Monday, May 27, 2013

Courtney Coulson's Costume Critiques- Technology and Textiles Part 2: Tron Legacy

The game has changed and it is beautiful, Tron Legacy may just have some of the most innovative costumes of all time. Michael Wilkinson is one of my favourite modern costume designers, his work is distinctive and memorable. He has worked on many blockbuster films, from Moulin Rougue and Romeo+Juliet to 300, Watchmen, Sucker Punch and the upcoming Man of Steel. Just from those titles alone it's clear that his directors love to work with him over and over again.

Almost 30 years have passed since the first Tron film, Kevin Flynn has transported the Grid from Encom servers to his own private ones, rebuilding it from the ground up as a much friendlier place for programs to live. I feel they convey this evolution is a believable way, this is still recognisable as the Grid, but it has become more realistic just as video games have. There is even simulated weather and more naturalistic water, textures and colours, this presents greater freedoms for the design department.

Remember what I was saying in my previous article about the costumes in the first film being very uniform and colour coded? That still exists here to a degree, but now programs have some sense of individuality, which is far more interesting to analyse, meaning a much longer review, strap yourselves in!

Like the first film I marvel at the technical side of the production, there is far less CGI involved than you may think, which is something of trademark of this franchise, a majority of the sets, effects and costumes were real.

After years of thinking his father was dead or had abandoned him, Sam Flynn's search leads him into the digital world his father created. Once inside, he is quickly herded into the Armory to prepare him for battle within the Games, this suit-up scene is what I like to refer to as costume porn. Long lingering, detailed shots revealing how the costume is assembled and worn, plus we see the Sirens for the first time, they are perfect, doll-like models (more on them later). Everything about this scene is so clean, minimalistic, artificial and timeless, it looks permanently photoshoot ready.

Sam's real world clothes seem to me like something Kevin himself would wear, a hoodie and a bad ass leather jacket. In fact I think that leather jacket did belong to Kevin, pulling a Dean Winchester are we Sam Flynn? This ensemble is quickly disposed of by the Sirens who simply use their laser fingers to remove the clothing, which is of interest, I suppose they wouldn't know any other way to remove garments.
Being a User and a new one at that, the costume Sam is given is stock standard, this includes a grey bodysuit that appears to crawl onto his body which has a groovy hexagon print (I have a thing for hexagons) and this is topped off with black rubber armour.

Black...Rubber...I cannot begin to tell you how tired that design cliche is. Every bloody superhero or sci-fi action hero has to be wearing something black and rubbery or leathery.
I will write an article in the future upon this subject, how it traces back to samurais and cowboys and how costume design has never been the same since the Matrix. But for now I will say that by Odin's ravens do they inject some life back into what could otherwise have been a tired old look!

This is what I believe the anthropomorphic personification of a motorcycle would look like, all geometric lines and angles and a level of symmetry that only a computer could produce. There are interesting cutaways for both form and function and nary a seam or fastening to be seen. I am in love with this silhouette, this is the masculine form at its finest, it finds the perfect shoulder to waist ratio and lengthens the legs, all the men look fantastic in this armour.

The lights in this film are still colour coded, it's just that the colours have changed to more subtle shades. Blue is now white (although under the blue filters of the film it appears blue none-the-less) and red has been replaced with tangerine and gold, which stands in stark contrast from the otherwise cold looking world.
The most fascinating part about the film is that none of the lights are created digitally, in the costumes specifically they utilised a stretch fabric called Elastolite which has never before been used in film, not surprising considering the stuff didn't even exist a few years ago and still isn't commercially available (sigh). It is quite power efficient too, running on only the tiny battery pack seen below a Program's identity disk, I love it when necessary components are integrated into a design like that.
 Check Elastolite at work right here:

 How about we check in with our old buddies Kevin Flynn and Tron!

And Yori!

- Yori? I don't understand, where did you go?

When they first announced Tron 2 and said that Jeff Bridges and Bruce Boxleitner were going to be reprising their roles I though you have got to be kidding me! I mean they are still good looking guys don't get me wrong, but I can't see them rocking the unitards anymore without losing some of their dignity.

For the most part they got around it with an impressive use of CGI (HD TVs and Blu-Rays are most unforgiving, but viewed on any other format and it looks better integrated).

To sum up Kevin's wardrobe in this film in a single phrase would be 'elegant in its simplicty'. We first see him in a smart white robe, the fabric they chose was the perfect weight and is tailored well. Minor details of note are the beads wrapped around his right arm, the lack of circuitry lights and a unique white ID disk. Instantly we can tell that Flynn in his incalculable time in the Grid* has become a more spiritual, reflective, zen man and when Sam finally reunites with him we are unsure of  how he will react.
* Theorised to be somewhere around 1,000 years relative time

 Kevin's only other costumes are this one seen in a flashback, two lines of light along his leather jacket (that thing gets around), I'm a fan of his casual clothes and the circuitry meshing together.

And this, what I refer to as his battle costume, radical glow-hoodie am I right? I love how minimalistic all of his costumes are even in this minimalistic world.

C.L.U 2.0
What is it with me and villains? By far C.L.U has the coolest costumes of the film, there is something aggressive and rigid about them, a perfect reflection of the character.
When we are first introduced to C.L.U, his identity is obscured by a dark helmet, these props were unusually left to the costume department to design and make. They are remarkably complicated designs and each one of them is unique, the reason for this is that the designs were based off the planes of the actors face. Note how Quorra's helmet is narrow with high cheekbones, where C.L.U's helmet is wide and square.



Square too is the silhouette created by his robes which have the structure of a military uniform, double breasted with a stand collar and armoured shoulders reminiscent of epaulets. It also has a severe cutaway at the front just above the hips, this seems like a choice made for the sake of practicality of movement.
These robes very clearly say 'I am C.L.U, emperor of the Grid'.

His main costume is a variation on that motorcycle-inspired armour, unlike Sam's however C.L.U's armour has much more intimidating sharp angles and the circuitry is slightly asymmetrical with a strange bar code looking series of lights of the left side of his chest. I've speculated on what this might represent, it may just be there to enforce the military look.
In the flashback C.L.U is an exact replica of Kevin, it's only when he betrays his creator that he switches into his current costume. Speaking of the flashback, this finally leads me to the titular Tron.

His armour is the lightest and most form fitting, giving him a slender agile silhouette, which contrasts well with C.L.U's broad chested, muscular build. He has very little circuitry but what remains is his very iconic 'T' configuration on his chest. Avid Tron fans instantly recognised it when the first promo images were released of the film and began wildly theorising as to what this could mean and who Rinzler was. I assume Tron's helmet is based on Bruce Boxleitner's face, I can kind of see his chin in the design. Overall his helmet is the most aerodynamic, it is the sharpest and most featureless giving him the look of a raptor or a shark, he is an apex predator. Gone is any semblance of Tron's "humanity", this is now just a killing machine.

Alright now we know where the original cast is at, who's new?
Racing to Sam's rescue from the Arena comes Quorra, my favourite character, I'm in love. When it comes to female characters they either have an amazing costume or an interesting personality, but rarely do you get both in one package.

Quorra is an Isomorphic Algorithm which were beings not created by Kevin but evolved from the Grid itself. C.L.U saw them as imperfect and a threat to the order of the system, so he destroyed them, Quorra is the last Iso remaining alive. From her costume alone you can tell that she is unique, her entire look is based on asymmetry,you can see it in her circuitry, her hair and her skirt. She looks like a warrior and yet her look is modern, accessible and sexy without being overtly sexual. Although she wears latex tights, her skirt is cut in such a way as to emphasise her backside. Tron you got a booty fixation!
Adding to the sexy is the cut aways on her shoulders revealing the skin underneath, this helps to emphasise softness and femininity contrasting with the masculinity of the armour. Quorra is so many of these things at once and I feel they did well translating that into her look.
Too often a female character is either put in an impractical sexy costume or her gender is ignored entirely and she's put into the same uniform or armour as the male characters. Quorra's costume is not a genderbend on the male costume, the two stand on their own while sharing the important common elements.

Later Quorra takes Sam to the End of Line Club, which has to be the coolest nightclub ever committed to cinema. Here we meet Zuse/Castor*, whom I have a love/hate relationship with, I think Michael Sheen is a good actor but he needs to be reigned in otherwise he tends to fall into melodramatic acting. Although in a way I can't blame him, put a cane in my hand and tails on my coat and I would turn up the theatrics too.

His look instantly conveys 'I am programmed specifically for the function of entertainment' he looks like an albino ringleader crossed with a rock star, one rock star in particular and this brings me to my biggest gripe.
I love David Bowie as much as the next person but I feel Ziggy Stardust's image is too iconic and by channeling it right down to the logo on the forehead you prevent Castor standing as an identity all his own. Apparently this influence was suggested by Michael Sheen himself, so I would be curious to know what they had originally intended for him.
Take away the hair and make-up though and you know what I see? Khan from Star Trek, the wide neckline with a literal plastic chest beneath is a total Wrath of Khan look.
So to summarise, there are definitely elements of this costume I appreciate, I just wish they could have been more subtle with their references.

*Bit of trivia, Castor and Pollux were the twin sons of Zeus in Greek mythology, they were conceived while Zeus was in the guise of a swan. Relevance? Oh I just think it's hilarious when gods either shag animals or turn into animals and shag people. You would be amazed at how often this occurs, Loki I'm looking at you.
Now I think of it why didn't he go by Castor/Pollux instead of Castor/Zuse?

The only other grey and white costumes we see in the film belong to Daft Punk and the aforementioned mysterious Sirens, these colours don't apparently mean anything officially. The only connection I can draw is that these are Basics just like in the original Tron, user-created programs designed with a specific function in mind and true, both Sirens and Castor play specific roles on the Grid. Most other programs are free to do as they wish.

The Siren costumes are probably the most reminiscent of the classic Tron costumes in that they are simple, white and skin-tight, although now the spandex is coated in latex. They also wear some serious platform heels, this costume was so restrictive that the actresses could not walk backwards, the one time they are seen doing so is played in reverse adding to their unnatural movements.

The Siren walk that line between fashion and costume, their look was snatched right from the runway and is still relevant today. The funny thing is that if I were to list the fashion trends I hate the most it would include nude-lips especially with really heavy eye make-up and the high bun hairdo. And yet this is essentially the Siren look, somehow they make it look sleek, severe and sexy, we have finally found the context in which these trends can work and all at once!

The Sirens are all identical and don't seem to be all that sentient, even speaking with synthesised voices and yet we later see Gem off duty and her character has changed entirely, she seems more alive.
Remember that simulated weather I mentioned earlier? We get a scene in the rain in which Gem is seen wearing a beautiful transparent raincoat with a high collar carrying a light-up umbrella. This is the costumes at their most Blade Runner-esque.

The final named character I would like to look at is Jarvis because that face-plate is groovy, that is all. It's a cool costume that ties in well with C.L.U.

In the original Tron we didn't see a lot of civilians, but the ones that we did see were very strange. Almost 30 decades later Cyberpunk has become a firmly established subgenre and subculture and the Grid is now a fully populated living breathing metropolis filled with a diverse range of people, the clothing may not be white unitards anymore, but these costumes don't make it look any less alien.
The only recurring elements are the ID disks, circuitry and a lot of black, but that's where the uniformity begins and ends. We see people with black or white hair, cut or shaved in dramatic, often asymmetrical ways. Something I forgot to mention in the previous article is that in the original film most programs had their hair covered because it was too difficult for the effects department to manage, Tron himself was supposed to have a spikey punk do originally.
 Some programs wear face-paint and visors and tattoos. Beyond the few Programs in white, everyone else is in black, the clothes are not unlike what one could expect to see at a rave, dramatic coats, boots, gloves and mesh and like a majority of the Cyberpunk genre there is a sense of the 90's, the present and the future all at once.
One could get lost looking at all the background characters because their costumes seem to portray just that, character. These aren't uniformed extras to fill out the background, it looks as if you could walk up to any Program in the End of Line Club and start a conversation with them and hear an interesting story.

Awards, influence, recognition
I never take awards seriously, especially when it comes to costume, it's beyond a joke, they always nominate and award period films no matter what.
Tron Legacy never got any recognition at the Oscars, really? What the frak do they count as innovative costume design? I mean they utilised technology that had not been used before, these designs are unparalleled!
It was around this time that I started paying closer attention to designers and even entered the West Australian Academy of Performing Arts to study costume, so you could say that these films have had a hell of an influence on me.
I apologise if I gushed a little too much over these designs. It's not very often costumes get to play such an integral role in a film and in the Tron franchise they are a character all their own. But where the original Tron's costumes are completely alien and kind of dorky (in a lovable way of course), Tron Legacy made these otherworldly costumes sexy and accessible while still maintaining a strong science fiction image.

Tron is a major franchise that has been adapted into comics, video games and most notably the recent but sadly short-lived Tron:Uprising which did have some nice designs. I won't analyse any of that in depth, but I will be sure to review the third Tron whenever that happens.

Next week- Retro-futurism, with a focus on Star Trek.

No comments:

Post a Comment