Visiting a movie like Tron for the first time can be described as none other than tricky business. First of all, the movie is a vintage visual effects spectacular from 1982. Secondly, it came about in the early days of computer technology which poses major difficulty in addressing the film’s ‘revolutionary’ use of such special effects and the problems derived from the plot. In a time of Windows 7, and in the wake of The Matrix, it’s a little hard to digest a Disney version of a super computer bent on taking over the world, and a human computer program designer being zapped into the computer’s infrastructure.
Even though Tron is widely considered a classic among fanboys and became a landmark in its time for visuals, I could only appreciate it for its advances in its time—which look incredibly awful by today’s standards. A movie like this could only be approached today by techy gurus obsessed with the 1980s or nostalgic adults remembering this flick of their youth. I felt that due to a slight interest in the upcoming Tron: Legacy that I must visit the niche film that started it all.
As a fan of science-fiction I can see the impact that Tron must have had upon its release. It combines digital effects with hand-drawn animation and utilizes live actors in the process against a computer-rendered backdrop. Talk about ambition for its time. Jeff Bridges plays Kevin Flynn, a top computer programmer and former video game designer for a software company. His colleague, Ed Dillinger (David Warner), sabotages him by stealing all of his arcade game designs which promotes Ed to a Chief Executive position. Soon enough Flynn is removed from the company. Dillinger’s Master Control Program (or MCP), in charge of the company’s operations, continues to gain intelligence following Flynn’s departure, and eventually becomes self-aware determined to tap into access at the Pentagon (for world domination I presume). The MCP keeps Dillinger in check by threatening to expose a file that proves Flynn is the real creator of the most popular arcade games on the market. As MCP continues to gain more control and knowledge, the software company’s access to other human ‘users’ is cut off sending these programmers into a frenzy. Employee Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner) has designed a program called Tron that will put a stop to foreign program violators which poses a threat to the MCP. He teams up with co-worker Lora (Cindy Morgan) to recruit the genius Flynn into helping them sneak into the company and load Tron into the system. Flynn sees this as is opportunity to track down the data file that will prove Dillinger’s scheme and earn him his job back. All the while, an experimental laser has been developed at the company that can break a physical object down into a digital data stream. Of course this laser comes into play when the MCP finds Flynn’s intrusion into the computer network. The MCP decides it logical to stop Flynn from loading the Tron program by zapping him with the laser and turning him into a digital program that brings him into the world of the super computer. As a program, Flynn must participate in a series of arcade games within the computer while trying to implement Tron (or more appropriately, a computer anti-virus in today’s terms) into the system and thus killing the MCP.
Whew… Still with me? Tron as a film is further ‘out there’ than most, and is truly laughable by today’s standards. But keep the year 1982 in your mind and also the fact that it’s a family-friendly Disney film, probably best remembered as a pioneer in experimental special effects. The story is as odd and shallow, and yet as utterly complicated and confusing as it needs to be. If you can accept Jeff Bridges being zapped by a laser that turns him into a computer program, then you’re half way to enjoying this movie. I haven’t even mentioned that all computer programs within the computer are human counterparts that exist as replicants of their human users. But I don’t want to confuse you even more. The plot really has me scratching my head, and to contemplate it more and more I don’t think was the intent of the filmmakers. Why would the MCP send Flynn, the ultimate threat to whole system, through a series of arcade battles and races when he could just have him terminated? If the MCP really did gain so much knowledge and control, why don’t these human computer programmers so bent on uploading the Tron program decide to simply pull the power cord? I have other questions that would spoil further developments of the plot, but I think ultimately I need to turn off my brain and recognize Tron simply as an early example of computer effects technology—even as laughable as it looks today. I suppose my biggest question is how this type of film will translate to a wider audience today? Upping the special effects will certainly help, but can today’s viewers really get into this? We’ll have to wait and see when Tron: Legacy takes over soon enough.
So did I enjoy Tron or not? I don’t know. I really couldn’t see myself watching it again. It has very little lasting qualities, and because I didn’t experience the film in the 80s, I can’t generate any sort of nostalgic attachment or appreciation for it. Is it terrible? No. This is an ambitious project for its time, and in many ways was much ahead of its time. I can appreciate it on that level, but find the film to hold little weight today.
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