like accessing a time capsule. Moreover, it anticipated Disney’s future success in marrying computer graphics with traditional animation.

Released at a time when a live action Disney movie looked like Herbie Goes Bananas and its animations were yielding diminishing returns, Tron has aged remarkably well considering how rooted it is in the moment. The beginning of the film, set in the bustling arcade run by Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) and the corporate headquarters of tech giant ENCOM, seems immediately more contemporary than other Disney efforts. The casting of Bridges doesn’t hurt either, or David Warner as the appropriately slimy executive, Ed Dillinger. They’re two charismatic actors (unusual for early 80s Disney) who carry the film.

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RELATED: ‘Tron: Legacy’ Director Cites Marvel and Star Wars as Reason He Never Made ‘Tron 3’

Director Steven Lisberger had originally been inspired by 1972’s Pong, the most basic of games and a reminder of the flight of fancy that Tron represented. In 1982 the 8-bit worlds of Space Invaders and Pac-Man were still state of the art (both games get Easter eggs in the film). The games depicted in Tron were far beyond the capabilities of Atari or even the arcades, but their origins are clear enough. Its Space Paranoid flying machines recall Space Invaders and the light cycles and tanks any number of simplistic 2D arcade shooters. The gladiatorial combat that Flynn discovers on the game grid mirrors the simple interactions of these games. This was a time before NPCs, open worlds, or even the ability to save progress beyond the details of a high score and a player’s initials.


Tron is successful in anticipating the communal nature of play and that in the future games would increasingly be for adults. In Flynn’s Arcade most players are in their late teens or twenties (the current highest demographic for gamers). The popular console of the time was the Atari 2600, although games were still associated with the arcade in 1982 – a shared experience where high scores and spectating was part of the fun. This lived experience of gaming at the time informs Tron’s imagined world.

In Tron’s cleverest conceit, the computer users of the real world each have their digital equivalent in the grid. It leads to some smart jokes about accounting programs being made to fight in the arena, anticipating the all-encompassing appeal of games in the future – from kids to office workers. The corporate suit Dillinger is a digital killing machine called Sark on the grid. The double of the decent but boring ENCOM programmer Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner) is Tron, who heroically fights for freedom like his user’s programs. Looking back from a time when we comfortably switch between IRL and digital identities, Tron seems prescient.


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Lisberger may have been inspired by computer games, but the film is also a modern take on Alice in Wonderland, with Flynn falling into a fantasy realm where the act of playing defines a person. Being one of the first generation of gamers required quite a bit of imagination. Often, the dynamic and colorful images of tanks and dragons that adorned the boxes of our game cartridges didn’t quite represent the pixelated reality of the gameplay. Gamers in the late 70s and early 80s needed imagination to buy into the combat depicted by blocks firing at other blocks. Lisberger captured that inner imagined world, as well as the suggestion that greater excitements were just around the corner.

The film’s most engaging scene is also the one that best uses computer graphics. The light cycle sequence utilizes computer effects to capture extreme speed and precision, as the bikes execute 90 degree turns to cut one another off. The cycles were designed by visual futurist Syd Mead (who also worked on 1982’s Blade Runner) and they’re a piece of beautifully fluid design in a world of straight lines. The light cycles alone were worth the price of entry, providing a glimpse of the game everyone so desperately wanted to exist.


It’s an oddity of Disney’s live action films of the time that they frequently had adults as protagonists rather than kids or even very young people. They lack the child’s view of the world that Spielberg achieved so successfully with E.T., although Tron comes closer than most. (Ironically, it was the disastrous video game version of E.T. that dealt a massive blow to the industry and changed Atari’s fortunes.) Seeing Tron in 1982 still didn’t compare to the excitement of two hours spent in the video arcade or on an Atari, but it acknowledged the experience of gamers for the first time in a major movie. Its attempt to create a digital world via a mix of computer and traditional animation sometimes leads to a flat experience, particularly with the limited color palette of blues and a lot of black. However, Tron is still a great watch compared to the computer game adaptations to come.


By imagining its own world, Tron avoided the problem of films such as Super Mario Bros. that tried to make games fit into a Hollywood format. It was clearly made by people who played and loved games, and that makes all the difference. Until only recently, with more successful efforts such as Sonic the Hedgehog, game developers were much more effective at borrowing from film. In the 1990s, the live-action cut scenes of Command and Conquer and Duke Nukem 3D’s paraphrasing from John Carpenter’s They Live (“I came here to kick ass and chew bubblegum…”) suggested that players wanted to live out their Hollywood fantasies through games, not vice versa. Perhaps it’s only now, where The Quarry can be as satisfying as a horror movie or Top Gun: Maverick can be as exciting as a game, that we’re beginning to see a coming synthesis of the two entertainments.

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Looking back, Tron’s greatest influence is being the first film to recognize just how present the digital world would become in everyone’s lives. The fight for freedom in the grid may anticipate future arguments over ownership of the internet by corporations, but it’s the potential to access different worlds that rings most true from the film. It was certainly ahead of its time, which is a lot more than can be said for Disney’s other products from a period when it just didn’t have the pulse of popular culture. Tron’s enduring legacy resides in the great successes of Pixar and Disney’s 90s revival, for which its technology paved the way. It’s an important film, perhaps best regarded as the first game adaptation (although it adapts no single game) – rather, it captures a moment in video game history that is immediately familiar to anyone who was there.


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Review: SAMARITAN, A Sly Stallone Superhero Stumble

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Review: SAMARITAN, A Sly Stallone Superhero Stumble

Hitting the three-quarter-century mark usually means a retirement home, a nursing facility, or if you’re lucky to be blessed with relatively good health and savings to match, living in a gated community in Arizona or Florida.

For Sylvester Stallone, however, it means something else entirely: starring in the first superhero-centered film of his decades-long career in the much-delayed Samaritan. Unfortunately for Stallone and the audience on the other side of the screen, the derivative, turgid, forgettable results won’t get mentioned in a career retrospective, let alone among the ever-expanding list of must-see entries in a genre already well past its peak.

For Stallone, however, it’s better late than never when it involves the superhero genre. Maybe in getting a taste of the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) with his walk-on role in the Guardians of the Galaxy sequel several years ago, Stallone thought anything Marvel can do, I can do even better (or just as good in the nebulous definition of the word).

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The property Stallone and his team found for him, Samaritan, a little-known graphic novel released by a small, almost negligible, publisher, certainly takes advantage of Stallone’s brute-force physicality and his often underrated talent for near-monosyllabic brooding (e.g., the Rambo series), but too often gives him to little do or say as the lone super-powered survivor, the so-called “Samaritan” of the title, of a lifelong rivalry with his brother, “Nemesis.” Two brothers entered a fire-ravaged building and while both were presumed dead, one brother did survive (Stallone’s Joe Smith, a garbageman by day, an appliance repairman by night).

In the Granite City of screenwriter Bragi F. Schut (Escape Room, Season of the Witch), the United States, and presumably the rest of the world, teeters on economic and political collapse, with a recession spiraling into a depression, steady gigs difficult, if not impossible, to obtain, and the city’s neighborhoods rocked by crime and violence. No one’s safe, not even 13-year-old Sam (Javon Walker), Joe’s neighbor.

When he’s not dodging bullies connected to a gang, he’s falling under the undue influence of Cyrus (Pilou Asbæk), a low-rent gang leader with an outsized ego and the conviction that he and only he can take on Nemesis’s mantle and along with that mantle, a hammer “forged in hate,” to orchestrate a Bane-like plan to plunge the city into chaos and become a wealthy power-broker in the process.

Schut’s woefully underwritten script takes a clumsy, haphazard approach to world-building, relying on a two-minute animated sequence to open Samaritan while a naive, worshipful Sam narrates Samaritan and Nemesis’s supposedly tragic, Cain and Abel-inspired backstory. Schut and director Julius Avery (Overlord) clumsily attempt to contrast Sam’s childish belief in messiah-like, superheroic saviors stepping in to save humanity from itself and its own worst excesses, but following that path leads to authoritarianism and fascism (ideas better, more thoroughly explored in Watchmen and The Boys).

While Sam continues to think otherwise, Stallone’s superhero, 25 years past his last, fatal encounter with his presumably deceased brother, obviously believes superheroes are the problem and not the solution (a somewhat reasonable position), but as Samaritan tracks Joe and Sam’s friendship, Sam giving Joe the son he never had, Joe giving Sam the father he lost to street violence well before the film’s opening scene, it gets closer and closer to embracing, if not outright endorsing Sam’s power fantasies, right through a literally and figuratively explosive ending. Might, as always, wins regardless of how righteous or justified the underlying action.

It’s what superhero audiences want, apparently, and what Samaritan uncritically delivers via a woefully under-rendered finale involving not just unconvincing CGI fire effects, but a videogame cut-scene quality Stallone in a late-film flashback sequence that’s meant to be subversively revelatory, but will instead lead to unintentional laughter for anyone who’s managed to sit the entirety of Samaritan’s one-hour and 40-minute running time.

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Samaritan is now streaming worldwide on Prime Video.

Samaritan

Cast
  • Sylvester Stallone
  • Javon ‘Wanna’ Walton
  • Pilou Asbæk

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Matt Shakman Is In Talks To Direct ‘Fantastic Four’

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According to a new report, Wandavision’s Matt Shakman is in talks to direct the upcoming MCU project, Fantastic Four. Marvel Studios has been very hush-hush regarding Fantastic Four to the point where no official announcements have been made other than the film’s release date. No casting news or literally anything other than rumors has been released regarding the project. We know that Fantastic Four is slated for release on November 8th, 2024, and will be a part of Marvel’s Phase 6. There are also rumors that the cast of the new Fantastic Four will be announced at the D23 Expo on September 9th.

Fantastic Four is still over two years from release, and we assume we will hear more news about the project in the coming months. However, the idea of the Fantastic Four has already been introduced into the MCU. John Krasinski played Reed Richards aka Mr. Fantastic in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. The cameo was a huge deal for fans who have been waiting a long time for the Fantastic Four to enter the MCU. When Disney acquired Twenty Century Fox in 2019 we assumed that the Fox Marvel characters would eventually make their way into the MCU. It’s been 3 years and we already have had an X-Men and Fantastic Four cameo – even if they were from another universe.

Deadline is reporting that Wandavision’s Matt Shakman is in talks to direct Fantastic Four. Shakman served as the director for Wandavision and has had an extensive career. He directed two episodes of Game of Thrones and an episode of The Boys, and he had a long stint on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. There is nothing official yet, but Deadline’s sources say that Shakman is currently in talks for the job and things are headed in the right direction.

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To be honest, I was a bit more excited when Jon Watts was set to direct. I’m sure Shakman is a good director, but Watts proved he could handle a tentpole superhero film with Spider-Man: Homecoming. Wandavision was good, but Watts’ style would have been perfect for Fantastic Four. The film is probably one of the most anticipated films in Marvel’s upcoming slate films and they need to find the best person they can to direct. Is that Matt Shakman? It could be, but whoever takes the job must realize that Marvel has a lot riding on this movie. The other Fantastic Four films were awful and fans deserve better. Hopefully, Marvel knocks it out of the park as they usually do. You can see for yourself when Fantastic Four hits theaters on November 8th, 2024.

Film Synopsis: One of Marvel’s most iconic families makes it to the big screen: the Fantastic Four.

Source: Deadline

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Dan Aykroyd, Chevy Chase Star in ‘Zombie Town’ Mystery Teen Romancer (Exclusive)

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Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase have entered Zombie Town, a mystery teen romancer based on author R.L. Stine’s book of the same name.

The indie, now shooting in Ontario, also stars Henry Czerny and co-teen leads Marlon Kazadi and Madi Monroe. The ensemble cast includes Scott Thompson and Bruce McCulloch of the Canadian comedy show Kids in the Hall.

Canadian animator Peter Lepeniotis will direct Zombie Town. Stine’s kid’s book sees a quiet town upended when 12-year-old Mike and his friend, Karen, see a horror movie called Zombie Town and unexpectedly see the title characters leap off the screen and chase them through the theater.

Zombie Town will premiere in U.S. theaters before streaming on Hulu and then ABC Australia in 2023.

“We are delighted to bring the pages of R.L. Stine’s Zombie Town to the screen and equally thrilled to be working with such an exceptional cast and crew on this production. A three-time Nickelodeon Kids Choice Award winner with book sales of over $500 million, R.L. Stine has a phenomenal track record of crafting stories that engage and entertain audiences,” John Gillespie, Trimuse Entertainment founder and executive producer, said in a statement.

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Executive producers are Trimuse Entertainment, Toonz Media Group, Lookout Entertainment, Viva Pictures and Sons of Anarchy actor Kim Coates.  

Paco Alvarez and Mark Holdom of Trimuse negotiated the deal to acquire the rights to Stine’s Zombie Town book.

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