Film Review: TRON (1982)

Also known as: Tron: The Electronic Gladiator (Australia – promotional title), Disney’s TRON: The Original Classic (re-release title)
Release Date: July 9th, 1982
Directed by: Steven Lisberger
Written by: Steven Lisberger, Bonnie MacBird
Music by: Wendy Carlos
Cast: Jeff Bridges, Bruce Boxleitner, David Warner, Cindy Morgan, Barnard Hughes, Dan Shor, Michael Dudikoff

Walt Disney Productions, Lisberger/Kushner, 96 Minutes

Review:

“On the other side of the screen, it all looks so easy.” – Kevin Flynn

I’ve been wanting to re-watch and review the TRON films for awhile now but I figured that I’d hold out till Disney+ dropped, as I assumed that these would be there, along with a bunch of other films I’ve held off on for the streaming service’s launch.

Well, now that Disney+ is here, you can expect a lot of reviews of sci-fi and fantasy Disney flicks that I’ve been putting off until now.

This is one of my all-time favorite films simply because of its visual aesthetic. Honestly, there is nothing like it and that includes it’s big budget, modern sequel that relied on modern CGI effects, as opposed to the dreamlike matte paintings and primitive computer effects that this original film employed.

TRON is such a unique and bizarre picture that it wasn’t initially successful. It developed a cult following as time went on and eventually, Disney made a sequel, albeit 28 years later. But it was considered a financial disappointment, despite being their highest grossing live-action film in over five years. This actually led to Disney writing off some of its budget.

In the years since 1982, the film found its audience thanks to home video and television. In fact, almost all the kids I knew, back in the day, liked the film, even if its concepts felt like they were a bit over our head.

It was TRON that really generated my interest in programming when I was a kid and I would go on to excel at computers in a time when they weren’t really owned in very many homes yet. I always took computer programming classes throughout school and even designed my first video game in 1991 because of how I was inspired by this film.

Seeing it again now, the first time in at least five years, I still absolutely love this picture from its look, its cool and original story and also because of its musical score and sound effects. TRON truly is an otherworldly experience in a way that the sequel couldn’t quite replicate.

However, being older and having a more refined palate, without sounding like a pretentious asshole, I can see the faults in the film. And even though it’s hard not to become overwhelmed by nostalgia, having some distance from this allows me to see it more clearly and with somewhat fresher eyes.

To start, the acting isn’t terrible but Jeff Bridges really has to carry the picture. It’s not his best effort but I almost don’t feel as if he’s really acting. I think that he was having a blast making this movie and it shows. But luckily, for the character he was playing, it fits and it works well.

Additionally, I thought that David Warner did a solid job too, as did all of the main players. But you can’t not see the hokiness in all of this and at certain points it pulls you out of this fantastical adventure. However, I think that some of this is the script’s fault, as there are some weird lines thrown in. Like the little observational joke that Dr. Gibbs gives when you meet him. It was a cute, whimsical way to explain the technology he was working with but it was just an odd moment. As a kid, I was like, “Shut up old man! You’re being weird!”

I don’t feel like the direction was necessarily good either but it wasn’t bad. Honestly, it seems kind of nonexistent, which is fine for what this is but I think that there was more emphasis on lining up the action on large sets without the actual world around the characters existing. I mean, this was made well before green screen was a major thing in Hollywood and the film feels kind of emotionless and cold at times because so much detail was given to the visual side of the film. But if the visuals didn’t work, TRON would’ve been a disaster.

The things that do work though are the art direction, the special effects, the post-production manufactured sets and the film’s sound from its imaginative score and computer world sound effects.

I’d like to think that this is a picture that has stood the test of time but it will certainly feel dated to younger audiences. It’s a strange movie by any standard and it’s not going to be a lot of people’s cup of tea. But that doesn’t discount that it did once speak to a generation of kids that were inspired by its coolness and uniqueness and thus, embraced a brave new world of emerging technology.

TRON is a special film. It’s amazing that it even got made in the first place because it was a massive risk. In 2019, I don’t think a studio would have the balls to try something this far outside of the box.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: it’s sequel: TRON: Legacy, as well as other sci-fi films of the era like The Black Hole, The Last Starfighter, Flash Gordon and The Explorers.

Film Review: Manhunt In Space (1954)

Also known as: Rocky Jones, Space Ranger: Manhunt In Space (complete title)
Release Date: 1954
Directed by: Hollingsworth Morse
Written by: Arthur Hoerl
Music by: Alexander Laszlo
Cast: Richard Crane, Scotty Beckett, Sally Mansfield

Official Films, Roland Reed Productions, Space Ranger Enterprises, 78 Minutes

Review:

“Well, the Double M just became the scrambled M.” – Winky

Like the recently reviewed Crash of the Moons, this movie is actually just three episodes of the syndicated television show Rocky Jones, Space Ranger edited into a singular feature length picture.

Also, like Crash of the Moons, this is a pretty awful flick that was a product of its time but with seemingly less of a budget than other productions like it.

Rocky Jones is very similar to the motion picture serials of the time. It’s obviously this studio’s attempt at trying to create their own sci-fi hit like Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon.

Out of the two Rocky Jones films I’ve seen now, I’d have to say that this is the weaker one.

Not a lot goes right with this production but I can imagine that 1950s boys didn’t care. The show was short-lived, living and dying in the same calendar year, but it did stretch over two seasons in that short time and thirty-plus episodes were made.

In retrospect, it doesn’t have the lasting impact that other sci-fi space operas of the era had. In fact, I think that the only way people today might even know about Rocky Jones is because two of the film versions were lampooned on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Rating: 3.75/10
Pairs well with: the TV series Rocky Jones, Space Ranger, as well as other ’50s and ’60s sci-fi that was shown on MST3K.

Film Review: Invasion U.S.A. (1952)

Release Date: December 10th, 1952
Directed by: Alfred E. Green
Written by: Robert Smith, Franz Schulz
Based on: a story by Robert Smith, Franz Spencer
Music by: Albert Glasser
Cast: Gerald Mohr, Peggie Castle, Dan O’Herlihy, Edward G. Robinson Jr.

American Pictures, Mutual Productions of the West, Columbia Pictures, 73 Minutes

Review:

“For every atom bomb dropped on our country, we have taken three to the enemy’s heartland and we have huge stocks of atomic weapons in reserve.” – The President

I already reviewed a film called Invasion U.S.A., but that one was a far superior ’80s Chuck Norris film put out by the best action studio of all-time The Cannon Group. I think that one is really a remake in name only of this film but they have the same general premise of the United States being invaded by a foreign power.

Mostly, this is a crappy film. But in its defense, it’s actually not that boring and some of it is interesting.

I like the premise and these sort of stories are always intriguing to me, as the United States, generally, feels like a place that is safe from foreign harm. The idea of the whole country being invaded seems insane and it is but that doesn’t mean it’s not an intriguing concept. It’s just that no one has made a great film about it.

The best parts of this film aren’t the bits that show actual invasion, instead, they are the simple scenes, like the ones in the bar with patrons having conversations about communism and war. While the dialogue isn’t good and the acting and directing leave a lot to be desired, it’s interesting to hear different viewpoints from the time, expressed and discussed.

Invasion U.S.A. sort of exists as a time capsule in how it captures the sentiment of different Americans from the 1950s, post-World War II and just as communism was becoming the enemy of the day.

There were a lot of paranoia films in this decade and this one is no different. Just instead of giant atomic monsters and science run amok, this channels fear around the idea that your safe haven might not be as safe as you perceive it. That’s unsettling however you want to present it.

Rating: 3.5/10
Pairs well with: the far superior sort of remake, 1985’s Invasion U.S.A., also another film with a similar plot, 1984’s Red Dawn.

Film Review: Hercules and the Captive Women (1961)

Also known as: Ercole alla conquista di Atlantide (original Italian title), Hercules and the Conquest of Atlantis (original English title), Hercules Conquers Atlantis (UK), Hercules and the Haunted Women (alternative title)
Release Date: August 19th, 1961 (Italy)
Directed by: Vittorio Cottafavi
Written by: Vittorio Cottafavi, Sandro Continenza, Duccio Tessari, Pierre Benoit, Nicolo Ferrari
Music by: Gino Marinuzzi Jr., Armando Trovajoli
Cast: Reg Park, Fay Spain, Ettore Manni, Luciano Marin

Comptoir Français du Film Production (CFFP), SpA Cinematografica, 101 Minutes (original Italian cut), 94 Minutes

Review:

“Uranus… to rule over all!” – Androclo, Re di Tebe, “What you say is blasphemy!” – Ercole

After seeing about a half dozen (maybe more) of these Hercules films, as well as other sword and sandal schlock, featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000, they all sort of blend together in my mind. It almost doesn’t matter that this is the most recent one that I watched, most of it already got flushed down the memory hole.

I mean, if anything was truly a dime a dozen, these Italian sword and sandal flicks would take the cake. While there probably aren’t as many of them as there were spaghetti westerns, which took over when these died out, the quality is generally pretty poor. This film is not an exception to the rule and other than dudes yelling about Uranus the whole movie, there’s not much worth remembering.

Hercules in this outing was played by Reg Park, birth name Roy Park because he’s surprisingly not Italian. In fact, he was an Englishman and won Mr. Universe in 1951, 1958 and 1965. He also played Hercules four times. Most importantly, though, he was an idol and mentor to Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Park couldn’t save this movie, however, but what Mr. Universe has ever saved a film apart from Schwarzenegger?

This is a pretty mundane and monotonous movie where a whole lot of nothing happens, other than a buff dude solving problems by lifting heavy things.

Overall, this is a pretty standard Hercules picture, which means there’s not much to give a shit about. If you feel compelled to watch it, just watch the MST3K version.

Rating: 2/10
Pairs well with: other Italian Hercules movies, as well as the other sword and sandal pictures of the era.

Film Review: Fire Maidens of Outer Space (1956)

Also known as: Love Maidens of Outer Space (alternative title), The Thirteenth Moon of Jupiter (script title)
Release Date: July, 1956 (UK)
Directed by: Cy Roth
Written by: Cy Roth
Music by: Trevor Duncan
Cast: Anthony Dexter, Paul Carpenter, Susan Shaw, Harry Fowler, Sydney Tafler, Jacqueline Curtis, Rodney Diak

Criterion Films, 80 Minutes

Review:

“I’ll go with my beloved to Earth but I shall return!” – Hestia

The first sentence from the plot section on this film’s Wikipedia article pretty much got me pumped for its 1950s schlockiness: “The discovery of signs of life on the 13th moon of Jupiter leads to the sending of a crew of five chain-smoking male astronauts, armed with handguns, to investigate.”

Another selling point was that this was riffed on Mystery Science Theater 3000 and I hadn’t seen the episode yet.

Upon arriving on the moon, guns and testosterone blazing, they save a beautiful girl from a monster. This leads to them discovering New Atlantis, a dying colony made up of descendants from the original Atlantis.

The colony has seventeen survivors, only one of which is a man, who happens to be middle-aged and a sort of adoptive father of the sixteen women. While that sounds like a great existence, he’s pretty old and useless and he needs the Earth soldiers to destroy the monster that keeps terrorizing them. However, one of the women wants to hold the men captive and force them into being their mates. That also doesn’t sound like a bad existence.

Anyway, some women die, the soldiers kill the beast and the remaining women allow the men to return home with one of the ladies. The men then promise to send spaceships of men back to the moon so that the remaining ladies can procreate. Sign me up!

After summarizing the film, I don’t think that this is something that could get made in 2019 with everyone being easily outraged snowflakes that spend all day looking for shit to be offended about.

If this were made today, hopefully it’d be done much better because this is a fairly mundane movie. The premise isn’t that original, especially for the ’50s, and even though the monster is kind of cool, he doesn’t seem like that big of a threat. Sure, he’s impervious to bullets but he’s also just some humanoid lummox. I feel like you could easily lure him into a pit and bury him alive in a multitude of things. Or hell, trick him into walking through some grease and then laugh at him when he keeps trying to get up and busts his ass, again and again.

The film is riddled with bad acting, sets that look like community theater stage props and too much clunky dialogue.

But, I did find it pretty watchable for what it is and it is something I could sit through, even without the added humor, as provided by Joel and the ‘Bots.

Rating: 2.75/10
Pairs well with: other ’50s & ’60s sci-fi movies shown on MST3K.