“On the other side of the screen, it all looks so easy”
How can the sheer fact that TRON was made not impress you? Three-quarters of the entire work takes place inside the construct of a super computer, the characters roaming around everything from coded programs to single bits that can only speak in 1s or 0s—yes and no. The detail is so exact that these manifested algorithms talk as though religion consists of the users that have created them, fracturing their ranks into those that follow their creator and those trying to break free and evolve from within. I still don’t know exactly what the company of ENCOM does, the only necessary knowledge is how the man in charge, Dillinger, cheated his way to the top and created the Master Control Program (MCP) that has become conscious. The MCP gets stronger by having his lieutenant Sark bring in programs to be defeated in video games and have their intelligence absorbed. Whatever ENCOM is in the business of doing, MCP has become power hungry, looking to hack into the Kremlin and Pentagon to control the world. Only Kevin Flynn, the young upstart programmer Dillinger stole from, can do something about it.
I would never say I am a professional when it comes to computer tech savvy; I barely understand what I wrote in the previous paragraph. So how did Steven Lisberger and Bonnie MacBird get Disney to fork over the cash to produce such a groundbreaking film? Luckily the Mouse House was in the business of seeking out daring new projects—nothing was more so than this computer world hybrid. No stranger to animation, TRON wasn’t quite the same. By using backlit footage, the filmmakers were able to introduce mathematical grid work to the proceedings, giving the whole thing a look reminiscent of games such as Pong or Defender. This technology was new and imperfect, but boy is it impressive. Besides the occasional flickering of the live actors within this superimposed world of two-dimensional neon graphics, the film is pretty seamless. Even when the actors are climbing ladders or stepping up on platforms, the scenery is completely re-rendered, making the aesthetic resemble a dark world of black and white with a black light shining to make the blues and orange/reds glow.
Admittedly, I always thought the entire movie concerned two enemies entering into a video game motorcycle competition. I literally thought the light cycles were the main crux of the story—the use of their stunning overhaul in an early test reel for 2010’s sequel TRON Legacy didn’t help correct me either. But, while one of the coolest aspects of TRON, (the artistry of showing the actors inside this bikes is fantastic, even if the exterior views leave something to be desired besides their arcade machine graphics), they play a very small role in the overall story, serving as just one of many games alongside a Pong/Jai alai mash-up and Frisbee war. Tron isn’t even the name of the computer world; it is actually the program’s name that has been created to take down the MCP. Flynn is the one needed to render Dillinger powerless, but it is his old chums Alan Bradley and Lora who lead the way. Alan has created Tron to be an independent overseer of MCP, knowing the computer has usurped control, and Lora is the girl caught in between, old flame of Flynn and current lover of Bradley. Don’t worry if your kids want to watch, though, it is a PG film, so lover is used loosely.
The acting isn’t campy either—something I had just assumed due to what I saw as cheap animation, not the carefully constructed aesthetic it was. Jeff Bridges is front and center as Flynn, cocky and charmingly boisterous as ever, trying his best to hack into ENCOM and find the evidence needed to prove it was his work that made the company prosper. Owner and user of a popular arcade, it’s a confrontation from Alan about a supposed hack attempt that puts everything on the table for the trio of young programmers. They realize everything they’ve been doing to take down MCP can be combined to get the job done … what no one could have imagined was that the computer would abduct Flynn into his world, a user made program to fight hand in hand with Alan’s Tron and Lora’s doppelganger Yori. So, Bruce Boxleitner and Cindy Morgan pull double duty as humans and coded sprites, forming the team racing through ENCOM’s super computer, looking to destroy the heart of the system and allow freedom once more to all the programs inhabiting the servers. These codes never even knew if users truly existed and yet here is one battling alongside them, showing how not even the ‘Gods’ of the world have definitive answers or plans, life is just a series of moments taken without regard for the risk of failure that may occur.
TRON is a sci-fi action adventure that delivers on a promise of being something you’ve never seen before. I saw it for the first time 28 years after its debut and it still holds up as a unique experience to be remembered and appreciated; I can totally see what would be so appealing to try and recreate the fervor and technological awe with a new sequel, complete with involvement from both Bridges and Boxleitner. It also served its purpose in giving a somewhat dumbed-down version of what really is going on within the computers and video games you use—a sort of crash tutorial of the hierarchy of programs and codes within the system, two years before James Cameron showed us a future taken over by the machines themselves; MCP would be proud. A great dual villain in David Warner’s cutthroat business executive Dillinger along with ironfisted judge and jury in the machine Sark won’t hurt the entertainment value either. And if you think the whole endeavor is dated and unworthy of a look, I plead with you to take a chance. What may seem simple and lackluster is actually quite impressive in its orchestration, much like the intricacies Flynn experiences once he’s on the other side of the screen he’s been typing away at for his entire life.
TRON 8/10 | ★ ★ ★
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