The Dinner: Chicken Pad Thai at Jamjuree (509 15th Ave E.).
Walt Disney Studios Wilde as the cyber-dream of every 12-year-old boy gamer.
The Screenplate: Did Thai food even exist in 1982? I mean the U.S.-imported, ubiquitous food-court and mall eateries that have since made it, arguably, the nation's second favorite "foreign" cuisine after Mexican. In 1982, I'd venture to guess, Seattle probably had a half-dozen Thai food restaurants. Today, there must be 100 or more. (They're like Canada geese, permanent residents.) 1982 was the year of the first Tron, Disney's audacious attempt to catch up with George Lucas and Star Wars with a sci-fi epic of its own--one that took place partly inside a video game! 12-year-old boys everywhere were transfixed: While the Star Wars trilogy took place a long time ago in a galaxy far away, Tron took place in your local video arcade. (This before home video games became the norm.) Tron made pioneering use of computer effects, but the story... eh, left something to be desired. Yet the film grew in reputation as those young boy gamers and sci-fi geeks grew to become adults. Several of whom today will be taking their own sons to see Tron: Legacy in 3-D at the Cinerama, Thornton Place, and other big screens. Sigh. How far we have come from basic Casio watches and Texas Instruments pocket calculators...Think of it this way: If you were trapped in a cyber-universe, populated by computer-generated avatars, for 21 years, what would you miss? Thai food or your family? That's the dilemma faced by Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) who gets zapped into Tron-world in 1989, leaving his young son, Sam (Garrett Hedlund), as a virtual orphan. But, two decades later, the son naturally follows his game-designer father into an alternative-reality arena that, thanks to corporate parent Disney, is less The Matrix than American Gladiators.
Before Sam gets laser-zapped through a portal into vidgame-land, he lives the life of a rich, bratty extreme sports jock--slaloming his Ducatti through cars on the freeway, hacking the computers of his father's old company (where he's still a major shareholder), and base-jumping off the corporate tower. Never does he slow down to eat Thai food or anything else; his life is just speed, computers, and forward momentum. Nor, once he begins his 3-D adventures (chasing, fleeing, and hurling Frisbee discs at other gladiators), does Sam consider pausing for a meal. He's too busy leaping over the next obstacle, being rescued by the movie's designated hot chick (Olivia Wilde), and searching for his father. (Old dad is not to be confused with Clu, the younger, 1982-era Jeff Bridges, uncannily rendered by computer.) But the real Kevin, once he's located in a Zen cave, operates at an entirely different pace--almost Lebowskian. Chill out, he tells hasty Sam, let's we and Quorra (Wilde) sit down for a meal, almost like a family again.
Old Kevin is the sort of mellow dinner companion who might like Jamjuree. There's nothing fancy about the place, located on the 15th Ave. commercial strip. The chicken pad Thai isn't terribly special or expensive ($8.25), but it comes topped with an egg and diced peanuts; and the peanut sauce is excellent. Downed with a Singha in the dark space, divided into wood-carved cubicles, the food becomes a fine occasion to talk in the confines of one of the quieter restaurants on East Capitol Hill. And there you might let old Kevin discourse about his quest for a perfect world, clacking his prayer beads as he speaks. It would be a pleasant, unhurried evening--rather like those few pauses when Tron: Legacy stops running (or racing motorcycles on light beams, or conducting aerial dogfights, or whatever), and just looks around.
Certainly the look of Tron: Legacy is the best thing about it. Director Joseph Kosinski was trained as an architect, and his movie is thoroughly designed. Cues come from Metropolis (especially) and The Matrix and Blade Runner (which so eclipsed the original Tron back in '82). The movie makes excellent use of negative space: Sam is constantly confronted with huge open vistas that emphasize 3-D. Not all sci-fi students will recognize it, but Tron-land is also laid out like the monumental spaces created by Albert Speer for Hitler. Appropriately, since Clu is a mad dictator who rails against "the tyranny of the user" (i.e., the gamer, i.e., we humans), this is the architecture of fascism. And while Sam may not be a particularly smart or charismatic freedom fighter, this landscape gives him an excellent playing field for the movie's constant succession of chases. The plot is essentially that of a video game: Surmounting each new obstacle leads to a greater challenge. Getting back home to the 2-D realm is Sam's goal, though not that of Disney, which has plans for sequels, a TV spin-off, plus many toys and games. (Bridges, at least in human form, is unlikely to return; after cashing his check for playing the dual roles, he can tackle more projects like True Grit. And the Tron franchise really has no use for old people, who don't play video games or watch movies about them.)
Unlike the Tron-scape, Jamjuree is a place of humble pleasures, not an arena for grandeur and impressing the girls. (Though none are kissed in this PG-rated flick, and heroic Sam has the emotional depth of a 12-year-old.) The restaurants is a place where the parents of Troniacs can dine in peace, thankful the food comes served in two dimensions, not three.