Thursday, December 30, 2010

Back to the Future (Trilogy): An Old Classic Made New Again

Having heard of the new Back to the Future game made by Telltale Games, I had gained somewhat of an interest in playing it, since I have enjoyed other games the developer has put out. However, I had never seen any of the movies the game was based on, so I decided it would be best to watch the movies first to pick up on any of the possible references and mythology gags they might have made in-game. To accomplish this, I acquired the Back to the Future Trilogy on Blu-Ray and watched all three movies in a row. I knew what to expect based on the countless references made to the movies on the internet, but I was still pleasantly surprised by this gem that Universal had put out 25 years ago, mainly because it still holds up to this day as a movie franchise.

You might know how the story goes already: A teenager named Marty McFly accidentally goes from 1985 to 1955 with a time-travelling DeLorean created by scientist Dr. Emmett "Doc" Brown. In 1955, he accidentally messes up the flow of time by causing his mother to fall in love with him instead of his father at a particular moment. He now has to restore the natural course of history and go back to 1985 with the help of Doc Brown from 1955.

As the movie unfolds, the viewer is introduced to the hilarious recurring gags, each of which is echoed in both sequels. For example, the local bully, Biff Tannen (or an incarnation of him) is always covered in manure after encountering Marty in some way. Others include a chase between Marty and some member of the Tannen line, usually ending in Marty's favor, as well as Marty always waking up in a room believing his time travel to be a dream, only to have an incarnation of his mother telling him he is safe in "good old" 1955/the 27th floor/the McFly Farm. Since I had seen all three films in a row, I knew when these gags would come up, but they act as part of the Trilogy's source of humor and work to its advantage.

The story of the first movie, as described above, was very easy to follow and was entertaining to see play out. Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd were perfect for the roles of Marty McFly and Doc Brown, bringing the characters to life in a very believable way, which really helped the the film. The 1955 setting was portrayed in what I felt was true to what it might have been like, and I enjoyed how Marty used the music and knowledge of the future to his advantage, for example: using Van Halen combined with a radiation suit to convince his father to ask his mother out to a school dance, which also ended up inspiring a book his father would publish in the "new" 1985. The movie is regarded as a classic, and I would wholly agree with that label.

Now the sequels for the movies are unique in their own way. Both films were filmed at around the same time and then split into to two movies, much like how Peter Jackson would later film the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The second film, called Back to the Future Part II, picks up exactly where the first one left off. It even overlaps the first one by showing the viewer the last minute of the movie again as a slight recap. I can see how this would have come in pretty handy in the movie's original theatrical run, so I can't really complain about it. The sequel begins simply enough, with Marty needing to alter a point in 2015 involving his son.

The story gets a little bit convoluted right after Marty recovers his girlfriend and loses track of a Sports Almanac he purchased that displayed every sports stat from 1950-2000. An old Biff Tannen uses the DeLorean to deliver the almanac to himself in 1955 to achieve great wealth. After Marty and Doc Brown go back to 1985, they see the effects of time travel with bringing future items back to the past. The plot of the movie becomes Marty needing to restore the timeline by recovering the Sports Almanac in 1955 and destroying it. The film ends with Marty accomplishing this, but Doc Brown gets struck by a bolt of lightning in the DeLorean, which causes it to go back to 1885. Marty gets a letter from 1885 Doc Brown and locates 1955 Doc Brown for assistance. The viewer is then given a brief ad for the third movie, Back to the Future Part III.

This movie continues where the 2nd left off, with Marty locating 1955 Doc Brown. With his help, they repair the DeLorean, preserved from 1885, and Marty travels back to the Old West to prevent Doc Brown's death. The DeLorean doesn't work after Marty accidentally broke the fuel line, so he and Doc Brown figure out a way to use a train to generate the power needed to get back to 1985. This is complicated when Doc Brown falls in love and Marty gets in trouble with "Mad Dog" Tannen. Despite these obstacles, Marty overcomes Tannen and travels back to 1985, without Doc Brown, successfuly at the end of the movie with the timeline restored. After preventing an accident he would have been in involving a Roles Royce, he sees Doc Brown come back in a Steam Engine converted into a time machine and meets his new family. The film then ends as a callback to how the first one ended.

Overall, I greatly enjoyed these movies. The story was pretty well-written, but got a little more complicated as it went on. That's not really a bad thing though, since it didn't really seem to affect how the movie was done. As far as the characters go, the main cast was enjoyable to watch and it was welcome to see Marty develop as a person and notice the flaws in his own character. The special effects aren't really that great by today's standards, but they were pretty impressive for a movie that came out when it did. Overall, I think the movie aged well, as it is still enjoyable to watch and somehow gave me a sense of nostalgia I never really had before.

The trilogy is an impressive work of the 80's and I think Robert Zemeckis knew how to make a Time Travel movie. Whether you have seen the movies before and already own them on something or you are getting into it for the first time, I would reccomend purchasing the Blu-Ray collection of the entire trilogy. These films are simply not ones to be passed up.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Tron: Legacy - Great Visuals, Sometimes Predictable Story

Some of you may recall the original announcement of the new Tron movie. It was first teased three years ago at San Diego Comic-Con, with new information presented every year. Of course, the closer the movie got to the target release date, the more hypable material they threw at their captive audience. Having seen the original Tron, I was always wondering how exactly they would be able to follow it up. Once I began viewing the trailers and had heard the announcement that Daft Punk did the score for the movie, I got more into it. As the release date approached, I just couldn't wait any longer. The night before going to the theater, I sat through the original Tron on DVD for comparison. After coming back from my showing, I can honestly say that I absolutely loved the sequel better than I did the original.

From a visual standpoint, they improved everything greatly. Everything about the cyber world in the sequel looked more streamlined and appeared more like what it might actually look like if one were to dive in it. It was very mesmerizing to say the least, and I loved how the colors practically bounced off the surface. Design-wise, everything was very sleek, which I felt was more pleasing to the eye. Everything from the design of the iconic Light Cycles to the designs of the characters was very cool to look at, offering something that you just can't find yourself looking away from.

Likewise, the special effects really took advantage of current technology. Every computer generated object on screen, that would be most of them, moved with a lot more fluidity. I loved how everything acted with more freedom than their counterparts from the original. It really gave me a better sense that it was all happening right in front of me.

Now for the story, I have a few words of my own. I think it's safe to say that a lot of people reading this had a hard time keeping track of the stroy of the original movie. It could be challenging to figure out exactly what had just occured in the movie. In contrast, I believe the sequel was actually much easier to follow, maybe even a little too easy at times. Occasionally, I could predict what would happen later on in the movie, and be right about it. While I give the writers credit for being fairly original, there were some cliches thrown in that gave it a somewhat formulaic feel to it. This isn't neccesarily a bad thing, as I thought it might have done more good to the movie than harm. I would like to point out, though, that there were a couple of moments in the movie where I was confused. The first was when Sam Flynn picks up a Light Cycle baton from a derezzed program. I expected this to have come in handy at a later point, but it was never used, as one might expect. The other was near the end of the movie when Kevin Flynn is inexplicably abe to use an ability he had never used previously. Perhaps I shouldn't think about it too hard.

To call the soundtrack "great" would be a complete understatement. I believe Daft Punk was the perfect choice of composer for this movie, as they completely nailed the muscial score. Every moment with some kind of BGM was perfectly accentuated by their infectious beats and ability to mix with an orchestra. Sure, the music was outside their normal territory, but there is more than enough here to enjoy. I can almost guarantee that you'll walk out of the theater humming one of the songs to yourself, or at least in your head. To that end, it would be wise to purchase the soundtrack. They sometimes don't play the entirety of tracks in the movie, so buying the soundtrack would enable you to enjoy the songs as they were intended.

On a sliding scale of Flash versus Substance, I would would put the orginal at more Flash and this movie closer to the middle. The story falls a little thin at times, but is much easier to follow because of this. However, you might be hyped for the movie based on visuals alone, which is what the movie excells at. Either way, this is a movie definitely worth watching, especially in 3D.

Now to be fair, while the original was difficult to follow, it had very impressive effects and visuals for its time. This is especially impressive because it was the first movie to ever use CG. While the animations seem limited compared to today's effects, you have to really think about the limitations they had then and the fact that they were able to accomplish something despite such limitations. I think it is definitely worth checking out for the visuals alone, as well as a great view at what they believed the future might have been like from an 80's perspective.